1825 – An “Out of Time” Event

I’ve had a busy few weeks away from my computer!  My daughter and I enjoyed a girls only trip to Disney World.  My Nikon camera has needed some TLC for a while so I rented a Sony a7iii for the trip which convinced me to make the jump to mirrorless and buy it outright at the end of our vacation. That means I had a good, working camera to take a few quick snaps at an historical event the week we got home.  

Locust Grove Costumed Interpreters enjoying the view during a recent event hosting actress and author Sarah Vowell. Photo Credit Heather R. Hiner

Locust Grove hosted author and actress, Sarah Vowell for a discussion on her book Lafayette and the Somewhat United States along with a dinner to commemorate Lafayette’s 1825 visit to Louisville as part of his national tour.  Unfortunately, I was too busy in the historic home to see Sarah Vowell, but I heard much laughter drifting over from her talk, had a lovely view of the outdoor candlelit dinner, and I always love a chance to hang out with some of my favorite costumed interpreters. As I said earlier, it also gave me a chance to try out my new camera in the often tricky light of the often dark historic home.

We seem to average at least one event a year where the interpreters have a chance to step out of our normal timeframe of 1816.  It’s often a fun opportunity to step into a new role or new clothes from time to time and it can also help everything stay fresh and enjoyable for everyone.  It’s also one of the very rare times when the normally strict costuming guidelines might be relaxed a little.

Hannah made both the beautiful 1825 gown she is wearing as well as the 1825 coat for her husband, Brandon. Photo Credit Heather R. Hiner

Interpreters playing primary roles at these “out of time” events usually make, purchase, or borrow a new outfit that would fall in line with the normal costume standards of the program, only for the new year being portrayed.  If the special event only requires a very small number of interpreters or if the year is drastically out of our norm, then the program may revolve around a reduced cast dressed appropriately for the new time period.

Our lovely theatrical director in an 1825 gown she finished for the event. Photo Credit Heather R. Hiner

However, there are times when a larger cast is needed to make the event a success and this is when the guidelines may be a little softer than usual.  For the most part, the costumed interpreter program at Locust Grove is a volunteer effort. Not only do interpreters volunteer their time for meetings, rehearsals, and events, in most cases, they also provide their own historically accurate clothing.  Some sew their own outfits and others pay to have clothes made according the costuming standards of the program. For some, it can be a fun chance to make something new while other cast members may not want to pay for materials or labor to have an outfit made that they may only wear once, which is understandable.

Heather and first time interpreter, Kristie in lightly modified 1816 gowns for the event. Photo Credit Heather R. Hiner

In cases where the one time event is somewhat close to 1816 and it also requires a larger cast, we relax the standards in an effort  to keep it affordable for our volunteer interpreters. What usually happens is the most important roles are costumed to the new time period as much as possible.  Supporting cast members wear their approved 1816 clothing modified as much as they can be with the understanding that it’s not going to be perfect. So for a woman going from 1816 to 1825, she might add an extra petticoat and lower the sash on her gown.  It’s not going to produce an accurate 1825 look, but it is usually enough to blend in while most eyes are on the appropriately dressed members of the cast who may be in the spotlight more than everyone else.

Interpreters representing members of the Bullitt family in 1825. Sisters Eloise, Mary Ann, (mother) Diana, and Ann Bullitt. I have a soft spot for the Bullitt ladies so I am always happy when they make an appearance. Photo Credit Heather R. Hiner.

In a perfect world, we would have the funding to dress everyone down to historically accurate buttons at every event as our interpreters work quite hard to be as accurate as possible.  However, this compromise does work on the rare occasions we need it to.

Feel free to follow The Past in Focus on Facebook for updates or my Instagram for my portrait work along with some of the photos from my recent Disney trip and additional images of Hannah and Brandon that I will be sharing over the next few weeks!


The Staircase

My daughter portraying Miss Mary Bullitt in 2016 at Historic Locust Grove.

There is something incredibly rewarding about taking multiple things you are passionate about and combining them.  While I had been a photographer for a while before my family started volunteering at Historic Locust Grove, it was there where everything meshed together and my love of historically inspired portraiture was born. For me, there’s a bit of magic in using modern technology and careful research to create an image that brings the past to life and makes it feel more real. Toss in one of my children as the subject, and you get an image that tugs at my heartstrings and remains one of my favorite portraits that I have ever taken.

One of the best things about this portrait is that it was a pure moment of serendipity.  For the most part, I don’t go “behind the ropes” when there are costumed interpreter events in the historic house.  I don’t want to ruin the atmosphere the interpreters work so hard to create by standing in the middle of them with a digital camera.  

I had made a rare exception and slipped into the back of the farm office to get some images of the interpreters interacting with guests during the 2016 Christmastide event. I had gotten a few shots I wasn’t fully happy with when I heard someone coming down the staircase at the back of the room.  That back staircase is a bit steep so it’s really only used by interpreters during events to help keep the traffic flow less congested on the main staircase that’s used by guests.

There also happens to be a nice sized window at the bottom curve of the steps that makes for a pretty pocket of light against the gorgeous verdigris door on the landing. So when I heard footsteps, I quickly turned 90 degrees and changed my settings in the hopes of getting something interesting.  I was thrilled when it turned out to be my daughter that appeared in that pretty pool of light.

I love everything in this picture. I love the delicious natural light. While I admit I may be biased, I genuinely think that’s prettiest verdigris I have ever seen.  I couldn’t have captured a sweeter expression on her face even if I had actually staged the shot. I adore the block printed fabric of her dress. I love the little details and the frozen moment in time. I even love it down to my husband’s dancing slippers tucked away on one of the steps.