The Bowman Museum's latest display features wedding dresses from as early as 1851

by: KEVIN SPERL - Bowman Museum Collections Care Manager Brittany Skunk adjusts the veil on Ellamae Mayfield's wedding gown in preparation for the museum's latest exhibit.

Mary Mayfield inherited her mom’s wedding dress when her mother, Ellamae Mayfield, passed away in 2007.

That gown, worn in 1948, along with 15 others, is now on display in a new three-week long exhibit being hosted by the Crook County Historical Society at the Bowman Museum.

“Bridal Gowns: Something Old through Something New” will be on exhibit from June 2 through June 22 and features gowns dated from as early as 1851 to as late as 2013.

“Fifty percent of the gowns in this exhibit are part of the museum’s regular collection,” said Bowman Museum Collections Care Manager Brittany Skunk. “The others have been donated by local volunteers.”

The idea for the exhibit came about a mere month ago, when the wedding dress of Doris Grindstaff, married in 1943, was donated to the museum.

“Our collection care committee loved the dress and decided to do a complete exhibit,” explained Skunk. “We also thought it appropriate to do the exhibit in June.”

Skunk noted that one of the most impressive gowns in the collection is a lavender taffeta gown worn in 1851 that was carried across the Oregon Trail.

“Lavender was not an uncommon color for a bridal gown in those days,” explained Skunk. “Although brides had worn white in the past, it wasn’t considered practical to wear a color that couldn’t easily be worn again.”

In fact, it wasn’t until 1840, when Queen Victoria insisted on wearing the purest hue for her marriage, that white wedding gowns became a rising trend.

For Mayfield, the exhibit is special as it is the first time her mom’s gown has seen the light of day in over 65 years.

Positioned next to her mother’s gown is a picture of Ellamae on her wedding day. Noticeably absent in the photo is the groom, Lawrence, her husband of 59 years, until his passing in 2007.

“They just put the brides in those photos,” laughed Mary Mayfield, “It’s a day that is all about the brides.”

Shunk likes to point out an interesting part of the exhibit — a wedding dress of Hudlah Newquist Sparks, from 1904, on loan from Mary Albert.

“The wedding gown worn by Dawn Marie Albert Alexander, worn in 1992, is right next to Sparks’ gown,” said Shunk. “Dawn Marie was Sparks’ great granddaughter.”

For Shunk, the exhibit is an entertaining way to understand the evolution of style throughout the years.

“Big events of the times are a great way to determine fashion,” she said.

Mannequins for the exhibit were donated by Riches to Rags, Shasta Leatherworks, The Clothes Line and museum volunteers.

“The hardest part about this exhibit was fitting the gowns on the mannequins,” said Shunk. “A lot of these gowns have internal corsets that just don’t fit on them very well.”

Join the Crook County Historical Society for cake, cookies, lemonade and tea from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, June 13th, to view the wedding gown exhibit. The Bowman Museum is located at 246 N. Main Street in Prineville.

For more information call the museum at 541-447-3715, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit the museum’s web page at

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