Collection Displayed During Festival
SISTERSVILLE – It’s all about the dress.
Those words will come to life inside the Russell House this weekend during the West Virginia Oil and Gas Festival when dresses of all shapes and sizes will be display.
“Every year I try to do a display in here that is something that I hope people will enjoy,” Sarah Jane Kaufman said of her collection that she started with her prom dress that was made in 1965 by her sister Julia Haymond of Wheeling. “Anybody who does any sewing or quilting or likes fabrics will like to see these dresses. It’s not only dresses, it’s accessories. Anyone who likes jeweled gowns, purses, shoes, sparkles will enjoy what they see here. There is a lot to look at.”
There is no charge to see Kaufman’s formidable collection or tour the Russell House on Catherine Street in Sistersville – the road by the ferry landing. The dresses will be on display between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday during the festival. When the Marble Festival comes to Sistersville the following weekend, the collection will be on display between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Sept. 23-25.
Kaufman’s collection features all sorts of dresses including beaded designer gowns, replicas of classy dresses worn by Princess Diana and expensive custom made gowns that display quality, craftsmanship.
“The reason I collect these dresses? It’s just a hobby,” Kaufman said. “I have dresses from India, China. We have quite a few Chinese robes, embroidered garments, sequined garments.”
Kaufman’s oldest, perhaps, is a replica of a formal dress that might have been worn in the 1860s which looks like it would be best suited for a dinner party. Then there is an outfit that would have been worn in Imperial India when the sun never set on the British Empire. This cloth dress features a brown sash that more or less mimicked Brahmin dress styles for the upper class women whose husbands were stationed perhaps in Mumbai. A loose fitting red dress on the wall would have been worn in the 20s by fashionable young women known as “flappers.” If you think about it, there is a contrast between the embroidered multi-layered cloth of an 1860s dress and the loose light more revealing dresses of the 20s and that is no accident how fashion changed.
The collection features a blue dress with colorful plastic buttons that could have been worn during the 1960s. This dress is not quite formal, but more something that would been worn to work or perhaps on a social occasion such as a parent teacher association meeting definitely not a “flappers” dress like those worn in the 20s.
For those inclined toward the beauty of a wedding dress, Kaufman’s collection offers more than a few of these gowns including her own dress.
There are shoes on display that women wore that defy logic and maybe even physics. One pair has high heels that must be at least 6 inches tall and probably something that would have been worn in the 1970s. Other tiny shoes/slippers might have been worn by Cinderella when she goes to the ball.
There is a pair of white boots with lots of laces with a Red Cross logo on the side that might have been worn by a nurse.
“If you are a shoe person, just for fun look at these shoes who wears these?” she said.
Though the Kaufmans lived a long time in Florida, they now live in New Matamoras.
What ties does this Floridian have to Sistersville? She grew up in Williamtown and her husband John grew up in Columbus, Ohio. Kaufman met her future husband in 1973 at the Wells Inn.
“There was a regatta in New Martinsville and I had stopped there for dinner. When I first saw him, I knew that was it. I went home that night and told my mother that I had met the man I’m going to marry. I knew immediately and I think he did too.”
If the dresses and shoes are not your thing, maybe still drop by the Russell House and see how the Kaufman’s have restored the property.
“We bought this house because we thought we could restore it to what it was,” she said.
John added, “We put a lot of work into this house and we did it together.”
The house by the ferry landing dates back to the 1800s and has long been a part of fabric of Sistersville’s history.
“What we’re doing is we’re not changing anything,” she said. “We’re just preserving what is here. There’s three different things you do: you preserve, you restore or you remodel. We are just preserving the very best we can what we do here.”
The front rooms have been restored so much so that you can almost feel that you’ve stepped back in time. A glance around the room reveals a spot in the first floor ceiling that shows how things were built long ago.
Kaufman pointed to that spot in the ceiling and said, “We’re leaving that there so people can see how the timbers are put together with wooden pegs. He’s had to repair the ceilings and put them back in order. We work together.”
Sistersville is special to the Kaufmans.
“We’ve always liked Sistersville,” she said. “We met here. We’ve always had a place in hearts for Sistersville. It’s a historic little town and we like small towns. West Virginia is home to us.”