I was privileged to attend the Jacqueline Kennedy opening exhibit in Chicago last November. America's "royalty" exhibit has set attendance, ticket price, and potentially revenue records. What's the mystique that still attracts us to Jackie?
"She broadened our awareness of art, culture, and historic preservation. Her influence on style and fashion reached to the far corners of the globe. She carefully built a public image for herself, and in doing so, she changed how the world saw America-and how we saw ourselves," said the public relations piece. They said Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy was a new kind of first lady, and the world embraced her as role model and inspiration.
More than 70 articles of clothing are on display, with historical descriptions attached. Noticing the solid colors, three-quarter-length sleeves, A-line dresses, and three-strand pearls, the taped commentary explains how each item and its texture were chosen to compliment her figure-not as a season's fad. "If Europe had thought of America as crude and unsophisticated, a single look at Jacqueline Kennedy replaced that image with one of culture, sophistication, and style. She beguiled world leaders with her style, her conversation, her charm, and her knowledge of French language, history, and culture," the exhibit said. As I opened a current department store catalog, I quickly spotted a suit, gloves, and jewelry with a "Jackie" influence.
Several handwritten notes are included in the display, giving us a glimpse of her personal thoughts. The recent inauguration media coverage reminded me that, yes, people are concerned with appearance. "All the talk over what I wear, and how I fix my hair has amused and puzzled me," Mrs. Kennedy wrote during her husband's presidential campaign. "What does my hairdo have to do with my husband's ability to be President?" But she recognized she was a cultural ambassador and chose her wardrobe carefully, as well as studied the history and customs of each state or country they visited.
I admire Mrs. Kennedy most, however, for her sense of restoration. "Everything in the White House must have a reason for being there," she said in an interview for Life. "It would be a sacrilege merely to redecorate it…it must be restored and that has nothing to do with decoration. That is a question of scholarship." Researching, restoring, and appreciating the past-be it art, dance, music, textiles, or furniture-preserves our culture for generations to come.
The arts and culture we enjoy in central Illinois are gifts not to be taken for granted. In one month, we can see and hear symphony, opera, ballet, jazz, and gallery displays. Art and music appreciation should become part of our activities. It's fun to reminisce with a friend or explain to a child or grandchild the origins and acquisition of your own household articles. As Jackie was the first to commission a guidebook about the White House, you can write your own "guidebook" to preserve for your grandchildren. From Simpson's memorabilia to Waterford crystal, the style and fascination is unique to you and important to preserve. AA!