Vistors to Historic Waco Foundation’s East Terrace house will find something transparent missing from “A Fashionable Past,” the exhibit of women’s dresses and accessories drawn from the foundation’s considerable collection: the glass.
The items last seen behind glass at the Fort House stand or rest in the open in East Terrace’s downstairs rooms, a sample of women’s fashion for each decade between the 1880s and the 1950s.
The open display gives viewers a chance to move closer and get a better sense of scale and proportion, of pointed shoes that now seem painfully narrow, and dresses with slim waistlines and heavy fabric.
Jenni Opalinski, the foundation’s new curator, said moving items out of their cases and closer to their viewers is a small way of narrowing the gap between the present and the past, making viewers more able to imagine the people who once wore those clothes, whether for everyday life or formal occasions.
“It really does make it visitor-friendly,” added HWF interim executive director Jill Barrow, who succeeded Don Davis after his retirement from the foundation in late 2017. Visitor-friendly also seems to be a theme for several changes the foundation is making in its historic homes and programming.
Expanded public hours, an openness to other facility uses, a greater consistency in some public offerings and programming presented in venues other than the foundation’s four historic homes are part of a strategy begun under Davis of bringing a broader view of Waco history to more of its residents, Barrow said.
“We’re definitely here to serve the community,” she said.
The return of “A Fashionable Past” in a more open display at East Terrace also shows the higher visibility that the foundation will give to East Terrace and the Earle-Napier-Kinnard House, 814 S. Fourth St., in expanding their public hours.
Both houses, which Barrow said would be used as “showcases” for Waco history, will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. The two houses and the McCulloch House, at 407 Columbus Ave., will be open 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays.
The bottom floor and grounds of McCulloch House will be available for rental as space for receptions, small weddings, parties and the like.
The foundation’s Family Fun Days, special activities aimed at entertaining Waco families, will shift from periodic additions to HWF offerings to monthly ones, held at McCulloch House and the Earle-Napier-Kinnard House.
The latest Family Fun Day, Bubbly Summer Fun, is scheduled for 1 to 4 p.m. this Sunday at McCulloch House. The event features several bubble-related activities and contests for $10 per family.
Barrow and HWF members hope the changes shift a public perception that the foundation confines itself to the stories of the historic homes under its care. Instead, the houses are contact points where HWF can share a broader Waco history with the community. “The houses are the stage to share that history,” she said.
That history, and an opportunity to share more of it, brought curator Opalinski, 33, to Waco from Midland’s Museum of the Southwest, where she served as exhibitions and collections manager and registrar for seven years.
That facility, housed in a historic mansion, presented exhibits in art, science and culture as well as history, Opalinski said, and when she saw HWF announcing its curator position, the Texas Tech University museum science graduate jumped at it.
“It was too amazing to pass up,” she said. “I’m a history girl, but living in the art world.”
Born in New Jersey, but raised in part in St. George, Utah, Opalinski recalled the impact of the East Coast museums her family visited during her childhood. As curator, she intends to draw from the HWF’s considerable collection of clothing, objects and furniture to make Waco history more accessible to the community.
“History grounds you,” she said. “The collections are what tell the story.”