Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota's natural and cultural history. We encourage dialogue, questions, and comments!

Jenny Yearous's blog

A 1930s Timeless Black Dress Still Stuns Today

Every woman seems to search for that timeless black dress that looks fabulous and helps them feel fabulous, that they can wear for years and will never go out of style. Fortunately for Donna Weinrebe of Minot, she had no problem finding that elusive dress. In 1936, when Donna was a student at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, she wore this lovely gown to a college dance. While it was the height of fashion in 1936, this dress is still fashionable today.

Two side by side images of a black felvet dress. The first image has a matching short sleeved coat over the top of it. It is a full-length, sleeveless dress that is somewhat form fitting with a matching belt around the waist.

Worn to a University of North Dakota dance, this timeless black velvet gown was donated to the museum collection by Donna Weinrebe in1990. SHSND 1990.253.7

This dress was made for drama. The floor-length, Grecian-inspired gown was created from a luscious black velvet fabric that one of my co-workers described as a “black hole of gorgeousness.” It is sleeveless with a scoop neck and a peekaboo slit down the back. Blousy and loose at the top, the dress is fitted at the waist and hips. A matching belt helps to accentuate the narrow waist. To not distract from the dress, the belt buckle and button at the back are covered in the same velvet fabric.

The back of a black velvet dress. It shows an opening going down the middle of it to just above the waist.

The matching bolero jacket is the one piece that dates the outfit. In the 1930s, puffed sleeves on dresses were in fashion to exaggerate the shoulder and make the waist appear smaller. These puffed sleeves were made with five rows of corded pleats to provide more volume.

A black velvet jacket that clips together at the neck with short sleeves that are puffed.

Although not on exhibit in our upcoming fashion exhibit, Donna also wore this gorgeous coat made of the same black velvet and lined in white silk with the dress. The stylish, loose hood would help to keep the wearer warm and her hair in place on cold North Dakota nights. There is only one button at the neckline of the coat. The coat is held closed by ties and an interior loop at the waist.

A full length, hooded, long sleeved black velvet coat. There is a button at the neckline and ties around the waist.

Matching coat. SHSND 1990.253.276

The women of the Weinrebe family were quite fashionable in their day, and this dress is no exception. Few clothing pieces stand the test of time, but by leaving the bolero jacket off, a woman could still attend an elegant event wearing this dress today. No one would know her fashion dates from the 1930s. What classic pieces are in your closet?

The black velvet fabric that makes this dress so lovely also makes it nearly impossible to photograph and capture the details. It is a dress you need to see in person to really appreciate. So, visit Fashion & Function: North Dakota Style when it opens soon to see this timeless dress!

Three older women in dresses stand holding an award. They each wear a white corsage on their left side.

The Weinrebe women of Minot displayed an elegant sense of fashion. Here Ethel is receiving the Minot Sertoma Club’s Service to Mankind award in 1974 with daughters Nita (left) and Donna (right). SHSND 10560.0002.00

A mother and two daughters pose for a picture. The mother wears a darc colored dress with white lace around the neck and cuffs and a white belt around the waist. The youngest child wears a  white puffy dress. The other child wears a dark colored dress with three white lines around the collar and wrists. She also wears a large bow in her hair.

The Weinrebe women were stylish at an early age. Daughters Nita and Donna pose for a portrait with their mother, Ethel, circa 1920. SHSND 10560.0002.00026

6 men sit and stand together while another man stands across from them looking down at something in his hands. The men wear sack suits featuring a boxy cut with a higher neck line and shorter lapels. They are all also wearing hats.

Julius Weinrebe, Donna’s father (seated), and his friends were also sporting national trends in men’s fashion. Notice their sack suits featuring a boxy cut with a higher neck and shorter lapels. Julius’s bowler hat was also the style choice of the day. Circa 1907. SHSND 10560.0002.00016

The Horse Exhibit Artifacts: Where are They Now?

We recently took down The Horse in North Dakota exhibit. Some colleagues and I have written about how we produce an exhibit (Part 1 and Part 2), getting the horse-drawn fire wagon into the building, trying to find artifacts for display, research about artifacts, and how we clean those artifacts. These blogs brought to your attention just a few of the artifacts we used in The Horse exhibit.

I thought I would share with you what happens to these pieces now that they are off exhibit.

