Steppingstone museum hosts 'Downton Abbey'-style garden party fundraiser for textile collection

Abby Harting laid three pieces of period clothing on a table, all women’s bodices — the first dated to the 1870s to the 1880s, the second from the 1890s and the third from the early 20th century.

The third item bore the label of a local seamstress, L.W. Holloway. Lillie Holloway lived and started her practice in Havre de Grace, according to Harting, the curator for the Steppingstone Farm Museum.

“People always like to see what's been made in their area,” Harting said. “The local history can be very interesting in that way.”

Harting pointed out aspects of the silk garment, such as the lace, that indicate Holloway’s skill.

“She's very aware of what's going on fashion-wise, and she's a very skilled seamstress and you can see that from her work,” Harting said.

The three bodices, which are part of Steppingstone’s textile collection, were among the garments on display Sunday during a “Downton Abbey” themed garden party to raise money to help preserve the textiles. It is the second annual fundraiser for the collection.

Harting said the hit PBS drama, which over six seasons chronicled the lives of an upper-class British family, as well as their household staff, fits the same time period interpreted at Steppingstone, which covers 1880 through 1920.

The nonprofit, privately-run farm museum, which is north of Havre de Grace in Susquehanna State Park, preserves and educates the public about Harford County’s rural heritage, according to the Steppingstone website.

Harting cares for the museum’s collection of more than 14,000 artifacts.

“Downton Abbey” covers the time period between the sinking of the RMS Titanic passenger liner in 1912 through the 1920s, according to Harting.

“We’re always looking for something that will capture the public’s imagination,” she said.

She said the party had a World War I theme about safety and sacrifice, with highlights of Harford County’s participation in the war, such as 10 female nurses who served on the front lies, as well as the 45 members of the military who were killed in the war.

“We were able to tell about those things and talk about our local history, which is what our mission is,” Harting said.

About 30 people attended the garden party, according to Lara Murphy, Steppingstone’s executive director.

Murphy said visitors, some who wore period costumes, could learn about the historic textiles from Harting, check out a fashion show with historic interpreters wearing period clothing and enjoy a garden party with tea sandwiches, sweets, tea and punch from the period.

“Everyone really enjoyed the program,” Murphy said.

She said the garden party fundraiser is meant “just to gain some extra funds to help preserve the collection.”

“At this point it's a small fundraiser, which we would like to grow,” Murphy said.

Harting said museum officials hope to raise at least $1,000 each year to help preserve the textiles. Tickets to Sunday’s event were $35 each.

Collections need constant care and constant maintenance, so you never stop fundraising for them,” she said.

Harting said the three bodices on display are all more than 100 years old, and “my job is to make sure they make it to the next 100 — at least.”

The 14,000-item Steppingstone collection covers a slew of aspects of live in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Harford County.

Harting encountered a couple who were visiting the museum and strolled up as organizers were cleaning up after the garden party.

Berthenia Crocker, who was with her husband, Geoffrey O'Gara, said she had historic farm implements found while cleaning buildings on her family’s farm southeast of Bel Air.

The couple lives in Wyoming, but she still has family who live in Harford County, Crocker said later.

Harting told Crocker that Steppingstone has a “freeze” on accepting new artifacts, but she encouraged her to send her an email with photos of the farm tools, “and we will chat.”

Harting said later that there is a freeze on new items so staff can care for the existing collection. She encourages people to contact her, though, if they find artifacts, since she can try to find an organization that can accept new items.

“That's always a pleasure for me to be able to find a right home for the piece,” Harting said.



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