'A feast for the eyes.' MassMu's new exhibit features opulence, fashion of the Gilded Age

A costume worn by HBO's "The Gilded Age" star Carrie Coon, a Copley-native, is now on display at the Massillon Museum. The museum's latest exhibit is "Gilding Northeast Ohio: Fashion & Fortune 1870 to 1900."
A costume worn by HBO's "The Gilded Age" star Carrie Coon, a Copley-native, is now on display at the Massillon Museum. The museum's latest exhibit is "Gilding Northeast Ohio: Fashion & Fortune 1870 to 1900."

MASSILLON ‒ The Massillon Museum's latest feature showcases the opulence of the Gilded Age and how Northeast Ohio was as important to the period as the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers.

"Gilding Northeast Ohio: Fashion & Fortune 1870 to 1900" features fashions and artifacts from the renowned period. The exhibit runs through Oct. 13.

"Massillon's history is rich in industrialist success," museum Director Alexandra Nicholis Coon said. "You can see it in the remnants of architecture and businesses."

The museum collaborated with fashion historian Brian Centrone to bring to life the story of the wealth and glitz that dotted Northeast Ohio.

Centrone wanted visitors to immerse themselves in the Gilded Age to experience the sense of excess while also acknowledging those on the opposite end - those who worked long hours and low wages to indulge the lavish lifestyles of the elite.

HBO's "The Gilded Age" has shined a light on the era, sparking interest among historians and fashionistas.

A number of garments worn by Massillon and Cleveland elite are on display at the Massillon Museum's new exhibit "Gilding Northeast Ohio: Fashion & Fortune 1870 to 1900." The couture costumes hail from a number of design houses, includng the House of Worth.
A number of garments worn by Massillon and Cleveland elite are on display at the Massillon Museum's new exhibit "Gilding Northeast Ohio: Fashion & Fortune 1870 to 1900." The couture costumes hail from a number of design houses, includng the House of Worth.

"There are a lot of comparisons to storylines about whether it was historically accurate," Nicholis Coon said of the series. "There was a lot of interest in the period clothes, the history and the characters."

Among the stars of the HBO hit is Copley-native Carrie Coon, who is Nicholis Coon's sister-in-law. They learned one of the show's costume designers, who hails from Ohio, had fashioned some of the costumes seen on the show after Alice Wade Everett's wedding gown. The Wade family was among the Cleveland elite.

"We thought, 'Wouldn't it be a great opportunity to collaborate?'" Nicholis Coon said. "A collection in Cleveland inspired them."

The exhibit features men's and women's fashion from the museum's permanent collection as well as clothing on loan from the Western Reserve Historical Society, Kent State University Museum and the McKinley Presidential Library & Museum.

Vignettes help tell the story of the Gilded Age through fashion at the Massillon Museum's latest exhibit "Gilding Northeast Ohio: Fashion and Fortune 1870-1900. This scene depicts a group of people enjoying winter. The sleigh is on loan from Spring Hill Historic Home and Underground Railroad Site in Massillon.
Vignettes help tell the story of the Gilded Age through fashion at the Massillon Museum's latest exhibit "Gilding Northeast Ohio: Fashion and Fortune 1870-1900. This scene depicts a group of people enjoying winter. The sleigh is on loan from Spring Hill Historic Home and Underground Railroad Site in Massillon.

Gilding Northeast Ohio: A walk through the Gilded Age

Visitors can see snippets of fashion and fortune from business and travel, opera and opulence, sports and leisure to weddings, presidents and politics.

Couture dresses created for the elite of Massillon and Cleveland by fashion houses in Paris, including Charles Frederick Worth, stand on a staircase modeled after the grand staircase in Five Oaks mansion, the nearby home of the Massillon Woman's Club.

The walls are dotted with artwork from the museum's collection and works by William T. Mathews and Massillon illustrator Lee Willenborg's portrait of a woman.

Pictures of the homes of wealthy industrialists and portraits of the elite are juxtaposed with those of the working class, immigrants and minorities who lived a different life than the wealthy.

