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Altared States : Wedding Exhibition at Anaheim Museum Puts a Historical Spin on Modern Rituals

June 08, 1996|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Marriage is a downright prehistoric tradition. Wedding rings date from ancient Egypt. The kiss as a romantic act developed relatively recently--in medieval times.

"I'm not that interested in weddings," said Devin Frick, curator at the Anaheim Museum. "I am interested in why the wedding cake gets stacked. I'm interested in why people started kissing."

Hence, Frick's display of nuptial bric-a-brac, "Traditions: Customs on a Wedding Day," at the museum through June 22. He hopes the exhibit will lend at least a little historical perspective to a number of contemporary mating rituals.

Visitors will discover that:

* Kissing was initially associated with property, not love. In medieval England, a lord returning from a journey would sniff his wife's lips to determine whether she had been into his vats of liquor. This "snide" act led to the lips' touching, revealing more pleasurable aspects. In the early 20th century, the kiss was still considered too intimate to perform in public.

In China, India and other countries where arranged marriages have been common, the kiss symbolically sealed the "deal" between two families, making the contract legal and binding.

* The honeymoon dates to the Cro-Magnon era. A man who became interested in a woman from a passing tribe would kidnap her and hide out for the complete cycle of the moon--a month. After that month, even if the woman found a way back to her tribe, she would most likely be turned away.

In a later tradition, couples would drink a honey potion each night of the first month of their life together; "sweetness" in the marriage would last at least 28 days, the "honey moon."

* The Egyptians were first to use rings made of bone, ivory, reeds or leather in their nuptials. This symbolized that the relationship was a never-ending circle that would continue even after death.

* "Jumping the broom" has been an African American tradition in the United States for more than 200 years. The couple stands arm-in-arm and "jumps the broom" into a new life, "sweeping" away past problems. During slavery days, that act made the marriage legal.

In a related custom, the broom was held in the air and the couple would jump over it backward; whoever jumped the highest would be the boss of the new household.

*

"I'd like to have focused a lot more on ethnic traditions," Frick said. "I wanted to showcase more Jewish and Asian customs, for example, rather than Catholic and Christian Anglo--but we ran into a lot of problems getting things on loan. You do the best you can."

Frick certainly did. His entire budget for the exhibit was $170.

"Actually, my budget was $200 and I came in under," he said. "We don't have a lot of money here. In a sense, the city supports us. They own the building, they keep the lights on, the elevator running and the lawn mowed. But they don't [pay for] exhibits or staffing."

Six wedding dresses dating back to 1892 are displayed. The color of choice in the early 1900s was black. A dress from 1917 is blue, a popular color at that time. White or off-white dresses are now traditional in the United States, but in many other cultures, color is the rule.

"In Japan, white stands for sadness or sorrow, not happiness or purity," Frick said. "Yellow or red are the colors of choice."

*

The Fullerton Museum Textile Guild lent a silk wedding kimono for the exhibit. It's embroidered with gold, silver and bronze flowers and green, orange, red and yellow carts; the obi, or sash, is yellow silk with detailed fan designs of gold, green, brown, silver and orange.

"It surely puts all the white dresses to shame," Frick said.

Ringing the room are 16 1950s-vintage photos showing various stages of a traditional Anglo-Catholic wedding. They also show Frick's resourcefulness when it comes to a limited budget.

"That's my mom," he said, proudly pointing to the bride. "All the photos around the room are of my mother and my father."

* "Traditions: Customs on a Wedding Day" is at the Anaheim Museum, 241 S. Anaheim Blvd. Open Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Saturdays noon-4 p.m. Free. Through June 22. (714) 778-3301.

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