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!

On the Edge of the Wind: A New State Museum Exhibit in the Making

The Audience Engagement & Museum staff is currently working in partnership with the North Dakota Council on the Arts (NDCA) to develop On the Edge of the Wind: Sacred Land, Mythic Tales, a 2023 exhibition to follow Fashion & Function: North Dakota Style in the Governors Gallery at the ND Heritage Center & State Museum. On the Edge of the Wind is a rare opportunity to gain understanding of sacred sites and oral traditions associated with tribal cultures in both North Dakota and South Dakota.

One site featured in the exhibition is Buffalo Lodge. In the early 19th century, it was the site of the largest Sun Dance in North America with more than 1,500 celebrants. Photographs by Barbara Hauser and Troyd Geist

The Navajo and Hopi tribes of the American Southwest celebrate the concept of “walking in beauty.” This same concept manifests itself among the tribes of the northern Plains in the idea that life is a ceremony, and one should seek balance through the integration of connectiveness and awareness. The concept of life as a ceremony is repeated throughout the stories explored in On the Edge of the Wind.

To recognize and honor the importance of the various sites, the exhibit focuses on traditional stories that establish the significance of place, rather than pinpointing actual sites. The narratives shared are told by respected storytellers who have been granted the right to tell the stories. Every effort is being made to respect both the cultures and the sanctity of the sites detailed. Stories were shared with appropriate permissions and in accordance with tribal guidelines.

An important organizing principle of the exhibition is the idea that there are no definitive stories in the oral tradition. Variations reveal themselves, and the same story may be told differently from family to family and from community to community. This exhibition captures each individual storyteller’s version of a particular tale.

On the Edge of the Wind has seven major thematic sections. Key to the exhibition are 118 large-format color photographs printed on aluminum. The photographs are primarily landscapes. Groupings of the photographs define the individual interpretive segments. Each section is also accompanied by objects supporting the narrative. Some of the objects were newly commissioned by NDCA for the exhibition. Several are from the collections of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

Decorative ceremonial drum crafted by Laidman Fox Jr. The drum represents the Earth’s heartbeat, believed to reside within Heart Butte. Courtesy NDCA

Thunder Butte is the site of a traditional story in which the hunter Packs Antelope fights a heroic battle on behalf of the thunderbirds. Photo by Barbara Hauser

Components of the exhibition have been in development since early 2019. North Dakota’s state folklorist Troyd Geist spent months in the field working with tribal elders and storytellers collecting their traditional stories along with background information and invaluable interpretive content.

Geist captured the recorded sessions in more than five hours of narrative videos. His intent is to share select stories with our museum audience but even more importantly to document the narratives of contemporary elders for future generations. They form a valuable archive. When the exhibition is complete, Geist intends for the NDCA to gift the recordings to the associated tribal communities.

The video recordings will be accessed at five touch screen kiosks located throughout the gallery and on the State Museum’s website after the exhibition opens.

Beaded Ojibwe “octopus bag” crafted by Marvin Baldeagle Youngman. Despite its name, the shape of the bag represents a bison with four legs, the notched ends mimicking hooves. The bag is intended for carrying medicinal herbs and plants. Courtesy NDCA

Fashion & Function closes the Sunday following Thanksgiving 2022. After its deinstallation, we will begin installing On the Edge of the Wind. The new exhibit is scheduled to open in mid-March 2023 and run through November 2024.

The World of S.D. Nelson: A New Collection Inspires an Upcoming Exhibit

We are always fortunate when a new object enters the museum collection with a fantastic story attached. The recent donation of the S.D. Nelson Collection came with a whole series of stories attached—in fact, the contents of the collection revolve around the art of storytelling.

S.D. Nelson is a prolific, award-winning writer and illustrator. Since 1999 he has produced a series of 12 children’s books and collaborated on an additional seven books focused on the cultural heritage of Native American communities.

A registered member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and a descendant of the Hunkpapa Lakota, Nelson spent childhood summers visiting his grandmother at Fort Yates, where he learned about his family’s cultural heritage. His mother, Christine Rose Gipp (Elk Tooth Woman), was a gifted storyteller who inspired him from a young age with tales and traditional lore of his tribe.

In a recent conversation I had with Nelson, he reflected on how the summer visits also exposed him to the shared community trauma that stemmed from reservation life and the disruptions inflicted by the American Indian boarding schools. He noted as an adult looking back on those painful childhood experiences that much of the trauma and many of the issues remain and have intensified, often with tragic results.

