by Camille Myers Breeze
Rarely is a project accompanied by as much provenance and documentation as the dress we recently conserved for a private client.
Portrait of Marie Caroline Silvester by James O. Mahoney, 1935.
Carla Meeks, née Marie Caroline Silvester, was painted by Prix de Rome winner James O. Mahoney in 1935. Mahoney was a family friend and possible student of Carla's new husband, Carroll L. V. Meeks (Yale class of 1928), who taught architectural history at Yale University. The painting was passed down through the family and, in 2011, the subject's daughters donated it to the Yale University Art Gallery.
Dress before conservation
Dress after conservation
Surprisingly, the gallery declined to accept the green velvet dress Carla wears in the painting, which has survived in remarkable condition for over 75 years. Constructed of silk knit velour with fur-trimmed sleeves and a rhinestone clasp, the dress is both historical in flavor and remarkably consistent with 1935 fashions.
We know from this 1935 photo that Carla and Carroll attended the Yale costume ball with friends wearing medieval fancy dress.
Furthermore, a torn but still-attached label identifies the dress as coming from the prestigious Maison de Linge of Manhattan and Greenwich, Connecticut.
Label before conservation
Label after conservation
We do not yet know whether Maison de Linge regularly produced fancy dress but, as its name suggests, it was known for fine lingerie and would probably have taken custom orders from clients.
1935 magazine ad. Maison de Linge is also noted in a 1924 New Yorker Magazine for its "informal linens for country houses; modern monagrams well done."
Cara Jordan was in charge of Museum Textile Services's conservation treatment and archival packing. Cara surface cleaned the dress and stabilized the few small tears. The torn label was repaired with an adhesive underlay and reattached with cotton thread and an overlay of sheer net. The rhinestone clasp was relocated to its original side position. One of Carla's daughters was born in 1936 and believes her mother may have continued to wear the dress into her pregnancy, requiring the clasp to be adjusted. It is also possible that Carla holds her arm in front of her to mask her growing belly in the 1935 Mahoney portrait.
With all of this history, we are certain that the owners will find the perfect institution to which to donate this historic dress.
By Cara Jordan
Early in 2012, a curious textile arrived at our new studio. The hooked rug bears the proud image of a bulldog in a Yale sweater and an inscription reading “Handsome Dan II.” We were hooked (no pun intended)…who was this Handsome dog?
Handsome Dan II hooked rug. Courtesy of private collector.
Handsome Dan I
Clue to Handsome Dan II’s identity are his blue sweater and the football next to him. After some research, we learned that the tradition of Handsome Dan began in 1889 when Yale got its first official mascot, Handsome Dan I. Handsome Dan, a bulldog, was purchased for $5.00 from a local blacksmith’s shop by Yale student Andrew Graves. Handsome Dan attended Yale’s football games and was trained to “speak to Harvard,” whereupon he would bark ferociously. He remained Yale’s mascot until his death in 1898. Handsome Dan’s body has been stuffed and can still be seen today in the Payne Whitney Gymnasium.
Handsome Dan’s successor, Handsome Dan II, came to Yale in 1933. He was bought with saved pennies by the freshman class and nicknamed “Bad Dan.” In 1934 he was kidnapped by Harvard students and photographed with the statue of John Harvard. Handsome Dan II passed away in 1937 due to complications from a broken leg.
Handsome Dan XVII, "Sherman"
Since then there have been a long succession of Handsome Dans at Yale. The likeness of Handsome Dan has even appeared on Christmas cards and is part of the Yale team logo. The newest Handsome Dan, Handsome Dan XVII, known as “Sherman,” has been part of the Yale tradition since 2007. Yale’s adoption of the bulldog as its mascot was the first officially recognized U.S. collegiate mascot. Since then many other colleges have also adopted the bulldog as their own.
Family records tell us that this hooked rug was made by Blanche Paull, the great grandmother of owner’s partner Matthew Carter. Ms Paull was an accomplished artist whose son Tom attended Yale. The rug likely dates to Handsome Dan II’s tenure, between 1933 and 1937.
Detail before conservation.
MTS is looking forward to conserving this historic hooked rug so that the family can display it for future generations.