The Massillon Museum's "Gilding Northeast Ohio: Fashion & Fortune 1870-1900" features clothing from the Massillon Museum's collection as well as garments on loan from Western Reserve Historical Society, Kent State University Museum, McKinley Presidential Library & Museum and HBO.
The Massillon Museum's "Gilding Northeast Ohio: Fashion & Fortune 1870-1900" features clothing from the Massillon Museum's collection as well as garments on loan from Western Reserve Historical Society, Kent State University Museum, McKinley Presidential Library & Museum and HBO.

"While everything was glitzy, sparkly and shiny and had an allure, we wanted to tell the story of the marginalized - the immigrants, the Blacks, women," Nicholis Coon said.

Visitors can see how the wealthy traveled to far-off places as well as how they enjoyed riding bikes, going sled-riding or taking a hot air balloon ride.

Carrie Coon and the connection to HBO's 'The Gilded Age'

Another vignette features an opera box and Carrie Coon's costume from the Season 2 finale gown worn in "Opera Wars." The dress is designed after a House of Worth dress on display at the Met.

"They claim Massillon was one of the best opera houses between Chicago and Pittsburgh," Archivist Mandy Altimus Stahl said.

Another scene is decorated with a canopy of flowers based on the photo of the wedding party of Edna McClymonds and Horatio Wales at Five Oaks that President William McKinley and his wife, Ida, attended. Among the wedding dresses are Ida McKinley's wedding corset and the wedding dress of Mary McClain Russell.

One of the dresses on display at the Massillon Museum exhibit "Gilding Northeast Ohio: Fashion & Fortune 1870–1900."
One of the dresses on display at the Massillon Museum exhibit "Gilding Northeast Ohio: Fashion & Fortune 1870–1900."

Two other costumes from the "The Gilded Age" series also are on display.

Men are represented in the exhibition via McKinley's summer jacket and President James Garfield's dressing gown.

Centrone has a fascination with McKinley and has presented and written about McKinley and his clothing specifically about his trouser crease, Nicholis Coon said.

There are 155 reproductions of photos on the walls of the Massillon Museum, featuring homes of the rich families in Massillon and Cleveland area and portraits of the wealthy and those who served them.
There are 155 reproductions of photos on the walls of the Massillon Museum, featuring homes of the rich families in Massillon and Cleveland area and portraits of the wealthy and those who served them.

As the trouser crease was falling out of fashion, McKinley was photographed with a prominent one, bringing the craze back in vogue, she added.

Besides the clothing, accessories such as a collapsible top hat to stick under your opera seat, a travel bustle and jewelry are on display. A name badge worn by Susan B. Anthony during a Massillon women's rights, McKinley paraphernalia, calling cards and opera glasses help tell the story.

Centrone describes the exhibit as a "feast for the eyes."

It is one of the most ambitious projects taken on by the museum and required many to make it happen, Nicholis Coon said.

The exhibit was made possible in part by a grant from ArtsinStark and Visit Canton, which funded it as well as marketing, she added.

Massillon Museum Director Alexandra Nicholis Coon discusses some of the clothing on display at the museum as part of the new exhibit "Gilding Northeast Ohio: Fashion & Fortune 1870–1900."
Massillon Museum Director Alexandra Nicholis Coon discusses some of the clothing on display at the museum as part of the new exhibit "Gilding Northeast Ohio: Fashion & Fortune 1870–1900."

"We love to assume challenging projects, but dressing mannequins is hard," Nicholis Coon joked.

Besides museum staff, they enlisted the help of an exhibition designer, local craftsmen to build the sets and an artist to hand-paint gold elements, pillars replicating the backdrop for President McKinley's inauguration and period wallpaper.

Besides garments, accessories including a collapsible top hat are on display at the Massillon Museum exhibit "Gilding Northeast Ohio: Fashion & Fortune 1870-1900."
Besides garments, accessories including a collapsible top hat are on display at the Massillon Museum exhibit "Gilding Northeast Ohio: Fashion & Fortune 1870-1900."

"It's been a labor of love," Nicholis Coon said. "We wanted to do Brian's vision proud and we had the opportunity to highlight Massillon's history through fashion, decorative arts and how history is represented in entertainment."

Reach Amy at 330-775-1135 or amy.knapp@indeonline.com.

This article originally appeared on The Independent: Massillon Museum brings glitz and glam of Gilded Age to visitors

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