Friday, May 24, 2013

"Threads of Feeling" is almost here!

Many of us are anxiously awaiting the opening of the "Threads of Feeling" exhibit tomorrow, May 25th, at the DeWitt Wallace Museum of Colonial Williamsburg.  The exhibit will run for a full year and will be the only presentation offered in the US.  This remarkable display, curated and organized by John Styles and The Foundling Museum, brings to life the stories of mothers and children separated by circumstance in 18th century London.  When mothers brought their babies to the London Foundling Hospital, they were asked to leave behind a token: a scrap of fabric, a ribbon, a button, anything to distinguish one child from the next.  Each token was carefully preserved with a description of what the child wore upon entering the hospital, to assist in a reunion if the mother should ever return.  These records were collected into billet books and maintained so meticulously over the years, so that we can now witness a glimpse into the lives of these young children hundreds of years ago.

These tokens also offer us a valuable glimpse at some of the everyday textiles of 18th century England, and their examples are much more colorful and varied than many had expected they might be.  When "Threads of Feeling" opened in the UK in 2010, London Printworks reproduced a length of fabric based on one of the tokens from baby Florella.  The fabric was used to construct a bedgown as part of the exhibit in London, yet another unique and remarkable way the exhibit sought to make these "lost" lives from the past live again.

Colonial Williamsburg will be hosting a number of other events in conjunction with the exhibit.  Historian and curator of the exhibit, John Styles, will be presenting a lecture on Tuesday, May 28 at 5:30pm.  Tickets are required for the lecture and may be purchased online.  Another exciting event will be a symposium (which I've already registered for!) coming up this October in Williamsburg.

There have been glimpses of the progress of the upcoming exhibit from various sources, only adding to our anticipation to finally see these remarkable pieces of history.  The ladies of the Margaret Hunter Shop, for instance, helped to construct clothing for mannequins featured in the exhibit, and they shared on their facebook page some photos from the installation in the exhibit space.  One of the gowns has been made with a digitally reproduced fabric from a 1740s/1750s gown in the CW collection.

Also, when the billet books arrived last week and were installed in the exhibit, The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg shared some photos on its facebook page as well.

Billet books from the Foundling Hospital being installed at
the DeWitt Wallace Museum of Colonial Williamsburg.
Photo linked from the Art Museums of CW facebook page.

An article from WY Daily today gives us some additional views of billet books on display!

If you're interested in learning more, Linda Baumgarten, curator of textiles and costumes at Colonial Williamsburg, recently spoke to WY Daily to explain how some of the babies were chosen to enter the Foundling Hospital.  John Styles was interviewed for a Colonial Williamsburg podcast, in which he describes how the London Foundling Hospital came into being and how the tokens were used in the process of admitting babies.

Burnley & Trowbridge has shared some of their photos of the original exhibit on their facebook page.  Angela was also kind enough to share some stories and photos of their research with us during one of our recent workshops, making us even more eager for the arrival of the exhibit here!  There have been a few books published to accompany the exhibits at the Foundling Museum, and all may be found for sale through B&T.

Stay tuned for more!

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