A dark haired man with a goatee who is wearing a blue and white pinstripe shirt stands holding an axe that doubles as a tobacco pipe

Writer and illustrator S.D. Nelson delivers his collection to the ND Heritage Center & State Museum in summer 2021.

Nelson’s father, Thurston D. Nelson, was of Scandinavian descent and a career military officer. The family moved constantly following new postings, and S.D. and his three siblings were exposed to a broader world beyond the Standing Rock Reservation. Nelson would eventually graduate from high school in Fargo. His interest in art led him to complete the art education program at the University of Minnesota Moorhead. His professional career evolved as an art educator in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Nelson views his children’s books as an extension of his advocacy for children’s education. He is a cofounder of Read@Home, an organization promoting literary opportunities for preschoolers in Native American communities. He is a popular lecturer and was profiled on an episode produced by Prairie Public in 2010.

Last summer, Nelson visited the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum in Bismarck to deliver a selection of artwork, documentation, and objects relating to his publications. In all we received 135 objects, including original paintings, sketches, colored pencil drawings, printer’s proofs, and handcrafted traditional objects made by the artist.

The collection arrived as we were developing the graphic design and interpretation for the Sitting Bull exhibition currently on view at the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center. As luck would have it, one of Nelson’s children’s books—which is well represented in the donation—is “Sitting Bull: Lakota Warrior and Defender of his People.” We eagerly incorporated several of his illustrations into the interpretive layouts and included one of his original acrylic paintings in the section exploring Sitting Bull’s contemporary legacy.

The top painting shows a Native American man holding a bow and arrow and another running with a spear. The bottom painting shows a group of three Native American men (one with red skin, one with blue skin, and the other with tan/yellow skin) are shown in running poses, and another man more in the foreground is also shown running.

Two illustrations from S.D. Nelson’s 2015 book “Sitting Bull: Lakota Warrior and Defender of his People.” SHSND PAR-2020082.55

In this paining, a native american man is shown comforting a dead bison with multiple arrows in it

Sitting Bull killed his first bison at age 10. “Buffalo Brother” shows Sitting Bull thanking the bison for giving up his life. SHSND PAR-2020082.56 

The new donation also includes materials relating to Nelson’s first publication “Gift Horse: A Lakota Story” and his 2012 book “Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story.” “Buffalo Bird Girl” is a retelling of the landmark narrative provided by Buffalo Bird Woman (Waheenee, 1839-1932) to ethnographer Gilbert L. Wilson, and whose subsequent publication in 1921 provides much of the primary research documenting traditional Hidatsa lifestyles and agricultural practices. Nelson’s book focuses on Buffalo Bird Woman’s childhood, thus the age shift in the title.

A man wearing a blue and white short stands holding a beaded pouch that he is showing a young woman in a gray short and maroon skirt.

S.D. Nelson shows Assistant Registrar Elise Dukart the beadwork on a pipe bowl bag he made.

We are currently developing a new exhibition drawn from materials in the S.D. Nelson Collection to be installed in the North Dakota Artists Gallery in late March 2022. The installation will include vignettes from the production of “Gift Horse: A Lakota Story,” “Sitting Bull: Lakota Warrior and Defender of his People,” and “Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story.” We will also show a selection of traditional objects fashioned and embellished by Nelson.

Nelson’s artistic style incorporates multiple aesthetics, which run the gamut from realism to highly stylized representation. His proud Native American figures are often brilliantly colored, blending the tradition of full body paint and the symbolism of favored Lakota colors. His characters and narratives exist in multi-layered landscapes merging the natural world, the spiritual, and the fantastical as one.

This illustration shows Lakota and Cheyenne warriors celebrating after a battle. They are holding spears, axes, and shields.

An illustration from “Sitting Bull: Lakota Warrior and Defender of His People” shows Lakota and Cheyenne warriors celebrating after the June 17, 1876, Battle of the Rosebud in the Montana Territory. SHSND PAR-2020.082.60

Nelson has illustrated book jackets, greeting cards, and CD covers, and his paintings are held in both private and public collections. His books have received the American Indian Library Association Honor Book Award in 2016; the Spur Award from Western Writers of America in 2004 and 2006; the Notable Children’s Book Award from the American Library Association in 2001 and 2011; and he was included on the 2011 Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List from the Texas Library Association. He has lectured at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., and was the keynote speaker for Read North Dakota in 2010 (North Dakota Humanities Council).

