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24 March 2015

Elaine MacKay and Emma Neale discuss a piece in the Collection of Canadian Dress with a Master of Art Conservation student. Photo: Tim Forbes

Emma Neale and Elaine MacKay examine a piece in the Collection of Canadian Dress housed at the Agnes. Photo: Tim Forbes

Emma Neale, Elaine MacKay and Curator of Canadian Historical Art, Alicia Boutilier discuss the Collection of Canadian Dress housed at the Agnes. Photo: Tim Forbes

Elaine MacKay with a piece from the Collection of Canadian Dress housed at the Agnes. Photo: Tim Forbes

Dress historian Elaine MacKay and textile conservator Emma Neale have been uncovering the lives of nineteenth-century Kingston women through the fashions they wore. Photo: Tim Forbes

Dress historian Elaine MacKay and textile conservator Emma Neale have been discovering the lives of nineteenth-century Kingston women through the fashions they wore. Until April, MacKay and Neale are in residence at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre and in Queen’s Art Conservation Program as the 2015 Isabel Bader Fellow and Intern in Textile Conservation and Research. A gown worn by Laura Roche at her coming out party; Eliza Gordon’s new dress as she embarked on a new chapter of her life wedded to Rev. D. M. Gordon; and an outfit owned by Mrs. W. R. P. Bridger, wife of a Royal Military College professor: these are the figures that have been populating MacKay’s in-depth research. “Clothing is fundamental to a woman’s self-image,” she says, and can be used to read biography. But MacKay is not just interested in the dress alone; she is investigating the whole ensemble, accessories and all, for a more complete understanding of the messages that clothing conveys at different stages in a woman’s life.

In her work, MacKay is ably assisted by Neale, who brings her high-level conservation training to bear in the meticulous reconstruction, repair and cleaning of the historical garments. At the final stage, the ensembles are brought back to life through professional mounting. This focused project not only raises the profile of the Queen’s University Collection of Canadian Dress housed at the Agnes, but also deepens understanding of Canada’s sartorial history and material culture.

The Isabel Bader Fellowship and Internship in Textile Conservation and Research are awarded to two successful applicants every two years and generously sponsored by Dr Isabel Bader.