Behind the Scenes

Color Selections
Exhibition Designer, Chuck Mack, looks at paint samples and compares them to interiors from the Napoleonic-era.

Now that spring is here, preparations for the opening of ‘Woman of Two Worlds:’ Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte and Her Quest for an Imperial Legacy are moving at a rapid pace!

The exhibition opening is less than three months away and we are all running in high gear. Everyday “behind the scenes” is filled with research and planning for the installation. Here is a glimpse of what is in the works to make Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte’s amazing story come to life.

We all know how difficult it is to find the perfect colors for our homes, but selecting the “right” color for an exhibition requires even greater thought. Chief Curator, Alexandra Deutsch, and Exhibitions Designer Chuck Mack, spent many hours looking at popular interior colors used during Elizabeth’s lifetime and narrowed the color selections down to several greens, lavenders and blues.

Although we are not going to reveal the final selection, suffice it to say we were all surprised by the color that looked best in the gallery and complimented with the objects in the exhibition the most. Elizabeth’s account books note that she favored yellow and believed it flattered her coloring. As a nod to this, hints of yellow will dot the graphics throughout the gallery.

Barbara and Julie Researching

Account Book Page
Account Book and Diary of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Maryland Historical Society, MS 142, Box 13A, unnumbered page.

Curatorial Volunteers Barbara Meger and Julie Madden study and transcribe Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte’s letters, ephemera and account books in the H. Furlong Baldwin Library.

Both Meger and Madden possess expertise in textiles and costume history, making them ideal researchers for this project.

Although Elizabeth maintained a frugal household, she was not above buying many shoes.

Meger discovered this fact while combing through Elizabeth’s diaries and account books.

Working with the Bonaparte Papers in the library yields a seemingly unending font of information about Elizabeth’s life.

To the right, Elizabeth records information about some of her jewelry, in particular a pair of amethyst and pearl earrings “sett in England in year 1805…”

Colleen Callahan of Costume and Textile Specialists fits a reproduction of Elizabeth’s mother, Dorcas Spear Patterson’s gown on a form. This reproduction was then sent overnight mail to StudioEis in Brooklyn, New York where they carved the body for Dorcas’s mannequin.

Dorcas Shoulders

David and Dorcas
Sculptor David Hayes 

We measured Dorcas’ original gown to determine just how small the mannequin’s torso needs to be.

Dorcas was remarkably petite. Measuring from shoulder to shoulder, she was only 9 ¼” wide!

Colleen and I checked the waist measurement, too, and determined that Dorcas had an admirable 21” to 22” waistline during her early life.

At right, Sculptor David Hayes of StudioEis, used the muslin and mock-up dress form to carve Dorcas’s torso to its minute proportions.

David is making final adjustments before the mannequin goes to casting. (Go ahead and click on the image, and it will magnify on screen.)

Comparison crop

A sculpture of Dorcas Spear Patterson’s face is seen here before its final revisions

After comparing it to the portrait of Dorcas by Robert Edge Pine, the chin was narrowed and the nose was lengthened slightly. The sculpture is now going into its final casting.

Exhibition Designer Chuck Mack works closely with me and Heather Haggstrom, Exhibitions Manager, to plan out the layout of the exhibition cases. Here he is seen with some of the silver that will be on view in the exhibition.

case layouts miniatures
Chuck Mack and Alexandra Deutsch, Chief Curator, trace the layout of the miniature paintings that will be in the exhibition.

The silver is laid out on a paper template that represents the dimensions of the case. Careful consideration is given to the history of each object before it is positioned in the case. This process is repeated for every case in the installation.

The resulting template will be used to design the exhibition case and the mounts for the paintings. This collection of miniatures, all portraits of the Bonaparte family, includes Napoleon and Prince Jerome (Elizabeth’s husband).

Below is a group of accessories being considered for one of the textile cases.

This grouping of textiles were laid out and considered for the installation. Textiles can only remain on view for brief periods because light exposure is detrimental to their condition. As a result, we must plan to rotate textiles throughout the life of the exhibition.

Thankfully, many of Elizabeth’s accessories from lace gloves to shawls survive.

More behind the scenes activities are going on, but you’ll have to read our next post to learn more about that. We’ll be giving you a glimpse of the various conservators hard at work preparing paintings, silver, and other objects for the installation

textile layout


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