Tuesday, July 23, 2013

An Edwardian Parasol and Thoughts on Visual Cohesion

Crocheted flowers partly obscured by a yellow paperclip holding the broken parasol together.
This antique parasol, discreetly propped against the arm of a wicker dress form wearing a fragile 1906 silk and lace wedding gown, is quite unassuming in the swaths of ecru silk surrounding it. The parasol isn't mentioned in any descriptive placards, so I had to do my best Nancy-Drew impression and become a parasol detective!

The parasol isn't made of silk; more like a sturdy but elegant cotton. It is ecru colored, but it might've once been brilliantly white. Crocheted flowers decorate the parasol. There are no carved ivory or bone handles here--just a plain, straight, thin handle made of wood, and a broken interior metal structure. I've been told by Cassidy that this parasol is in fact Edwardian, as I had guessed--she believes it might range from 1900 to 1929.

The interior metal structure has broken, and to fix this, someone has fastened the parasol with what appears to be a bent-out yellow paperclip...

Not only is this terribly unattractive and anachronistic, it is part of why the fashion exhibit looks like such an afterthought. It's not that anyone who sees the exhibit will be emotionally scarred because an antique parasol was held together with a bent-out paperclip, it's the mix of anachronism and distastefulness that together creates a negative display... The bent paperclip holding shut a parasol, the "sinfully hideous" (as said by Cheyenne) shoes on the 1910's Graduation Dress display, or the ugly and cheap blue necklace on the 1905-09 hyacinth wool suit,...these all contribute to a generally negative and sloppy impression to the viewer. These betrayers of visual harmony negatively affect the experience of a museum goer, and that is counterintuitive to the premise of a local museum. There must be a sort of visual cohesion even in an environment, such as the Kearny History Museum, where total historical accuracy isn't necessary.

If you're going to accessorize with a historically inaccurate necklace, at least use an attractive one.
I couldn't repair the parasol, as that is out of both my skill level and comfort zone, but I could soften and beautify its appearance. I found some ivory wired ribbon (the same that was used on the bouquet of the 1926 wedding dress) and decided that even if it wasn't historically accurate, at least it was a prettier treatment than a bent up paperclip, and still helped to convey the femininity and frivolity of these fashions.

An elegantly styled ribbon bow!
I couldn't help myself--I added a little bow to the handle as well. What do you think of it? Is it too much?
EDIT: Cheyenne helpfully offered this photo of a parasol that not only has a similar handle shape (though more embellished) but also has the handle decorated with a fine bow!


  1. I like it, you managed to draw attention to it, but in a good way! Bravo! It looks ready for a lovely picnic now, no one would know it is not functional.

    1. Thank you!! This spiffied up parasol is going to be part of a wedding ensemble display which I just finished setting up today, and the bow really does add such a feminine touch!

  2. :D
    I think it looks just right! And very lovely!
    This parasol here has a ribbon on the handle, too:
    It's so much better than a bent-up yellow paperclip!
    (Also, what is with the funky taped-up foot of the mannequin next to the parasol? It never ends with this museum, does it?!? Lol)

    1. Yay for a first-hand historical source to define the methods of my madness! Lol thanks for the picture, it really is reassuring (: All the exposed mannequin feet either had electrical tape or grosgrain ribbon wrapped around them...because it's easier to manipulate ribbon like that instead of go to a yard sale and buy some plausible shoes? It really doesn't end...today I set about the 1910s wool suit, and guess what I found holding up the skirt...bunched up newspaper!!

  3. I'm not sure why your linked person is dating hers to the 1870s (is there some provenance, maybe?), but I'd say that your parasol is 1900-1929 (or somewhere in that area) - tan cotton parasols with plain wooden handles are really common in that period. Your bows are great alterations! Probably a good decision not to try restoring it; you've got to pick your battles, and you're giving yourself enough tasks with the rest of this project. Maybe when it's done you'll come back to it and take a stab.

    1. Thanks! My original guess was Edwardian too...I'll be sure to do some more research and change the info here!