The holiday season is upon us — and that’s when Molly’s Canopy traditionally takes a break for the festive month of December so I can relax, kick back and recharge.
This year has brought newfound cousins, new avenues of family history exploration, new blogging friends (among them the Sepia Saturday regulars) — and renewed hope that the New Year will be just as fulfilling.
Happy Holidays to you and yours from Molly’s Canopy— and please stop back in January 2018 when regular blogging resumes!
Sepia Saturday394: Eleventh and last in a series on piecing together the origins of my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence’s fashion sense.
In November 1948, my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence, 43, appeared at my parents’ wedding as Mother of the Bride in a dress to die for.
Liz never had a bridal gown of her own, since she and my grandfather eloped — so she seems to have compensated by pulling out all the stops for my mom Peg’s wedding with an eye-catching outfit that made her a standout in the wedding party.
My grandmother looked pretty good as a Maid of Honor at her younger sister’s wedding, but Aunt Margaret would have chosen Liz’s dress for that occasion.
This time, the choice was up to Liz — and clearly, she aimed to dazzle from head to toe. She wore a black feathered fascinator hat at a jaunty angle and sported stylish eyeglasses that could be worn today. Subdued accessories — tiny watch, small drop earrings, wedding ring and corsage — meant her dress took center stage.
Stunning in copper and black
And what a dress! Shiny copper-colored stripes alternated with black matte at a bias angle on the sleeves and skirt and horizontally across the torso — so whenever Liz moved, the dress would pick up the light.
Normally, my grandmother wore flats when out with my grandfather since she was several inches taller — but she went ahead and wore strapped heels for this special occasion, which nicely complemented her dress. Long black gloves completed her stunning look.
Not to take away from anyone else in the wedding party. Everyone looked wonderful befitting their own personal styles — and it was my parents’ special day after all. But even among family, my maternal grandmother displayed a certain unique style that was all her own.
A shimmering dream
You may wonder how I know that my grandmother’s dress was copper and black, since the photos are black and white.
The explanation is simple — I actually saw the dress hanging in an attic closet during a visit to her house when I was in my twenties.
I may have asked her about it or recalled the dress from seeing my folks’ wedding photos — but what stays with me is the beautiful iridescence of the copper and the garment’s clean, tailored lines.
Years later, when my family closed out my maternal grandparents’ house after they both passed, I checked in the closet for the dress — but it was gone.
Yet its image still lingers like a shimmering dream — a beloved reminder of my maternal grandmother Liz who set a high bar for family style and lived by it all her life.
Up next: A family holiday get together.Meanwhile, please visit the posts of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.
Sepia Saturday393:Tenth in a series on piecing together the origins of my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence’s fashion sense.
I am proud to descend from a long line of remarkable women. Among them was my maternal grandmother Liz (Stoutner) Laurence — who at age 57 decided to take up photography.
Until I was six years old, my family — Mom, Dad, two younger brothers and me — lived with my maternal grandparents in a large farmhouse called Whispering Chimneys in Altamont, Albany Co., New York.
When we first moved there, my grandmother Liz operated an antique shop down near Route 20, the busy highway that ran past our 10-acre farm. She also helped my mother out with us children.
A new midlife journey
But in the mid-1950s we relocated to the suburbs of Binghamton, N.Y., after my dad got a job transfer. Around the same time, my mom’s only sibling Aunt Rita made a similar career move to San Diego, Calif.
With her children getting on with their lives, Liz may have been at loose ends in the big farmhouse. She learned, and later taught, Early American Tole Painting in her studio at the farm — and created pieces for sale as gifts for weddings and other occasions.
However, Liz apparently wanted an additional creative outlet — because at midlife she enrolled in photography classes. And from the looks of her class, this was an unusual pursuit for women at the time.
Moving with the times
The Kodak Instamatic camera was introduced in 1962, and I remember having one of those little cameras as a teenager. But my grandmother set her sights on more sophisticated photo taking.
Liz started with an SLR and later used a square format camera that required looking down through the lens from the top. With these she took umpteen family and still-life photos using color slide film to perfect her craft. Slides became her metier and I inherited several boxes of her work.
Naturally, Liz kept up appearances with crisp, tailored clothing — as shown here — whether in class or hosting a family picnic at the farm. In fact, she may have viewed her clothing as another form of artist expression — one she had cultivated since childhood that complemented the other art forms she learned as an adult.
Up next: My maternal grandmother in a dress to die for as mother of the bride at my parents’ wedding.Meanwhile, please visit the posts of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.
Sepia Saturday 392: Ninth in a series on piecing together the origins of my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence’s fashion sense.
Recent posts have focused on my fashionable maternal grandmother Liz (Stoutner) Laurence and her family’s influence on her style. However, Liz’s own retail experience in the 1920s likely also played a part.
