SAINT AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA

Undressing Downton

The elaborate process of dismantling a blockbuster exhibition.

 Work for the Lightner Museum staff was far from over when the Dressing Downton™ exhibition closed its ballroom doors on February 4, 2018. Dressing Downton™ costume curator Nancy Lawson flew in from New York City for the project of dismantling the 36 costumes from the hit PBS series Downton Abbey®. The dismantling took longer than a week with help from museum staff and museum curator Barry Myers.

This was not Ms. Lawson’s first visit to the Lightner. She worked closely with Myers during its installation in late September – early October, calling it a “duel exhibition” because of all the work Mr. Myers and his staff put into creating elaborate rooms with the Museum’s permanent collection.

36 original costumes arrived in late September in elaborate crates that Ms. Lawson called “works of art” in themselves due to their craftsmanship.

During the installation process, Ms. Lawson took great care maintaining the quality of the costumes as they were placed onto mannequins, always with threads and pins, she said, “The costumes are actually in their best condition when they arrive at their final destination because I’ve had time to work on them at every stop along the way.”

When she left us, just before opening day, all the costumes were at their utmost perfection and placed thoughtfully throughout the elaborate rooms that Mr. Myers had created.

At times the exhibition seemed to fly by, at other times it felt like the exhibition would never leave. Alas, February 4th, 2018 still managed to appear in the blink of an eye and the Museum and visitors said goodbye to Dressing Downton™.

This de-installation for Ms. Lawson was different from the others. This was the last stop. The costumes were not being put back in to crates. Instead, they were carefully packed into elaborate garment boxes and shipped to London. The naked mannequins were tucked back into their crates and shipped, unclothed, to Atlanta where they will reside in storage.

A great deal more of pinning and sewing occurred as these magnificent costumes were delicately hung on hangers, wrapped in plastic, and eventually placed in the garment storage boxes.

Ms. Lawson said it was an emotional time for her, saying goodbye to the costumes she had been working on for several years and would probably not see again.

Now that the costumes, hats, accessories, their mannequins and crates, and all the signs have been moved from the museum and on to different places, the ballroom remains dark and quiet, resting from all that it had just experienced.

Our visitors gave much feedback from the last special exhibition. A great deal of what we heard was that guests were just as impressed, if not more impressed by Otto Lightner’s collection within the exhibit. Museum pieces were brought down from fourth floor storage, cleaned, repaired, restored and placed in various room settings around the gallery.

So, what is next for the Grand Ballroom Gallery at the Lightner Museum?  Lightner Museum Curator has plans.

“I think our visitors will be delighted to see the outcome of our vision for the Grand Ballroom Gallery in the near future. The art and furniture that was part of the Dressing Downton™ exhibition will stay and be re-purposed into an exhibit called “The American Castle”, said Mr. Myers.

Not only will most of the museum pieces be staying in the ballroom, other items from the 4th floor storage space will be brought down and included in this new exhibition. “American Castle’ depicts Gilded Era estates in all of their glory. Much of Otto Lightner’s collection comes from Chicago estates that he purchased after the Great Depression.

We hope our visitors will look forward to the re- installation of our Grand Ballroom Gallery and Lightner Museum can’t wait to share the rich history of the “American Castle” with you.

The Lightner Museum is a non-profit cultural institution sustained by the generous support of individuals, businesses, members and sponsors. Donations are appreciated.

Lightner Museum staff person Trey Asner placing mannequins back in their crates to be shipped to Atlanta.

Exhibition produced by Exhibits Development Group in cooperation with Cosprop Ltd., London. Downton™ and Downton Abbey®. ©2018 Carnival Film & Television Limited. A Carnival Films/Masterpiece Co-Production. Carnival logo ©2005 Carnival Film & Television Limited. Masterpiece is a trademark of the WGBH Educational Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

 This exhibition was funded in part by Bank of America, St. Johns County Cultural Council, St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra, and the Beaches Tourist Development Council, Florida Division of Cultural Affairs and WJCT Public Broadcasting, and Visit Florida.