We look forward to introducing you to the evocative world of S.D. Nelson when we premier All Is Grass and Clouds, Forever: The Art of S.D. Nelson this spring.

Dakota the Dinomummy: Millenniums in the Making

Dakota the Dinomummy is returning! One of our most popular artifacts has been having a well-deserved rest and a bit of spa time. But in fall 2021 a thoroughly refreshed Dakota will return to the halls of the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum in Bismarck.

Dakota is a significant part of the region’s fossil record. Discovered in 1999 on a ranch near Marmarth in the extreme southwestern corner of the state, Dakota is an adolescent Edmontosaurus, one genus in a larger group of duck-billed dinosaurs called hadrosaurs. Dakota died in the swampy environment that was ancient North Dakota during the Late Cretaceous epoch, which lasted from about 100 to 66 million years ago. The carcass remained exposed long enough for the skin to dry, then the remains were buried in sedimentary material allowing for the preservation of some of the soft organs and skin. They have since become stone, but their distinctive mass and textures remain. The muscles and tendons are particularly recognizable in the tail section.

stylized illustration of an edmontosaurus

Stylized illustration of an Edmontosaurus.

Dakota’s former exhibit case in the main corridor of the State Museum was disassembled just prior to Thanksgiving 2019. I remember thinking at that time the massive ribcage looked like something that would have appeared on the Flintstones’ holiday table.

Rib cage fossil of dakota the dinomummy, an Edmontosaurus

Dakota’s ribcage prior to returning to the paleontology lab.

After the wall components were removed, the fossil’s two huge stone sections were relocated to the paleontology lab in the basement, where the paleo staff began months of work to expose a larger portion of the fossil for scientific research. However, before the sections could be moved, their wooden frames had to be raised and blocked, and heavy-duty casters added to their undersides. That involved several hardy individuals shimmying under the suspended masses to attach the wheels. Then, once the wheels were in place, moving four tons of fossilized hadrosaur required both a forklift and staff member muscle.

Four men are gathered around working on a large plaster block containing dinosaur fossils

As we moved the second section down the corridor, a little boy observed the action from his perch on a bench. He was wide-eyed. As we rumbled by him, I said, “It’s not every day a dinosaur passes by.”

Three men stand around a large plaster block containing dinosaur fossils as they prep to move it

North Dakota Geological Survey paleontologists Clint Boyd and Jeff Person, along with Chief Preparator Bryan Turnbow, get Dakota ready for its move.

A skid steer pulls a large plaster block containing dinosaur fossils as multiple people walk around the plaster block to help guide it. The back side of mastodon fossil replica can be seen on the left side of the photo

On the move past the front entrance and mastodon skeleton.

While Dakota has been missed, its time away has been very productive. It was thoroughly scanned and a 3D model created. It has also undergone extensive preparation with the removal of more than 2,000 pounds of stone and plaster. Both the preparation and survey processes revealed many insights, especially regarding Dakota’s demise. Those new details remain proprietary pending peer review and publication. But stay tuned: More will be revealed in time.

Dakota’s return will include a new display case and interpretive content. Chief Preparator Bryan Turnbow along with a team of State Historical Society staff and paleontologists from the North Dakota Geological Survey worked closely with Taylor Studios in Illinois to fabricate Dakota’s new environment and update the interpretive text. The full fossil will not be on exhibit. However, extensive work on one of the arms will be showcased on a raised mount, and custom lighting will illuminate special features. New interpretive signage will accompany the display, with references and fresh discoveries that will help make Dakota more relevant and understandable to museum visitors.

A 3D model of dinosaur skin with scales

A 3D model of Dakota’s skin will be included as part of the new installation.

One especially cool feature of the new installation will be a tactile component allowing visitors to touch a 3D model of Dakota’s skin. And much like the young visitor watching the huge dinosaur fossil rumbling down the hallway, for most of us, this will probably be the closest we come to encountering a “real” dinosaur.

Sitting Bull Exhibit to Explore Hunkpapa Lakota Leader’s Life

A road trip beckons in the not-too-distant future!

We are currently at work on a new exhibition about Sitting Bull for the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center (MYCIC). Located in the northwestern part of the state near Garrison and Williston, MYCIC is an ideal venue to showcase the life of this iconic Hunkpapa Lakota leader.