She appears below, third from left, next to her friend Lib Handy and her other co-workers at The Boston Store in Gloversville, Fulton Co., N.Y.
The Boston Store — a retail shop located at once-bustling 22 South Main Street — sold quality infants wear, corsets, hosiery and undergarments, along with dry goods judging by the plaid blankets in the window.
If this photo is any indication, Gloversville was a town filled with people who liked to dress well. Or maybe these retail workers were expected to dress the part in the interest of sales.
Either way, my grandmother stands out even in this well-appointed crowd — wearing contemporary clothing with just a hint of bangs accenting her dark, sleeked-back hair. Liz was also statuesque at 5 feet 11 inches — taller than many of the men.
Liz’s wide-lapelled coat, possibly camel’s hair, shows interesting button details at the belt and cuff and reveals a satin sailor-sashed neckline on her dark dress. A slouch purse, with metal clasp and chain handle, and strapped shoes accessorize her look.
Learning on the job
My grandmother Liz may have worked at The Boston Store part-time or summers in high school. She eloped with my grandfather Tony Laurence in 1924, when she was 18, so her retail work would have been prior to that — possibly summers while she was attending teachers college in Oneonta, N.Y.
Judging by the Boston Store ads in the Gloversville Morning Herald, Liz would have had loads of garments and styles to choose from at work.
The prices weren’t bad either — plus they gave trading stamps for future purchases! An ideal place for a young woman to learn what she did and didn’t like — right down to long underwear for those chilly Mohawk Valley winters.
A memory of my grandmother comes to mind reading the ad’s description of fibre silk hose.
When I was a teenager in the 1960s, panty-hose had just come into fashion although stockings were still around, too. Snags and runs could easily ruin either style, but my grandmother had a solution.
“Always wear gloves when you put on your hose,” my grandmother instructed during one of my visits. “That way, they won’t snag and will last longer.”
With that, she donned a pair of white gloves and demonstrated how to carefully roll a stocking up the leg — the smooth, practiced move of a true fashionista.
More photos of my maternal grandmother Liz in the next post. Meanwhile, please visit the posts of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.
Sepia Saturday 391: Eighth in a series on piecing together the origins of my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence’s fashion sense.
When I discovered that my grandmother’s Uncle John Stoutner won a first prize for waltz at an 1895 company picnic, I assumed he was participating in a once-in-a-lifetime event — a lighthearted, informal competition among colleagues to liven up a summer gathering.
But it turns out Uncle John was serious about his dancing.
Because four years later — on Sept. 27, 1899 — the Gloverville Daily Leader announced the upcoming launch of Professor John Stoutner’s school of dance in Gloversville, Fulton Co., N.Y.
Of course Uncle John was not literally a professor. However, Miriam-Webster’s dictionary says a professor can be “one that teaches or professes special knowledge of an art, sport or occupation requiring skill.”
Imparting his skill
So Uncle John, as a dance instructor, was imparting his special knowledge and skill — complete with an honorific that added a feather to his cap as professional milliner.
Apparently, social dancing was tremendously popular at the turn of the century, because another news article said Uncle John’s first class (held 118 years ago this month) drew 80 dance students.
In fact, turnout was so good that Uncle John had to change venues for the remainder of the season from Gloversville’s Music Hall to the larger Mills Hall — where his second class was attended by 300 dancers and their friends!
A social and masquerade party
Nor was this the first extravaganza Uncle John had organized. Among inherited family papers, I found a formal invitation to a Private Masquerade Party held on Monday, Feb. 14, 1898 at the Gloversville armory.
Printed at the bottom are the names of the Masquerade Party Committee: J.H. Stoutner, L.H. Rinefort and W.J. Nelson.
Tucked in with this announcement was a hand-drawn invitation inviting Miss Celia Mimm, my maternal great-grandmother, to attend another event Uncle John may have had a hand in — an E. L. Social held earlier the same month on Feb. 4, 1898.
Celia, then 21, eventually became Uncle John’s sister-in-law when she married his younger brother — my maternal great-grandfather Andrew J. “Pete” Stoutner.
Although I have no pictures of him teaching or waltzing or emceeing an event, I was nevertheless thrilled to discover this social dance history of my maternal grandmother’s Uncle John.
Throughout my adult life, I have been a regular social dancer — favoring swing and Latin dance styles.
My mother — a talented pianist, singer, composer and arranger — was a career music educator before she retired.
My maternal grandmother Liz apparently danced socially — because I still see all the moves she taught me during my teens whenever someone breaks into the Charleston swing.
Now it turns out that long before all of us there was Uncle John H. Stoutner — winning waltz contests, leading dance classes, booking halls and orchestras, and contributing his dramatic dancer’s dip to our family’s musical heritage!
Up next: My maternal grandmother develops her own signature style. Meanwhile, please visit the posts of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.