When there is any kind of “suggested attire” for an event, I take it very seriously, and the Folk Art Museum's Mystery and Benevolence Bash would be no exception. The theme for the evening was dictated by the beautiful collection of Independent Order of Odd Fellows and Freemasons relics, donated to the museum by Kendra and Allan Daniel. I envisioned party goers in long gowns with cinched corsets, their hair tied up with great, big feathers affixed to it; men in top hats and tails with varying degrees of waxed mustaches.The Folk Art Museum’s website indicated that there would be Contra dancing lessons, “old-time cocktails” and “snacks evocative of the era,” silhouette portraits, parlor games, and a costume contest—all to take place among the robes, staves, paper cutouts, axes, and highly symbolic paintings of the Oddfellows and Freemasons.
I scoured Etsy for the perfect steam punk dress, knew exactly what my accessories would be, and purchased all new makeup for the event. I invited my friend, Sarah, to go with me because I knew she would put in as much effort as I did, and I was right. With glittery faces, pleated layers, and lots of lace, we were steam punk queens, ready for our chariot to arrive (the horse drawn carriages go right past her office all day, so we felt very “evocative of the era” ourselves while getting dressed).
(That's me on the left)
We arrived fairly early (on time, actually, but by party standards, I guess that’s early), and there were several people already learning to line dance while others perused the exhibit. Sarah and I browsed through some of the art before heading to the bar.
My knowledge of Freemasonry and The Oddfellows was fairly limited prior to attending this event, and to my delight, many of the pieces featured cheeky-looking skeletons, cool grave markers, and eerie symbolic messages.
Now here we are looking forward and backward, but I mostly want y’all to notice how great my highlighting looks, thank you very much.
After taking some photos of our favorite pieces (I’ll show you more in a bit), we wandered to the bar where the supposed “old time cocktails” were meant to be. There was wine, a “Manhattan-ish” drink (as described by the bartender who wasn’t sure what he had gotten himself into) and gin and lemonade. This wasn’t an issue for anyone except the woman who then chastised the bartender, saying, “well these are very period are they?”
Then we got in line to have our silhouette portraits made. The artist was amazing. She didn’t do any preliminary sketches; she simply picked up her scissors, looked at her subject, and began cutting.
The results were gorgeous.
I have to say, while the collection of artwork was fantastic, I felt like the people were the main event. There were so many beautiful dresses, and everyone had clearly put a lot of effort into their outfits; it was amazing to see so many people who looked like they were in their element and really enjoying the opportunity to wear hoop skirts, corsets, top hats, and tails. While in line to get silhouette portraits, Sarah and I had a long conversation with a hilarious woman who was retired and “treating herself” to events like these. She taught us her favorite saying, “If you’re gonna bump it, bump it with a trumpet,” so there’s that. We also spoke to a woman who insisted that if my boyfriend thought I was “anything less than a goddess,” I ought to “bring him to her.” There was also the couple of retired dancers who had an amazing sense of humor and no longer danced professionally, but loved attending these “period” events where they could just go to enjoy different styles of dance:
I loved the security guard who, when partygoers began forming a circle for the next lesson in line dancing, leaned over to me and whispered, "the séance is beginning,…” very ominously. Then, there was the young woman, a college student, who was enthusiastically trying to enter the costume contest and was disappointed to find out that she could not enter because she was a part of the Folk Art Museum staff. This wasn’t just work for her, it was fun.
That’s what was so great about the whole event. Everyone was there just to have fun. People of all ages, ranging from 20 to 60+, had come to this even just to enjoy themselves. While the Masonic and Oddfellow art was lovely, it mostly felt like a great way to bring people with similar guilty-pleasure interests together.
There was also a sense of anonymity about the entire event. We all spoke to each other, but we never really exchanged names. Everyone seemed to enjoy the mystery of the “friendly stranger.” I mean, I guess that’s not great for someone who was there to network on behalf of a company, but I really enjoyed it. It seemed to take the pressure off of meeting people, and put more emphasis on enjoying the event while still interacting with one another.
Anyway, Sarah and I had a great time. As promised, here are more photos of the art:
You’ll notice that three interlocking chains, the All-Seeing Eye, and hands (either shaking or a single hand held up) are the most common symbols. The chains symbolize friendship, love, and truth.
These arrows and rods were used as symbols for Odd Fellows to demonstrate Love, Friendship, and truth (the arrows themselves symbolize uprightness and truthfulness, and the bow is an emblem of authority) and the importance of concentrated effort (the rods—those who stand together are stronger than one man standing alone).
Check out all the symbolism within this hand-cut beauty! The bell, the three chain links, the books, the All-Seeing Eye, the scale… Sheesh!