For most artifacts, we check the condition report completed on the artifact prior to the exhibit. The condition report includes a description of the artifact describing all damage such as chips, dings, scraped paint, frayed edges, tears, fading of colors, insect activity, or whether something like a button on a garment is missing. When we see no changes to the item’s condition after being on exhibit, the object goes back to its storage location. We note that movement in the database and then move on to the next item. But for a few artifacts, it is not so easy.

The horse-drawn fire wagon was probably the most complicated piece to move. Bryan Turnbow, in his Jan. 27, 2020, blog, talked about how we had to use a forklift and our platform loading dock lift to get our fire wagon into the building. We, of course, had to reverse the process to get it out of the museum. It is a bit nerve racking to see such an important artifact suspended over the edge of the platform lift being held only by the tines of the forklift. Both lifts were slowly lowered with staff members standing by as spotters to make sure nothing went wrong.

loading fire truck into the building

Fire wagon being lowered with platform lift and forklift (1988.178.11)

I would love to say we have a wonderful enclosed trailer to safely transport the wagon to our off-site storage, but we don’t. Instead, we needed to wait for a nice day and use an open trailer. This also created moments of trepidation. An open trailer leaves the object open to many possible problems from a passing bird, to road debris kicked up from other vehicles, to the wind pulling on parts, or our worst nightmare, its falling off the trailer. All parts of the wagon were double-checked to make sure everything was secure. The tie downs were checked and double-checked to make certain they all were secure, and off they went . . . slowly. Bryan Turnbow said he “drove like I was driving Grandma around: drove slower, braked sooner and gradually, and took the smoothest roads.”

first truck on trailer

Fire wagon on trailer

hauling fire truck

Fire wagon going down the road

Fire truck in storage

Fire wagon in its new home

With the skills and planning of our Audience Engagement & Museum team and just a little luck, the fire wagon reached the off-site storage, a 5.5-mile trip, safely. It now sits in preparation for the next exhibit or research opportunity.

When we checked the condition report on a few objects, the condition of some items had changed. Melissa Thompson, in her Aug. 6, 2018, blog titled “Primping and Prepping Artifacts for Exhibit,” showed how she cleaned artifacts that had green corrosion product and spue (fatty acid blooms). Most of these items that had been cleaned beforehand were great when we pulled them off exhibit, but a few were not. Stock saddle 2007.89.1 was found with a fresh outbreak of spue. According to our records, a condition report was done on the saddle in March 2008 when the item was initially brought into the collection, and spue was removed at that time. In preparation for the exhibit, another condition report was done July 2018, and it was cleaned again. When we took it off exhibit a couple of weeks ago, I noticed more white spue and had to clean it for a third time before I put it back into storage. These condition reports indicate that the item seems to have frequent fatty acid blooms, so now I have this item flagged so I can check it at least yearly to see if more spue shows up and clean it if necessary. While the spue is not damaging, it is unsightly and could attract and hold on to dirt that could be damaging. Cleaning it regularly is important for long-term preservation.

saddle

Stock saddle after second cleaning (2007.89.1)

riding habit

Medora's riding habit (1972.383.1-.2)

kids cowboy shirt

Child’s cowboy shirt (2011.30.66)

colorful Metis sash

Métis sash (1986.234.62) on capote (5301)

For a few items the condition reports were fine, and putting them away would not have been a problem; BUT we didn’t need to put them back into storage. They were going back on exhibit in the upcoming exhibit Fashion and Function: North Dakota Style. Visitors to The Horse in North Dakota exhibit will recognize Medora’s riding habit, the child’s cowboy shirt, spurs, leather cuffs and a few more. We see these as a bonus since we won’t have to put them away, nor do we have to put them on a mannequin. Of course, we did double-check the condition report to make sure that things were still good. We did change how the Métis sash is going to be displayed—we put it onto a capote (5301) to complete the look.

Artifacts going on exhibit go through many steps to ensure they can be safely displayed. When they come off exhibit, they go through more to make sure they were exhibited safely. There are many behind-the-scenes steps that happen for each artifact for every exhibit. When you see the new exhibit Fashion and Function: North Dakota Style (opening in January 2021), you will have a better understanding of how we have planned, primped, moved, and built another exciting exhibit for you to enjoy.