(Completed October 2009)
In 2005, the museum began a three-phase project to bring our magnificent collection of clothing owned and worn by James and Elizabeth Monroe and their descendants back to its former glory. Most of the 48 pieces are nearing, or have surpassed, 200 years of age, and time is not kind to fragile silks and untreated wools. The costumes include the suit worn by James Monroe at the court of Napoleon during his time in France as ambassador, and Elizabeth Monroe’s elaborate wedding gown. It is truly astounding that any of these remarkable costumes have survived this long. Now it is our responsibility to see that this collection is preserved for another 200 years.
The first step of the three-phase project was accomplished in 2005. The museum applied for and was awarded a Preservation Assistance Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to cover the costs of having the costume collection assessed by professional historic textile consultants. The consultants examined the collection, made recommendations for the conservation treatment of each piece, and estimated the costs of these treatments. The consultants arrived at a figure of just over $52,000 for the conservation of the entire collection.
The second phase of the project included the actual conservation work. Begun in January 2007, the conservation work was completed in the fall of 2009. The museum has received generous gifts from the Virginia Daughters of the American Revolution, the Rappahannock Colonial Heritage Society, and our own Friends of the James Monroe Museum to fund this phase. Additionally, the Museum has been awarded a Save America’s Treasures grant, administered by the National Endowment for the Arts, for half of the necessary funds.
The third and final phase of this project was to mount a special, limited-engagement exhibition of the entire collection in the fall of 2009. Most of the costumes in the collection have not been displayed for many years, due to their fragile state, and still other items have never been displayed at all. This exhibition, “Our Face to the World: The Clothing of James and Elizabeth Monroe,” which ran from October 2009 through April 2010, was the culmination of nearly four years of hard work, and has been a rare opportunity for the public to view these most personal of the Monroe family’s possessions.
The official catalogue for “Our Face to the World” is now available, and is a handsome keepsake of this once-in-a-lifetime exhibit. It can be purchased for $10.95 at the museum shop, or call 540. 654.1043 to order.