Wednesday, December 8, 2010

To Drive the Cold Winter Away

By Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions

The view from my house this morning.

It’s been snowing for three days straight out here in the snow belt, and my attempts to make it to work have been frustrated by whiteouts and squalls. My trusty steed, a 2004 Saturn Ion, is snugged into what part of the driveway I could manage. Looking down the snow-filled valley I think of the families who lived here before me, in particular the Swartwout sisters, Ann and Sarah.

These gals had a great sense of style and married into the well-to-do Green family of Hubbardsville and Utica. The Greens prospered at hop growing and banking. We are very fortunate to have some of Ann and Sarah’s costumes here on display at Fenimore Art Museum in our Empire Waists, Bustles and Lace: A Century of New York Fashion exhibition. In addition to the two lovely dresses shown we have more items tucked away in our collection.

While I am out trying to dig out the car in my high-tech winter boots, jacket and snow pants I can’t help but contrast it to what Ann and Sarah would have been wearing. During the 1890s ladies did not wear pants (nor did they shovel out vehicles!). Winter clothing for women included layers of flannel and wool petticoats piled under skirts. A warm jacket made of wool or fur would top that off, with hat and gloves to match, and perhaps a muffler tucked in around the neck and chest for good measure. Let’s not forget a muff to finish the picture – a warm fur roll to keep hands warm.

Plate from Peterson’s Magazine showing fashionable French Winter fashions for women in the USA
From Claremont College Digital Library

The trusty steed would be hitched to a cutter. Horse-drawn sleds were the way to get around during a central New York winter. Roads were often rolled flat to allow for passage. Thanks to a friend I now have a heated seat warmer that plugs into my car. Sara and Ann would have used ember-filled foot warmers and fur rugs to stay toasty during winter visits.

American Homestead in Winter by Currier and Ives
Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, NY, N0036.1964

The romance of a horse drawn sleigh ride does have its allure. But, it’s not the easiest way to make the slog to Cooperstown. I’ll leave that to the Swartwout sisters and be content to use my car, once they get my road plowed out...


Bart Boehlert said...

Hi Chris, So interesting to learn more about the sisters!
Bart B

blog team said...

Thanks Bart, glad you enjoyed. Stay warm!
- chris

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