Unusual Museum

Heritage site Musee de Venoge
to open in Switzerland County

Altman to display, discuss
historical clothing patterns

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

VEVAY, Ind. (June 2011) – Saundra Altman has traveled from the East Coast to the West Coast, from North to South and back again to find everyday garments for her historical pattern making business. All of the research she puts into the historical notes included with her patterns shows her dedication to detail.
“Fancy clothing is easy to find,” said Altman of period garments. “What people wore to work in is not so easy to find.”
For almost 32 years, Altman has operated Past Patterns, a historical pattern company dedicated to accuracy. She manufactures patterns dating from the Federal era to World War II (1789-1940s).
Altman, 68, said she is not a seamstress. She only creates clothing patterns and makes the clothing she wears. As a costume historian, she has spent “decades looking at clothing and studying the history of common folk.”

Musee de Venoge

Photo provided

Musee de Venoge is a newly
restored 30-acre farmstead
dating to 1805-1815.

The Dayton, Ohio, resident said of her patterns, “Most people read the historical notes in the patterns than would read a book that is read once and put on the shelf.”
Altman will be one of a select group of artisans demonstrating their talents and trades at the free Open House at Musee de Venoge from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, June 11, and from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, June, 12. Visitors will witness tombstone carving, spinning, hearth cooking, basket weaving, theorem painting, pottery, hooked rugs being made and enjoy the music of fiddle maker and player Michael Thompson.
Lily Richter will be displaying her theorems, paintings on velvet rendered with the use of stencils. “I saw them a few years ago on a family trip to Colonial Williamsburg and fell in love with the look,” she said. Richter then decided to “lean how to make my own for my house.” 
Theorems began in this country around 1810, said Richter. They were taught in many female academies. For that reason, she sticks to the 1810-1840 time period when demonstrating this decorative artform.
The Musee de Venoge is a restored homestead situated on 30-acres on State Route 129 and Indian Creek in Switzerland County. It was built circa 1805-1815. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this is the first time the home will be open to the public.
“We want to invite people to see a historic structure,” said Donna Weaver, founder and director of Musee de Venoge. The property was purchased in 1996 when Weaver and her now late husband, Tom, formed a nonprofit group. It is now designated as a 501(c)(3) entity.
Weaver, a Northern Kentucky native, knew the site must be preserved when she learned in 1994 that the Vevay Fire Department planned to burn it down for a training exercise. She was president of the local historical society at the time and was asked to look at the structure before it was destroyed.
Digging into the walls and expecting to find logs, what she found instead was “a hand-made brick inlay between two vertical standing post and beams,” an architectural style totally new to her. She surmised that the house must be connected to the French-Swiss heritage of the county, as there were many French-Swiss who settled the area.
She spent three years researching building types, traveling to southern Louisiana and nearby Vincennes. Weaver learned the building was a rare architectural type typical to not only early French-Swiss settlements in Switzerland County but also the lower Mississippi Valley.
The structure is unique because “of its architectural style,” she said. Its French connection to Switzerland County led Weaver to believe that it was constructed by Frenchmen heading north upon finding themselves out of work after Thomas Jefferson negotiated the 1803 Louisiana Purchase.
In 1805, Swissman Louis Gex Oboussier bought 319 acres, part of which is known today as Venoge. Weaver said she has acquired letters from Gex Oboussier written in French that when translated, “helps us try to better understand how we got from there to here.” Through interpretation of the letters, she can better understand the history of the house and things that occurred there over the years.
“This will be the first time to have an open house with a restored building at Venoge,” said Weaver. “We’ve held workshops on historical trades in the past, but that’s all.”
Weaver will join in the demonstrations by fashioning miniatures. She worked for five and a half years for the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, designing and sculpting both circulating and commemorative medals and coins.
“My wax portraits helped me get the job as well as an ability to draw,” said Weaver. “I sculpted the current Jefferson nickel obverse.”
For the last four years, she has been part of the Artistic Infusion Program at the U.S. Mint and produces designs for specific coin programs.

• For more information, call (812) 427-9404 or visit: www.Venoge.org.

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