December 17, 2004
In the late 16th century, Queen Elizabeth I ruled England with a firm hand and a fabulous wardrobe.
"Elizabeth is just an icon to begin with, and when you start looking at what she wore, it's just amazing," says Saragrace Knauf, a historic costumer. She created a replica of the queen's attire for display as part of the "Elizabeth I: Ruler and Legend" exhibit at Scottsdale's Civic Center Library, which opens tonight with a member preview and runs through Feb. 16.
"I think that clothing made the man is a really applicable theme for the entire period of the Renaissance," Knauf says. "It showed who you were, how powerful you were and how much money you had."
Elizabeth I was arguably the most powerful woman of her time and had more than 3,000 dresses to help prove it. Most weighed 40 pounds or more and consisted of several components designed to make the hips look larger so the waist appeared smaller. Her gowns were intricate and grand, handmade and garnished with jewels, all piled atop her small frame. It generally took a lady of her position about three hours to dress each day, and she couldn't do it alone, Knauf says.
"I suppose when you are that small and you are a woman dealing with a bunch of guys who think you're an idiot, dressing and feeling majestic made her feel powerful."
"Elizabeth I," a national, traveling exhibit marking the 400th anniversary of the death of Elizabeth, is the first major installation to arrive at the library in almost five years. Organized by Chicago's Newberry Library's Center for Renaissance Studies, it embarked on a national tour in 2003 and is scheduled to hit 40 libraries in three years.
"It's big (for the library). Really big," says Mary Johnson, operations manager for the Scottsdale Public Library. "Historically, just hearing the name Elizabeth makes people just think, ‘Ooooh.' ’’
The centerpiece of the exhibit is a six-panel photo display that highlights various aspects of Queen Elizabeth's life and reign, including her childhood; how she came to the throne; her issues with Mary Queen of Scots (a cousin she allegedly had beheaded); the culture and art of her time; her support for the exploration of America; and her legacy. The library will offer additional displays, classes and events for kids and adults throughout the exhibit's run.
During Saturday's opening day celebration, Knauf will narrate the dressing of an Elizabeth I impersonator, describing for kids and adults each piece of her traditional costume. People will also be able to look at the items and try them on if they're curious.
"We'll dress her onstage, take questions and provide some anecdotal information," Knauf says.
During the exhibit's run, two mannequins dressed in the gown and underclothes will be on display at the Civic Center Library. There will also be an Elizabethan embroidery exhibit with pieces from local crafters, musical performances and gardening and cooking classes, all inspired by the Elizabethan era. Craft sessions, reading discussions of historical fiction set in Elizabethan England, plays and magic shows will entertain kids. Teens will have the chance to enter a sonnet contest, experience a film series and learn to play Piquet, a game popular during the queen's reign. These events will be held at various branches while the exhibit is in town.
"It's history comes alive for all the senses," says Dana Braccia, community relations coordinator for the Scottsdale public library system.