On August 18, the Skirball Cultural Center and Museum, now celebrating its fifth anniversary, opened a major exhibition entitled Romance and Ritual: Celebrating the Jewish Wedding. Included are over two hundred works of art and artifacts--almost exclusively from the Skirballs collection--associated with the Jewish wedding and related themes of courtship and married life that reflect customs and rituals from different times and places. Some of these objects have never before been exhibited to the public.
The exhibition presents many treasured works, including rare, illuminated ketubbot (wedding contracts) from the seventeenthNULLtwentieth centuries; newly-restored American wedding gowns from nearly every decade of the last century; and personal mementos that celebrate the universal aspirations couples have when embarking upon marriage. A series of related events plus a comprehensive full-color catalogue accompany the exhibition.
Though Jewish law stipulates very few requirements for a wedding, many special customs and rituals have been developed over time and in different countries to embellish this important personal event that holds the joy and promise of living happily ever after.
Among the works on display will be wonderfully elaborate, and newly-conserved, American wedding dresses from the late nineteenth century to the present. These dresses not only chronicle the changing fashion trends in American culture, but also provide a fascinating social history of their times. Accompanying each dress is a personal and touching story--tales of clever proposals, of family wedding preparations in small town Illinois, and of dresses passed lovingly from generation to generation. Also included are six flower girl dresses, the earliest of which was worn in the 1920s.
Additional wedding clothing brought to America--on loan from local families--reflects Jewish communities in Morocco, Iraq, and Iran. Also on display are trousseau items from Turkey and Rhodes, such as embroidered towels and clogs for the bride to take to the mikveh (ritual bath).
The Skirball Museum is home to one of the premier collections of ketubbot in the world, with more than four hundred examples dating from the seventeenth century to contemporary times and representing some twenty-five countries including Italy, Afghanistan, and China. The exhibition displays many of these ketubbot, the earliest of which was produced in Venice in 1649.
Also included are a phenomenal group of eighteenth and nineteenth century folk art textiles from Central Europe known as Wimpeln, Torah binders, created to commemorate the birth of a baby boy. The Wimpel is an unusual object in the field of Jewish ceremonial art.
It unites the communal world of the synagogue with an individuals own life cycle.
Embroidered or painted on the Wimpel is the Hebrew blessing recited at the circumcision ceremony may he grow to study Torah, to get married, and to do good deeds. Each Wimpel is personalized with images that reference that blessing, and many include a wedding scene replete with a huppah, the marriage canopy.
Children will have an opportunity to dress up as brides and grooms in a lively, interactive section brimming with costumes based on images found in the wedding scenes on Wimpeln and on some of the clothing on display.
Other precious mementos--sheet music, photographs, postcards, letters, wedding souvenirs, invitations, and videos--highlight the ideals of love and companionship, and provide a window into how couples in different times and from different cultures have invented their own wedding and marriage traditions. A photographic essay by Los Angeles artist Bill Aron--of a wedding that took place at the Skirball Cultural Center in 1998--documents present-day traditions. These photographs are accompanied by contemporary wedding items, some of which represent new wedding customs that have emerged in recent years, such as a blessing bowl, used to hold blessings for the bride and groom written by their wedding guests.
Six sets of portrait pairs celebrate the virtues of marriage, depicting couples well into their marriages. Other objects, such as a Golden Wedding Anniversary cup from Vienna (1891), looted by the Nazis during World War II and later recovered, help preserve memories and link American Jewish families to their ancestors.
A work by Los Angeles artist Ed Massey completes the exhibition. The artist recreates his 1998 wedding in a site-specific installation that features the wedding dress he designed for his bride, Dawn Harris. It is an unusual, whimsical gown--a nearly two hundred-pound mobile sculpture made of a cloth bodice and steel-frame skirt decked with 1,060 handcrafted roses.