A Native American man stands wearing a cape over one shoulder, feather behind his head, tan long sleeved shirt with darker cuffs and shoulders. His long, dark hair is in two braids.

Detail of studio photograph of Sitting Bull with hand-painted accents by H.A. Plante, circa 1885.
SHSND 5356

The Interpretive Center is a beautiful place—a contemporary facility built at the confluence of two meandering rivers set in a wide valley beside low bluffs. The building faces south with a stunning vista of sky, water, and cottonwood trees. The property has numerous walking paths and is a birder’s paradise. It was a stopping point for the Corps of Discovery on both legs of its famous expedition, and it shares proximity with Fort Buford State Historic Site, a landmark in the story of Sitting Bull.

Outdoor scene as the sun is going down. There are dark clouds in the blue sky and long grass in the foreground. A distant view of a building is hidden among trees.

A bucolic view looking toward the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center.

For the past year and a half I’ve been almost exclusively focused on the production of Fashion & Function: North Dakota Style, so the opportunity to explore a new story and space is a welcome change. The Sitting Bull exhibit takes a closer, more nuanced look at a story I thought I knew.

Indeed, the first lesson this project has taught me is that much of what I previously learned about Sitting Bull was incomplete. But then, when dealing with history, that is often a good starting point. Periodically one finds the need to hit refresh.

For instance, I was well aware Sitting Bull was a significant player in the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn, and that he later toured with William “Buffalo Bill” Cody in the 1880s. Yet his role in both these events was markedly different than I had thought, and the intervening years were a complete mystery. I knew nothing of his early life or his rise as a respected leader. I was ignorant of the fact he and his people moved to western Canada following the Battle of the Little Bighorn. While conducting background research for Fashion & Function, I had discovered his involvement in the Ghost Dance movement of the late 19th century but was completely unfamiliar with the circumstances surrounding his violent 1890 death. It is a very different story than I expected.

A very old, tan map of the United States.

Die Vereinginten Staaten von Nord-America by C.F. Weiland, 1831. SHSND SA OCLC59108748

Curator of Collections Research Mark J. Halvorson is our subject specialist for Sitting Bull. The production team also includes multiple members of the State Historical Society of North Dakota’s Audience Engagement and Museum Department, along with Fort Buford and MYCIC Site Supervisor Joseph Garcia and his staff. It’s our own version of “it takes a village.”

Halvorson has assembled a rich collection of objects and images with which to relay Sitting Bull’s story. I am drawn to visual elements, and this exhibition delivers some jewels. We are using an image of a stunningly detailed 1831 map of the United States from the State Archives. It shows the massive, central Missouri Territory and includes information provided by the Corps of Discovery’s expedition. The map, which also notes the many regional tribal groups as well as the position of Fort Mandan, represents the United States at the time of Sitting Bull's birth.

We will also exhibit a dramatic poster from the 2000 U.S. census featuring Sitting Bull’s quote: “I have spoken. I will continue to be heard.” The poster also depicts Sitting Bull’s unflinching gaze and that of his great-great-grandson Ron His Horse Is Thunder (Ron McNeil) to make its point.

Detailed view of a pipe bag with white and yellow beaded trim with white and blue diamonds along the bottom above the trim. White, blue, green, white and blue, yellow, red, white, and blue beaded horseshoes decorate the bag.

Detail of the beaded buckskin pipe bag chronicling the life and accomplishments of Sitting Bull.
SHSND 3359

Among the other objects that will be on display is a pipe bag given by Sitting Bull to his friend Bullhead in summer 1883. The bag, while subdued in appearance, is rich in history as it chronicles Sitting Bull’s many accomplishments. It includes a beaded registry of the many horses Sitting Bull captured from his enemies and also memorializes the horse that was shot from beneath him in battle. We are fortunate that Bullhead documented the imagery on the pipe bag before he was killed along with Sitting Bull in 1890.

The exhibition’s future location at the Interpretive Center places it near an important site in the life of Sitting Bull. In 1881, after several years of nomadic existence in western Canada, Sitting Bull and his band returned to the United States, agreeing to settle at the Standing Rock Agency. He surrendered his rifle in the front parlor of the commander’s house at Fort Buford. Fort Buford is part of the MYCIC complex, and the commander’s house is one of the few full structures that remains.

In early June 2021, we will make our way to MYCIC to install the exhibition. It is scheduled to be featured at the site for the next five years. That means you have plenty of time to make the northwest trek, enjoy the scenery, walk the trails, and test your understanding of Hunkpapa Lakota leader Sitting Bull.

