Saturday, February 10, 2018


Flu or not I bought a ticket to the Downton Abbey exhibit sponsored by Viking Cruises that's now showing on 57th Street in New York City. We're a family of Downton weenies. For all six seasons Sunday evenings were spent in the family bed, dinner on our laps and our PBS station set and ready for that next episode.
Tears for Edith would freely flow, we'd laugh hysterically at the Dowager's witticisms, our hearts would break for Bates and Anna and we'd cheer for Daisy as she found her intelligence and her voice.  It was almost like a death in the family when the series finally came to an end.
Clearly we weren't alone as one little surprise followed another as books and exhibits revolving around the series found their way stacked on the shelves of bookstores, onto our TVs as specials and into museums around the country.
We bought them, watched them and went to them - all of them or at least most of them,
the latest one being the Viking Cruises sponsored rendition now in New York. Stacked on three floors in a building that had long ago been striped of its interior details the downstairs and upstairs life at Downton Abbey have been artificially recreated in a way that holds up much better in a photograph than it does in real life. If you detect a bit of disappointment I'm not very good at hiding it.
Maybe if I hadn't seen a similar show at the Paine Museum in Oshkosh, Dressing Downton, I wouldn't have had the ability to compare that exhibit with the New York exhibit and it would have been just fine.
But I did see the Oshkosh presentation sponsored by the costume design firm that did the gorgeous costuming for the PBS series in a museum that once was a lumber baron's grand home designed and built to reflect a time similar to the time that the Downton Abbey series was to have taken place.
The Paine was a gorgeous venue perfectly tooled for displaying the costumes and artifacts of the BBC series.
Here the dining room really was a former formal dining room.
A dressing room was perfectly suited to displaying the aristocratic gowns of the Crawley women along with the sedate uniforms of the staff
You could feel the anticipation of an outing as the family readied themselves in the conservatory
The exhibit that was so beautifully presented at the Paine had also appeared at the Biltmore in Ashville, North Carolina. Given the magnitude of the Biltmore in comparison to the Paine I can only imagine that the exhibit at the Biltmore was that much more impressive but I was thankful to have had the opportunity for getting to the Paine.
And that brings me back to New York. The quantity of costuming available to the Viking exhibition was impressive and lush.
The third floor of the venue was given over completely to the dresses and menswear of the show. Many of the ensembles are actual vintage pieces while other are made to look like the fashion of the time.
Many of the most famous pieces can be seen layered on mannequins.
Who can forget Lady Mary's "Oh my!" exclamation upon viewing this piece with the naughty culottes.
And then there were the wedding dresses and veils. Unbelievably constructed of Belgian lace and vintage fabric they are the images that will float in many a visitor's memory bank.
But what was disappointing was the construction and faux nature of the original Highclere Castle.
I would rather they had left the kitchen bare of food rather then having propped the prep tables with clearly plastic fruit and vegetables.
Even the dining room with its intricate mantle and period paintings still couldn't disguise the acoustical ceiling. It broke any sense that you were entertaining the idea of entering the world of the Crawleys.
Now for my purposes I could crop out the acoustical ceilings and the back lit windows from my photos and like the television crews give the appearance of the real thing but when you are there in the midst of the exhibit you can't block out all of pieces of reality that let you know you're just in a room with a bunch of fake fruit.
I don't regret paying the $35 entry fee. Any chance to get that close to Downton and its characters is worth the price.
Maybe they'll do the movie and we can all have one more chapter in its soap opera legacy.

Queen Elizabeth and Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, 1955
Photographer, Unknown

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