Treasure: Northville Lace Museum a true labor of love
‘I just got back from the flea market in Paris,” Mary Salmon enthused. “I found some things that are out of this world, including these handmade lace curtains commissioned for a Parisian mansion. These are the last remaining panels of what would probably have been a dozen in the 19th century. I’m really proud to have these.”
The lace and vintage textile and clothing enthusiast stuffed as much as possible into her suitcase and that of the rest of her family, she says, in hopes of bringing back as much as she could to display in her small Lace Museum Detroit (thelacemuseumllc.com) in Northville. “There was just so much there,” she explains, a bit wistfully. “I packed everything I humanly could.”
Some things in the 1,000-square-foot museum – unexpectedly found in the lower level of a modern retail complex — are for sale, some are part of Salmon’s personal collection and just for show. Wander through the narrow aisles and you’ll find yourself marveling at a visual feast – everything from a 19th-century Edwardian wedding gown made of Belgian tape lace to an orange Victorian walking dress made by one-time Detroit clothier Hugo Hill. “Some pieces can be tied directly to Detroit’s history,” Salmon says proudly.
Salmon opened the free museum in 2012, in part to honor the unsung makers – mostly women – behind the intricate handcraft. “These pieces are a credit to those artists who are lost to history,” she says. “They kind of haunt me.”
She credits an aunt and her Irish mother with nurturing her love of the material. “In Europe, they value lace and preserve it,” she says. “It just confirmed that it’s okay to like these things.” Even Buckingham Palace thinks so – a letter on the wall is a testament to Salmon and her labor of love.
Cases contain collars, tablecloths and all manner of American and European lace lovelies. More are found on walls, each with an explanation of its history and country of origin. Complementary displays of vintage clothing come from Mary’s personal collection, which she began amassing when she was about 16 or 17.
It’s hard to leave without learning about lace (wondering if something is handmade versus machine made? Look for imperfections, Mary says) or without a picking up a treasure or two – I found some French textiles fresh from the flea market to add to my own collection. “Every cent I make goes back into the museum,” Salmon says. Bins meant for exploring contain vintage buttons, trims, tools and other temptations.
Salmon points out that while much of the lace is delicate, many of the other vintage textiles like the ones I bought for my kitchen are not.
“These pieces are sturdy and were meant to last for generations,” she says. Many are one of a kind and add personality and a sense of history to a space, she says, adding “It just goes to show that everything doesn’t have to come from Bed Bath and Beyond.”
Do you have an object you would like to know more about? Send a photo and description that includes how you acquired the object to: The Detroit News, Trash or Treasure?, 160 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226. Include your name and daytime telephone number. You may also send your photo and description to firstname.lastname@example.org. If chosen you’ll need to bring the items to an appraisal session. Letters are edited for style and clarity.