New exhibit at Vassalboro Historical Society depicts textiles

Painting signed by Hedwig Collins. Eva (Pratt) Owen, headmistress at Oak Grove School from 1918 – 1958, front and center in a light blue gown and matching hat, holding a white shawl; her husband, headmaster Robert Everett Owen, under the trees at left in a dark suit, behind a young lady in red. The woman in purple hat coming down the lawn is said to be Mrs. Owen’s sister.

by Mary Grow
Photos courtesy of Jan Clowes, VHS president

The new display at the Vassalboro Historical Society (VHS) Museum in East Vassalboro is titled “All Things Textile,” and the name is appropriate.

The most eye-catching items are women’s dresses, from the early 1800s to the 1950s, in varied materials and colors, and on one wall a large painting of young ladies in spring outfits (and two gentlemen) gathered on the lawn of the Oak Grove School.

The gentleman in black, half hidden behind a bevy of students under the trees in the left of the painting, is identified as Headmaster Robert Owen. Front and center is his wife, Headmistress Eva (Pratt) Owen, wearing a light blue gown and matching flat hat. Behind and to her left, the woman in the purple dress and hat coming toward the viewer is said to be her sister, Edith (Pratt) Brown.

By the castle, on the right side of the painting, students greet an unidentified man on horseback.

The painting is signed by Hedwig Collin. Wikipedia identifies her as a Danish artist, born May 27, 1880, and known primarily as a writer and illustrator of children’s books. She also did portraits and landscape paintings, Wikipedia says, and another on-line site includes reproductions of fashion illustrations from different decades.

Collin spent World War II in the United States, and VHS President Jan Clowes says the Oak Grove painting is dated 1940. Collin died near Copenhagen, Denmark, on April 2, 1964.

The black dress is a walking suit from 1910. The red dress is a teenager’s from 1830 and the white wedding dress Mary C. Haynes designed and wore when she married John Bussell on June 13, 1953.

On other walls are three samplers stitched by young Vassalboro residents in 1816, 1821 and 1836. Shelves and display tables and cases contain a working sewing machine from the late 1870s, children’s clothing, men’s hats and shoes and other items. Two interactive stations let visitors test their skills by working on a hooked or a braided rug.

There is also an antique quilt frame that Clowes said is being raffled off as a fund-raiser for the Society.

The Society’s website says the display was put together with help from Textile Conservation Specialist Lynne Bassett, who is from Massachusetts. Her assistance to museum volunteers included identifying fabrics and estimating ages of items in the collection; advising on proper storage; and teaching volunteers four “conservation stitches” so they can do authentic repairs.

Bassett is scheduled to continue working with Society volunteers later in July. “We take care of things, and consult experts when we need to,” Clowes said.

Elsewhere in the building, visitors can enjoy replicas of a 1950s kitchen and a much earlier Native American encampment; view local artists’ work; and admire a collection of furniture, tableware and dozens of other items once used by Vassalboro families.

The Society’s library has an invaluable collection of letters, documents, books and other sources of information on past events in the town. The website credits volunteer Russell Smith for answering reference questions.

Other volunteers mentioned are Juliana Lyon, in charge, with Clowes, of organizing accession records; Ben Gidney, Stewart Carson, Jeremy Cloutier, Dawn Cates, Simone Antworth, Judy Goodrich, Steve and Sharon (Hopkins) Farrington and David Theriault; and specifically for the textile conservation project, Goodrich, Cates, Maurine Macomber, Theriault, Terry Curtis and Holly Weidner. More volunteers are always welcome, Clowes said.

Clowes also welcomes donations of local items, although she does not know where there will be room for them. Some families who have donated larger items are storing them for the Society, Clowes said.

This dress, part of the textile display, is a two-piece wedding dress, with a long train trimmed with lace. Annie Mae Pierce wore it when she married Henry Allen Priest on Aug. 31, 1880.

The next major project is acquiring a barn. In Clowes’ vision, it has two stories; generous space on the ground level will display farm equipment and similar large items, with smaller items above. Monetary donations toward the barn project, and to maintain the present building, are appreciated; the VHS is a non-profit organization and donations are tax-deductible as allowed by law.

The museum is in the former East Vassalboro Schoolhouse, at 327 Main Street, on the east side of Route 32, just north of the boat landing at the China Lake outlet. In one room, the old tin ceiling is visible, and the floors show the circles of screwholes where students’ chair-and-desk combinations were attached.

The VHS website is The telephone number is 923-3505; the email address is; and the mailing address is P. O. Box 13, North Vassalboro ME 04962. Regular open hours are Monday and Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The summer and fall calendar includes open houses Sunday afternoons from 1 to 4 p.m., on July 24, Aug. 14 and 28, and Oct. 9 and 23.

Three special programs are scheduled for Sunday afternoons from 3 to 5 p.m.: on July 17, Sharon Hopkins Farrington, on “Rug Hooking Past & Present”; on Aug. 21, Nate Gray, on “River Herring Ecology & History”; and on Oct. 16, Suzy Griffiths, “Holman Day Film-Fest.”

In September, the museum will be open during the Vassalboro Days celebration Sept. 10 and 11. The annual meeting and potluck meal are scheduled for 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25, at the East Vassalboro Grange Hall.


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