"An Agreeable Tyrant" Visits the DAR Museum Period Rooms

Written by: Heidi Campbell-Shoaf, DAR Museum Director and Chief Curator
October 25, 2016

On October 7, years of research, collecting, and planning culminated in the opening of the DAR Museum’s current exhibition, “An Agreeable Tyrant: Fashion After the Revolution”.  Curator Alden O’Brien, applied her considerable scholarly knowledge of the clothing, history, and society of the early 19th century to the museum’s collections. She chose garments, accessories, and art that tell the story of the new American republic from a very personal point of view. After all, what is more personal than what you wear?

The exhibit takes visitors through the early years of the United States and citizens’ debates on how to most effectively create an identity (in today’s parlance we call it branding) as seen through the prism of fashion. What styles should they wear and where should the fabric to make those styles come from; were just a couple of issues debated by patriotic Americans.

Developing and creating such an exhibition is complex – researching and writing the historical framework that supports the objects, examining each of the over 190 artifacts included and arranging for conservation if necessary and creating mannequins that are unique to each 200+ year old garment are just a few of the tasks involved.  Add to all of this the new challenge of placing the mannequins in the period rooms.

For the first time, the DAR Museum’s major exhibition is not in the museum gallery. Why? Over the next year, as part of the President General’s Project, the entire gallery, from the doors that open into the main lobby to the passage leading to the Kansas Chapel, will be remodeled.  Everything from the HVAC, to the lighting, to how the space is utilized is all being evaluated and updated. All of this means we were unable to have an exhibit of historical textiles and objects in the gallery.

Instead of foregoing an exhibition during construction, we decided to put the exhibit in the period rooms which most closely coincide with the time period under consideration.  Twelve of the 31 period rooms and the Yochim Gallery have been arranged with mannequins, portraits showing real people wearing the fashions being discussed, and cases displaying accessories that were part of Americans’ wardrobes in the 1780s to the 1820s.

We hope you can come and visit the exhibition before it comes down at the end of April. Due to temperature and humidity challenges in Memorial Continental Hall during the Washington DC summers, we must remove the fragile garments on display before conditions become unfriendly. But don’t worry, if you can’t make it to the exhibition, you can purchase the Agreeable Tyrant Exhibition Catalogue full of photographs, illustrations, essays and scaled drawings of some of the garments!

To support the President General’s Project, visit: www.dar.org/project

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