Monday, July 8, 2013

Beauty and the Bird: Feathers in Fashion Exhibit Opens

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum


Birds have captivated humans for centuries. We have caged them, decorated our homes with their likeness, and used them for personal adornment, both in imitation and natural form. From the ostrich-plumed helmets of Roman generals to the feathered cloaks of Polynesia, feathers have symbolized wealth, status, and elegance among many cultures. The use of birds and feathers for adornment reached an unsustainable peak during the late Victorian Era, when over five million birds were killed annually to decorate ladies' hats. 

The impact on birds was devastating. The plume trade helped drive some species to extinction and nearly extirpated several others, including Africa’s wild ostrich. In America, snowy egrets and great egrets were killed for their delicate breeding plumes while nesting, leaving their young to die of starvation. Horror over such wholesale destruction of bird populations awakened a conservation ethic the United States and led to the founding of the Audubon Society. 

You can learn more about this "murderous millinery" (including how craftspeople called plumassiers painstakingly prepared the feathers for hats) and about the two women that helped halt this ruthless plume trade in our newest exhibit. Curated by historic fashion consultant Abigail Cucolo, Beauty and the Bird: A Tale of Feathers, Fashion and Our Fowl Obsession features a number of elaborate hats from the museum collection, including one adorned with a rare Bird-of-Paradise. Also on display are vintage art feathers exquisitely crafted by La Maison LemariĆ©, a plumassier studio founded in 1880 in Paris. There is also a specially decorated hat there for you to try on and have your photograph taken, so bring your camera! The exhibit will be open through March of 2014.

Coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying at one of the Fountainhead Hotels. All guests receive half-price admission to the museum!

Visit our YouTube channel for video of this Exhibit!  

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