New exhibits unveil common thread among matrimonies at Ridgefield museum

RIDGEFIELD — Here comes the history.

Starting Sept. 30 at Keeler Tavern Museum, visitors can learn how American wedding traditions evolved through the 20th century by browsing some never-before-seen items in a new exhibit, “Tying the Knot.”

The exhibit is a complement to “Threading the Needle,” a hands-on history exhibit that will explore Ridgefield’s part in producing textile fibers prior to the rise of industrial factories.

“(There) was a major push by the Connecticut government early on to get everybody in the colony to raise silkworms,” Chief Curator Catherine Prescott said. “George Washington’s inaugural suit was made out of Connecticut silk.”

During the exhibition, which runs from Oct. 6-31 in the Cass Gilbert Carriage Barn, patrons can try their hand at spinning wool, breaking flax for linen and weaving materials to get a better sense of how clothes used to be made. This tactile interaction creates a common thread to “Tying the Knot” since silk is often used to produce wedding dresses.

The exhibit, housed in the tavern’s Gilbert Wing, includes wedding dresses, photo albums, gifts, favors and information about how these customs came to be. Executive Director Hildegard Grob explained that typical American wedding traditions only became widespread during the 20th century.

“Most brides did not wear a white wedding dress until the end of the 19th, early 20th century,” she said. Wedding gifts, she added, “started becoming more popular in the 19th century, and then you have Macy’s coming up with a wedding registry” in 1924.

Keeler last displayed its wedding collections in 1991, but some of the items featured in “Tying the Knot” have never seen the light of day. This includes two dresses worn by Ridgefield brides, a set of blue and white china and a wedding fan used by Julia Finch Gilbert, Cass’ wife, on her special day.

Finch intended to give the heirloom to her eldest daughter so she could use it on her wedding day — fulfilling the “something old” custom — but Elizabeth Gilbert died when she was a teenager.

Three generations of Gilbert dresses will be showcased in the exhibit, including that of Julia Post Bastedo, the Gilberts’ granddaughter. Bastedo was the first bride to hold her reception at Keeler’s Garden House in 1941. The museum has hosted thousands of weddings at the site since then, which this year earned a nod from The Knot as a top wedding venue.

Prior efforts by the Keeler Tavern Preservation Society, founded in 1966, transformed the site from “something old” into “something new.”

“Way back then the Garden House was really in shambles, so the Preservation Society had to do a lot of fundraising to refurbish (it),” Grob explained. “This is going to be our first exhibit that actually showcases a particular storyline of the Gilberts that is fun, entertaining, educational and really touches on so many different aspects of what this museum is.”

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit keelertavernmuseum.org.

alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com