Always fashionable, the Williams-Proctor family collected artworks and decorative arts in the latest styles—from the rage for Japanese ceramics to the realistic landscapes of country life of French Barbizon School paintings. Stylish and appropriate dress was equally important. Fashion, as a form of art, carries layers of meaning including reflecting personality, status, and social mores.
In the late 1950s, the Museum of Art made the decision that it could not easily develop a strong fashion collection. The staff smartly donated the historic clothing in the collection, including pieces from the Williamses and Proctors, to The Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, NY, which has large and diverse historic fashion holdings. Now, nearly sixty years later, for the first time MWPAI will organize an exhibition of the surviving Williams-Proctor clothing—from the mourning outfit worn by Rachel Williams when her sister Grace died in 1854 to dresses and outfits made with delicate embroidered cottons and elaborate woven silks, as well as beautiful wedding dresses and opulent evening gowns worn by the Williams sisters.
Complemented by personal accessories such as sparkling beaded bags, elaborate fans, and silk shawls, the exhibition will showcase some seldom-seen examples of womenswear, menswear, and children’s clothing, considering how such clothes were made and how they functioned in nineteenth-century New York’s high society, as well as revealing the stories of some of the people who wore them.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website.