Entrance to the exhibition is included in the MYCIC admission fee, as is access to neighboring Fort Buford.

Cattle Culture Stories Come Alive in Flashy Western Attire

Our upcoming exhibition Fashion & Function: North Dakota Style shoehorns 19 thematic sections into the 5,000-square-foot Governors Gallery of the State Museum. That is a lot of information and even more stories.

One such story involves a buckskin suit included in the Cattle Culture section of the exhibition. The suit—consisting of a matching fringed coat and pants—belonged to Franz Hanneburg, who worked on a ranch near Hebron. As is often the case with historic garments, we don’t know how he came to own the suit in the 1890s. We also don’t know the maker’s name, but it was probably a woman affiliated with the Sioux/Nakota/Yanktonai.

Tan buckskin jacket and pants with fringe on the bottom and shoulders of the jacket and sides of the pants. Colorful floral designs are on the front of the shoulders and pockets of the jacket.

Front view of buckskin suit. SHSND 2018.5.1-.2 

The suit represents a significant earlier element in Western history—the military scout. Beginning in the 1860s, military scouts adopted this hybrid combination of European-cut garments fabricated and embellished with regional materials—in this case, tanned buckskin and porcupine quills. It was a style first romanticized in The Leatherstocking Tales of James Fennimore Cooper and in the writings of Washington Irving, then later adopted by several scouts when they became theatrical performers and led the Wild West shows popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is the flamboyant style favored by notables such as Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild Bill Hickok, and Pawnee Bill.

This flashy suit style wasn’t limited to showmen; we are also highlighting studio photographs of the Marquis de Morès and the photographer Frank Fiske in similar scout-inspired outfits in the exhibition. The Hanneburg suit is cut after a European-style lounge coat pattern using set-in sleeves and a distinctive diamond-shaped back panel and accented with patch pockets. The two pockets are die-cut buckskin—possibly using a u-shaped chisel—and possess a decorative reverse-flute edge.

Detailed view of the upper back portion of the jacket. Four horseshoe shapes alternating between teal and purple are on each side in a circle, and leaves and flowers are around them in purple, pink, orange, teal, and red.

Detail of back yoke.

A closeup detail of the pocket. There is a pink flower with a burple middle and leaves coming off of the flower in purple, orange, teal, and pink.

Detail of patch pocket with fluted edge.

This windproof buckskin coat is fully lined with red wool, trade blanket fabric and would have been an effective buffer against the region’s brutal climate. The fringed coat is also embellished with a delicate pattern of stems and leaves worked in multicolored, dyed porcupine quills. Interestingly, a change in the decoration scheme is evident. As is the case in several locations on the coat, there are graphite, hand-drawn guidelines for flowers that were never executed.

Detailed view of the quillwork - teal leaves with purple vines leading to red, teal, purple, and yellow/orange flowers.

Graphite pattern for quillwork.

The stylistic legacy of the Hanneburg suit is represented in another garment in the Cattle Culture section, an embroidered wool shirt from the 1950s. While the two garments are remarkably different, they share a common lineage in the evolution of Western fashion.

Black button up shirt with white snaps and white embroidered floral designs on the chest, shoulders, cuffs, and upper arms

Embroidered black wool shirt. SHSND 2011.53.1

Up until the mid-19th century the prevailing mode in men’s fashions could rarely be called conservative or subdued. Men very often appeared as strutting peacocks, decked in rich, patterned fabrics, intricately cut tailoring, elaborate embroidery, and bright, flashy color combinations. The dandies of those times, the English Macaronis and the French Incroyables of the old regime, were swept away by the somber grays and blacks of the Industrial Age.

How curious that at the same time—and in the most unlikely of settings—the ostentatious plainsmen and scout suits of the American West took hold. The style found its way into the first generation of Western showmen and women, and easily transitioned to the silver screen in the early days of serial movies. Buckaroo stars such as Tom Mix and Tim McCoy provided macho swagger while draped in historic flamboyance.

Wild West shows, rodeos, and dude ranches perpetuated the look, and by the postwar America of the 1950s, the genre was firmly entrenched in popular culture. While masquerading as the most American of icons—the cowboy—no one would question or suspect an old-world dandy preference for bright colors and intricate embroidery.

