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As heirlooms are passed down from generation to generation, the beloved objects unveil what's nearest and dearest to the family's heart. One exquisite gown, on view at Rienzi through June 30, sketches one family's journey through many joyful nuptial celebrations.
Five brides and three generations of Reckling women have walked down the aisle wearing a soft ivory peau d'ange silk gown on display at the former residence of Carroll Sterling Masterson and Harris Masterson III, today the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's home to its collection of European decorative arts. A cozy gallery at Rienzi — in what was previously the bedroom of Isla Carroll Cowan, daughter of Carroll Sterling's and her second husband, John Cowan, who died in a plane crash in the 1950s — exhibits The Wedding Dress alongside photos and ephemera that reminisce of days past.
The original gown was purchased at the bridal salon of Neiman Marcus in downtown Houston for the October 1957 wedding of Isla Carroll Cowan's to Thomas R. Reckling III. The dress was crowned with an elegant, intricate veil crafted from antique Brussels rose point lace, which also adorned the hem, neckline and sleeves. The juxtaposition of new, contemporary design with vintage fabrics dialogs on this family's values to treasure the accoutrements of yore.
The juxtaposition of new, contemporary design with vintage fabrics dialogs on this family's values to treasure the accoutrements of yore.
The mid-1950s also mark an important era in the development of American bridal fashions. Actress Grace Kelly's magnificent 1956 wedding ceremony to Rainier III, Prince of Monaco, described by the press as the "Wedding of the Century," set a new trend with a frock designed by Helen Rose of MGM that featured a slim, fitted bodice and flared skirt, hallmarks of Isla Carroll Cowan's graceful formals.
Alterations to the dress were made to appease the unique personalities of Randa Carroll Reckling's wedding in 1981, Katherine Christiana Reckling's wedding in 1983 and Isla Carroll Reckling' wedding in 1986. For her wedding to Joseph Paul Jornayvaz in 2010, Isla Carroll McConn requested the most significant modification, the removal of the sleeves.
Also on view at Rienzi's The Wedding Dress are newspaper social page clippings, a digital, interactive photography slideshow of the receptions, and related miscellanies, including a garter belt worn by the five brides, a guest book, a gift box and a laced ring bearer's pillow.
Rienzi's spring lecture at MFAH, set for 6:30 p.m. April 11, titled "Something Old, Something New: The Wedding Dress as Fantasy, Memory and Transformation," presented by by Hazel Clark, research chair of fashion for Parsons, The New School for Design, will focus on the gown as the center of fantasy.
Watch the video (above) for CultureMap's personal tour with Rienzi's curatorial assistant Caroline Cole, who explains the meaning of the gown and the complementing items on display.