Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Diana, a celebration

DIANA, a celebration is currently on display at the Cincinnati Museum Center through August 17th 2014.  This sparkling exhibit has travelled the globe to allow Diana’s admirers an up close glimpse of her life in all its facets.  Cincinnati is the final stop on this worldwide tour.  At the tour’s conclusion all of its contents will be returned to William and Harry.  The display provides a well-balanced look at the life and work of Diana Spencer princess of whales. 

You often hear of Diana’s beauty, compassion, fragility, and her ability to relate to everyone.  All of these aspects are reiterated in the exhibit.  For me, the impressive takeaway however was about versatility.  It takes a remarkable woman to be able to balance an outward softness of a mother, strength of a humanitarian and political figure, sparkle of a crowd favorite, and the sophistication of a princess.  She not only achieves this balance, but also was able to accomplish it in a way that seems entirely genuine.  To me it is that versatility that makes Diana a role model and icon.

The exhibit starts by exploring the lineage that brought Diana to her royal life. “The Spencer women” gives a view of her family genealogy and the legacy Diana chose to continue with her work.  Coming from a long line of strong women, Diana’s family is woven through history. A number of familiar names known for their socialite abilities to impress through entertainment, and those that impressed with their philanthropy precede Diana in her family tree.  Diana is remembered philanthropically with her ancestors.

Georgiana Cavendish may be familiar as the Duchess of Devonshire.  She was celebrated for her beauty, style, political activism, support of women’s suffrage, and allegedly notorious adventures.  She was immortalized in paintings by Thomas Gainsborough, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and later by Hollywood with the movie “the Duchess.”  She was also born Georgiana Spencer and contributed not only to the impressive Spencer public expectation but also to the family heirloom jewelry collection.  Georgiana is just one notable name in a full family tree. 

Riviere necklace
picture from
Seeing personal heirlooms passed through generations is a treat.  ‘The Spencer women” gives insight into Diana’s family as well as presents some of the family jewels in sparkling splendor.  Here too is a note to versatility.  The beauty of Diana’s stunning crown is a combination of two previously crafted jewelry pieces.  Apparently, this combination and reworking is a common practice in the royal jewelry vault.  One item, a Riviere necklace originally belonging to Georgiana Spencer, is constructed so that every diamond, all hanging diamond pendants, and several large pearl drops are all detachable.  One portion of the necklace can be worn as a bracelet.  Reworking, reinventing, and repeating great things in new ways is not a new trend but one that Diana carries on with grace.

The next portion of the exhibit is dedicated to presenting an intimate view of Diana’s childhood and formative years.  It includes home movies, mementoes’, personal journals, report cards, animal figurine collections, dance shoes, photos, and many other personal items.  These small details are touching.  It is an unusual view of Diana as a girl and a lady.  Diana’s softness comes through in the bubbly handwriting, and the chipped animal statuettes, in the details. 

Diana is relatable as a girl and young woman, and yet you see all of the extra attention that goes into raising a Lady.  The details of her childhood could be similar to many.  Then as she grows older she goes to finishing school.  It is this point in the exhibit where you start to see the differences in upbringing.  With bound books to track seating charts and details of hosted social events, to programs scrawled with what was worn and who was met in the margins, every Lady must take care of the details.  Training to be a nanny or a kindergarten teacher in school, and at the same time training for a life more formal.

Following Diana’s upbringing is a review of the royal courtship and marriage.  Looking smitten in tartan and the 1980s, this section focuses on the official timeline and keeps things positive.  A room of pictures and letters is followed by Diana’s famous wedding dress.  Puffy sleeves, special lace, a family heirloom tiara, and one very impressive train fill the room.  The details and handwork exhibited in the famous dress and shoes are impressive.  The royal wedding plays and it is a reminder of a romantic time. 

Princess Diana wearing her favorite: pink
meeting with Sri Chinmoy,
Kensington Palace, May 21st 1997
Next is a room lined with many of the dresses famous in images of Diana.  This could also double as a review of the fashion of the 1980s and early 1990s as the styles of the time are distinctly present.  Each ensemble is accompanied by a description of how it was chosen, how it was worn, and how accessories were added to wear the outfit again in a fresh way.  Some ensembles are accompanied by descriptions of how Diana chose them or felt while wearing them.  The evolution of Diana is illustrated in her fashion.

A room dedicated to the causes she found so important is inspiring.  Through videos, writings and itineraries you see the dedication and compassion for the suffering.  You see the Princess bring light to challenging issues and to the faces of those she met and consoled.  Diana is described as shy but she overcame this challenge and shined in some of the most difficult situations.  Diana finds her voice and passion in embracing those often cast off. 

The exhibit transitions to the tragic conclusion of her life.  A floor to ceiling case is stacked with books of letters to Diana and her family.  Chills ensue at the illustration of how many lives she touched.  The final public statement from Diana’s brother papers a wall.  Rose petals carpet the floor, and a video of her funeral procession plays on screen as “Good bye English Rose” pays tribute musically over the scene.  Diana’s life is cut short, but her memory lives on.

Concluding the exhibit is a call to action.  Additional information about Diana’s causes lay in wait for action  to be carried on by inspired exhibitioners. 

The Cincinnati Museum Center is also featuring a companion exhibit Daughters of the Queen City.  This exhibit brings light to the local history of women that have dedicated their lives to philanthropy.  Photos, local periodicals, brief and lively descriptions of contributions, and the occasional wedding dress provide a view of all aspects of these dedicated women’s’ lives.  The companion exhibit also concludes with an opportunity to participate with additional information on how to be involved and an artistic station to encourage young involvement.

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