While our black wool cowboy shirt is fairly subdued, its contrasting white rayon chainstitch embroidery clearly reflects the legacy of the quillwork on the Hanneburg suit, right down to the especially elaborate flourish across the back yoke.

White line in a v shape with white embroidered flowers, vines, and leaves on a black shirt

Detail of back yoke.

Join us in early 2021 to experience these two fine examples from the holdings of the State Historical Society of North Dakota—along with many more—when we premiere Fashion & Function: North Dakota Style.

And the Bride Wore…

Couples wedding portrait

Former Governor Arthur and First Lady Grace Link at their wedding in 1939. SHSND SA 10943-76

Fashion & Function: North Dakota Style, the upcoming exhibition at the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum, includes 19 thematic sections ranging from decorative and symbolic feather usage to graduation gowns. One section—dubbed “The Wedding March”—focuses on bridal traditions utilizing a selection of garments, photographs, and accessories. And while bridal white features prominently in the layout, it isn’t the exclusive color.

Drawn from the State Historical Society’s objects and photographic collections, the display captures a wide range of garments worn by North Dakota brides, including an afternoon suit, an evening dress, and an ensemble hand-crocheted by the bride’s grandmother over a three-month period.

Also included are two folk ensembles worn by Norwegian and Icelandic brides in the mid-19th century. The colorful Norwegian bunad includes elaborate embroidery worked with glass beads, while the Icelandic Skautbúningur features a national folk style introduced just prior to its wearing in 1861.

Wedding portrait of a Dakota couple

Wedding portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Dick Ramsey, Fort Yates, circa 1908. The bride wears a fashionable, flounced, white cotton batiste lingerie dress with a dotted Swiss motif, a floral headdress, and silk tulle veil. SHSND SA 1952-2037

The most formal gown in the grouping is also the “history mystery” within the exhibition, as it appears incomplete. The ivory wool flannel and silk brocade gown (SHSND 13405) was worn by Jennie Martha Kelley at her marriage to Oscar St. Clair Chenery, in Jamestown, during the late territorial period. The gown stylistically falls within the second bustle period of the 19th century.

wedding dress bodice detail

Bodice and detail of the Kelley wedding gown, 1886. SHSND 13405

Beginning in the late 1860s the fullness of the period’s bell-shaped skirts began to shift—with the mass moving to the back—often accented with swaged overskirts and flared peplums. This silhouette collapsed in the late 1870s with the introduction of fitted princess-line gowns featuring long trailing fishtail trains. Then, in the 1880s, the bustle reappeared as a very prominent feature extending much like a wide shelf from the base of the wearer’s back.

The period was distinctive for the profuse use of upholstery trims, embroidery, draped swags, and knife-pleated ruffles, all accenting the mass of the bustle. It was the age of conspicuous consumption. Bustles (politely termed tournures) were supported by spring wire, horsehair, and hinged steel hoop understructures of a scale that made it impossible to sit back in a chair, forcing fashionable women to perch sideways when they sat. Ladies chairs were designed without arms to accommodate their full skirts.

The Kelley wedding gown dates to 1886. Its “history mystery” is that the distinctive bustled train is missing. The skirt has been modified yet retains a removable half-moon-shaped dust ruffle indicating the fullness of the original bustle and chapel-length train. The dust ruffle would have protected the underside of the train as it dragged across floors and the ground.

Two lace-edged silk brocade swags positioned over the skirt’s hips—known as a polonaise (in the Polish style)—indicate they led to an incomplete back arrangement that no doubt incorporated both a third swag (completing the polonaise), and a cascade of both silk brocade and lace forming the train. The bustle must have been made as a separate component attached to the back waistline of the skirt.

Another feature of the wedding gown is its rather deep neckline. As it appears, the bride would have had reason to blush as she would have gone down the aisle virtually bare breasted! The neckline’s deep cut and the presence of narrow lapels and lace ruffles indicate it was filled with a chemisette—much like a dickey—providing a more modest secondary inner neckline, probably fashioned of gathered silk tulle matching the dress trim.

Do you know the difference between a bodice and a blouse? A blouse—while it can be tailored—is unstructured. A bodice has a fitted inner lining often including boning and occasionally padding. The steel boning in the Kelley wedding bodice was intended to maintain a smooth silhouette. A separate corset would have been worn as part of the underwear to support the bride’s figure.

Fashion & Function: North Dakota Style will appear in the Governors Gallery at the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum in 2021.