The Green Dress - by Diana Marquis
You''ll find two different interpretations of this portrait's secret on the site.
I found this rolled-up canvass in a riverfront boulevard (then industrial) antique shop. When the shop keeper saw me circling it for the second time he said, "it's haunted."
He said he found it in the attic of a Highland Park estate. The canvass was rolled up and in poor condition. An artist friend of his stretched it back onto a form and touched-up the paint. He believed she was foul-tempered, as evidenced by numerous occasions of the canvass flinging itself to the floor without provocation. I was intrigued enough to bring her home.
Here, Diana Marquis, artist and non-profit leader, gives us her take on the real story behind this portrait.
"I was so beautiful. Everyone always said so. Now all that’s left of me is a shabby portrait with that woman right in the middle of it. You can’t even see all of me. The full skirt was my best feature.
All of me, all of me and my sisters were huge bolts of silk, woven from the thread of the Japanese silk worm. There was no finer fabric. The immersion into the dying vats was life changing. We went from simple silk fabric to bewitching jewel-tone bolts. Three of my sisters and I were dyed Paris Green or was it Persian Green? It was a very popular color at the time. We were all shipped around the world.
The Paris/Persian Green bolts were shipped to an atelier in New York City. It was a magical place with bolts of exquisite fabric, buttons, lace and other trim. All fabrics were handled with great care. We were caressed, stroked, and wrinkles gently smoothed out. We soon learned that our yards and yards of virginal fabric would not remain as one beautiful bolt of fabric. We came to experience the precision cut of finely honed scissors, the sharp prick of pins and needles, hot water, cold water, steam forced through us, all of it too horrible to remember. That was the last time I saw my sisters. We were separated, some cut into smaller lengths to be shipped to other designers, some stored away for later use. I was put in the designer’s private studio with a few other elegant bolts.
There would always be a human standing on a small platform in the middle of the room. The designer would wrap the human with me, gather me and stick me with pins here and there to hold me in place. I still don’t understand why she never stuck pins in the human. I would have held in place so much better.
Then cut by cut, piece by piece, I was transformed from a long, flowing bolt of beautiful green fabric to suits with pencil skirts and fitted jackets, an opera cape, even a costume for a theater production. I was almost all used up, and I was finally at peace with my lot and was proud of the beauty I had shared with those who wore a piece of me. One day that woman, the one on the painting, came to the studio. For all her elegance and poise we knew she hadn’t grown up with haute couture. She walked all around the studio, touched all of us, but not with a gentle caress. Her touch reminded me of the way remnants were discarded after a season.
She chose several of us but steadily and methodically discarded all but me. She told the designer what she wanted. The designer’s assistant took her measurements and scheduled the next appointment. The client didn’t live in the City but came every year for a few special garments.
I have to admit she had a lovely figure, and the style of dress I was made into emphasized her height and small waist. She and I looked great together, especially in the evening when the lights played off my sheen as we danced. I moved beautifully and loved the rustle of my silk in movement.
She had the portrait made soon after we left the City and arrived at another city, Oklahoma City, quite a different place. The lack of humidity was terrible.
She and I had a good time together, but eventually other dresses were bought and I was pushed closer and closer to the back of the closet. It’s not good to just hang in the closet. Eventually, even the finest silk breaks down.
One day someone else, someone we didn’t know, came into the closet and took all of us out. We were stuffed into bags and boxes with no care at all. They said we were great vintage pieces. I’m not sure what that means, but there was still some beauty in me. All I needed was a tall human with a small waist who loved to dance.
The box I was stuffed into with other garments wasn’t opened for a long time. No one seemed to care that the extreme hot and cold weather was breaking down our fibers and that vermin were using us for their nests. We had pretty much given up on ever getting free from the boxes when one day we were shaken out of our stupor. We felt the boxes lifted and moved. My box was opened to a shock of bright light and fresh air. Each garment was pulled out, vigorously shaken and laid on the ground. It felt so good to be out of the box that we didn’t mind the rough handling or the bare ground.
Then I heard and felt something I could never forget. Scissors cutting through me. Snipping, shearing, pinking fabric filled the air. By the time they were done we had become piles of scraps, less than the remnants discarded at the atelier. Some of the scraps from my beautiful green dress were too damaged, but some scraps were still strong and beautiful.
The damaged scraps were bundled up and thrown into the trash bin. The rest of us were bundled, bagged and taken to an atelier, of sorts. It was nothing like the designer’s shop in the City. This one was smaller, warmer. There was no one designer, and the humans all worked together – cutting, piecing, sewing –some by hand, some by machine. The scraps in my bundle were gently washed by hand and allowed to air dry without artificial heat.
I have to admit that it was nice to be in the company of humans who appreciated me. Scrap after scrap was selected and sewn to another to form one large piece. Then there was the layer of batting, then the whole piece of backing. It wasn’t the same as dancing, but all together we were, again, beautiful."