The silk dress worn by Fanny Fechenbach Sanger for her wedding in 1879 will soon leave Browder Springs Hall, where it has been on display since the Cedars Stories exhibit opened March 14. Like a bikini-clad girl falling asleep on the beach, it is in danger of getting too many damaging rays. The light streaming in the Hall’s big windows is harmful to a vintage textile. To be honest, almost everything is harmful to a vintage textile: light, heat, moisture, dryness, dirt, bugs, cleaning, handling, and frequently even the protective tissue paper in which people wrap them. The UV rays in sunlight can weaken the silk fibers over time, and will quickly change the color of the fabric. Darkness is the textile’s friend, and so this one will retire like a grizzly in autumn.
As you may have heard, the dress had to be worked on by an expert conservator before it was strong enough to go on display. It appears that Mrs. Sanger was completely unaware that her dress would someday be a valuable artifact, so at her wedding she carelessly ate, drank and even sweated. Sweat stains on garment underarms are a type of historic evidence I prefer not to examine until they are at least 100 years old. That tiny woman must have danced up a storm at her wedding to leave that much historic evidence! Stains left by the party fare are not only unsightly, but over the years they have attracted bugs, who agree that the Sangers knew how to throw a tasty feast.
So on May 11, the dress will come off of its custom dress form and be stored in tissue paper-the recommended, expensive, acid-free museum type-and placed in a very big box. It will join other artifacts in our secured storage area. Some people who might have liked to see it will come too late and miss it, and if that happens, the museum will not have fulfilled its mission of teaching history by presenting artifacts. My curatorial responsibilities require that I never forget the other part of the mission, the part where we preserve those artifacts. Like other museums, we say that we maintain our artifacts as a public trust. We own them, and we are charged to take care of them, but we do that in order that the people of Dallas can benefit, now and in the future.
I could leave the dress on display for a year or two, till it hangs there as a bunch of faded shreds, but what would be left for my future great-great grandchild to see? When appropriate, the dress will come back out for another brief visit. Meanwhile, look for appearances in that exhibit area by other hidden talents from my artifact warehouse.