Thursday, December 04, 2008

Don't miss "A Child’s Eye View" exhibit at Williamsburg if you're nearby during the holidays

Doll in gownMy husband and I had the pleasure of visiting Williamsburg for a day some years ago and since then I have supported the work of the Williamsburg Foundation in preserving history and creating learning opportunities for all ages. So, I receive email updates each month and the update for this month mentioned that Williamsburg is hosting a marvelous exhibit of historical dolls and toys at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum. You enter the museum through the Public Hospital of 1773.

What a doll. She's a tall, slender beauty with flowing tresses and shining eyes and a Mona Lisa smile. She's got it all: gently arching eyebrows, shapely legs, petite fingers and feet. And what a wardrobe—a lace-trimmed dress of watered silk, a satin petticoat, two white undercoats, whalebone stays at her tapered waist, fancy silk socks inside brocaded shoes, and a robe in rainbow hues with sleeves turned back for a flirty glimpse of forearms. A doll indeed. She's carved of wood with a face of gesso and languid eyes of glass that would steal Ken from Barbie any day.

Not to be catty, but Barbie is, after all, in her fifties—all the more galling to lose a boyfriend to a rival in her 200s. Barbies by the thousands stare through plastic on the crowded shelves of today's cacophonous super toy stores. Her colonial counterparts may have sat among the bonnets and purses on a shelf of the millinery shop in Williamsburg, whose proprietor, Margaret Hunter, advertised "a variety of Toys, dressed and undressed Babies, Green Silk Purses etc." in the Virginia Gazette of October 15, 1772. Lucky was the little girl—and well-heeled her family, no doubt—who was given this stylish lady as a toy.

[Left - Bewigged and begowned in lace and embroidered silk, this doll, now
in Colonial Williamsburg's collections, must have been the treasure of some eighteenth-century girl. Photo by Hans Lorenz.]

The Williamsburg website has a wealth of slides shows, videos and podcasts about their living museum, costumes of the period, daily life in Colonial America, and politics of the Revolutionary Period. I particularly enjoyed their interactive slide show on colonial fashion. It includes a range of clothing from elaborate silk gowns of the wealthy elite to the rather risque attire of a bar maid (or prostitute I wasn't quite sure - she looked very much like a 21st century teen decked out in Gothic dress complete with black lipstick)

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