Recently, my sister-in-law was planning a visit to New York City and when I asked her if there was anything in particular that she wanted to do, she said she would love to see Downton Abbey: The Exhibition. I hadn’t even heard about it, but it sounded like a good idea so I booked our tickets. Though I had only caught a few episodes of the series, I found that I was really looking forward to seeing the exhibit. And in the late afternoon of a cold winter’s day, we stepped into the world of Downton Abbey.
I was surprised to find that the exhibit was in the recently closed Lee’s Art store on 57th Street, a place I had frequented over the years. The windows that once displayed painting supplies, glittering frames, and whimsical toys, now held an equally enchanting display: images, items, and gifts relating to Downton Abbey — including an exquisite 1920’s dress in peacock blue and gold.
The New York City street was reflected in the window — scaffolding and yellow cabs, parkas and mounds of snow — and seemed a sort of symbolic contrast to the elegance of another era.
We strolled through the exhibit, laughing as we were greeted by holographic videos (?) of Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes welcoming us to Downton Abbey, before they had to hurry away. We entered the “downstairs” area and worked our way up. There was the kitchen with something simmering on the stove, the carton of eggs, the sounds of chopping and pots and pans being moved about. There was Carson’s pantry with the decanter, and there were those famous room bells.
And there was the dining room with the beautifully set table.
One room had video snippets of different scenes from the series: the explosions and trenches of WWI shifted to tranquil interior scenes of a fire burning brightly in the library.
Another area was dedicated to short film excerpts featuring the acerbic wit of Violet Crawley. And throughout the exhibit were reminders of the period’s codes of conduct and rules of civility.
The clothes were beautiful, and I found myself lingering over the details of trim and beading and lace: the Edwardian opulence of Violet’s clothing, the shimmering elegance of the 1920’s dresses,
and those beautiful necklaces and earrings that complemented the clothing.
On every floor, in every room was the sense of a time gone by and the societal upheavals of yesteryear. One quote posed the idea that perhaps that earlier period was not so unlike our own times, with technology rushing us ahead, creating some disturbing trends, while offering other compensations.
Since I had only caught an occasional episode, I never got to know the characters and plots in the way that many people did.
So, on these snowy January evenings, I’ve started to watch the series from the beginning — paying extra close attention to the buttons and jewelry, the silverware and bells.