Till Death: Wedding and Mourning Traditions

On view through June 9th through January 12, 2021 in the Stanley Gallery

The exhibition spotlights how Iowans exchanged vows and laid to rest their loved ones and how those customs changed over time. Visitors may be surprised to discover wedding dresses made in a variety of colors and fabrics such as wool, crepe, silk, satin, and even cotton. Some are heavily embellished while others are plain – both styles dictated by the trends of the day and the wearer’s wealth and status.

The earliest dress in the exhibition was worn by Sarah Filbert when she wed Richard Musser on September 11, 1849. The two-piece dress consists of a green silk-satin bodice and skirt that accommodates a bustle. Another early gown is a ‘half-mourning’ dress of orange and blue, iridescent, silk jacquard worn by a member of the Marion Vance Family. In addition to dress descriptions, information is provided on the wearers such as the bride and groom or mourner.

One highlight is the Stevens collection of wedding gowns that weaves together the stories of five couples. Gowns in this collection date from 1869, 1884, 1917, 1918, and 1943. The 1943 gown was worn by Lorraine Willis when she wed John Clay Stevens on November 6, 1943 at Trinity Episcopal Church in Muscatine. The marriage took place shortly before John’s deployment on Christmas Eve of 1943. John wore his military jacket for the ceremony, and the jacket is on view in the exhibition.

Those who plan to visit the Muscatine Art Center should be aware of the reduced hours and guidelines. Hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Thursday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. Reduced hours provide the staff with time to thoroughly sanitize the building. Visitors are asked to wear a mask, sanitize their hands upon entering the building (hand sanitizer) is provided, practice physical distancing of six feet, and follow instructions given by staff who monitor the number of visitors in each space and restrict movement into spaces that have reached capacity.