Our conceptions of love, romance, wedding ceremonies and the institution of marriage are in constant flux. While these concepts are more fluid than ever, it is fascinating to look back on how couples throughout history viewed love and marriage. Wood County Museum unveiled a new exhibit in April — Allure & Illusion: A Rose Colored Romance — that explores these themes.
With a collection of wedding dresses previously owned by community members from 1855 to 2001, the exhibit invites visitors to see the changes in styles and admire the craftsmanship of these gowns that are a result of 40 years worth of collecting.
Learning from history
The Museum’s curator, Holly Kirkendall, said that “public history starts in the present,” meaning that keeping modern couples’ perspectives and values in mind, then working backwards to create a narrative is the way to create a wonderful exhibit like Allure & Illusion.
“It’s a great educator on what is important to both men and women today. You see a lot about women making the choice not to get married, being financially independent and who are not interested in having children. I think there’s an interesting juxtaposition between that new cultural idea and the acceptance of it in mass consumerism of the bridal industry itself.”
Visitors who make their way through the space will see the standard academic panels describing what’s on display, but they will also see a fictional love story threaded throughout the rooms written by Kirkendall. This creative approach is also complemented by the Frank Kalan Harlequin Romance Cover Art collection loaned by the Bowling Green State University Browne Popular Culture Library. There are 23 illustrations from the 1970s to the 1990s for visitors to take in.
“The idea is to create the feeling of romance,” said Kirkendall. “You read the book chapters about this idea of falling in love, but then there’s also academic intellectual panels talking about the genre of romance and how it’s related to female writers, females reading fiction over time and cultural stereotypes about women who read these types of romance books or read for pleasure.”
The American dream
The exhibit takes visitors from the beginnings of a romantic courtship, to the engagement (jewelry from Waddington Jewelers is on display), shopping for the dress, the actual ceremony, and ending with home ownership punctuated by family life.
Kirkendall hopes that the main takeaway from visitors, along with appreciation for the dresses and historical stories, will be “how the idea of traditional marriage is changing and that it’s a good thing. It’s evolving. And with evolution, we grow as a society. Our acceptance of a changing marriage philosophy goes hand-in-hand with what James Tressel Adams said about the American dream. Everybody should have an opportunity, and that includes marriage.”
Kirkendall is referencing the 1931 book, “The American Dream,” by Adams, which is also referenced in the exhibit.
Whether you are in it for the love of fashion and romance novels or want to see how popular culture intersects with American history, Allure & Illusion makes for an engaging visit.
The exhibit will be on display until 2024. Admission is $7 for adults, $3 for kids aged 6-12, and free for children 5 and under. It costs $6 for seniors, students, military and veterans. Visit woodcountyhistory.org to learn more.
If you have a wedding dress you’d like to donate to the Museum, email Kirkendall at firstname.lastname@example.org, and make sure to include a photo of the dress, along with a brief description of it, including the county where it was worn.