Thursday, January 16, 2014

Countess Doheny's Lace Collection

A view of the Doheny Mansion rendered in needle lace. The fine mesh
in the background is the 
réseau of  point de Venise à réseau.
AS WE'VE NOTED BEFORE, lace making is a recurring theme for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, and, by extension for the last 89 years, Mount St. Mary's College.

Detail shows various lace patterns. 
We've had a chance recently to explore the background of a famous lace collection with another Mount connection, the lace of Countess Estelle Doheny. This originally comprised a set of sixteen place mats with a matching table runner, monogrammed CED. Created in the 1930s, these gossamer rectangles depicted four different views of the Doheny Mansion, rendered in a type of lace called point de Venise à réseau, a particularly delicate form of needle lace (réseau translates "netted" or "meshed"). Guests of the Dohenys enjoying dinner in the mansion were treated to a tablescape of incomparable richness and Victorian opulence.

Back in September, we received a query from Nancy Milks-Evans of Lace Legacy, Etc., a Covington, Wash.-based educator and expert in rare and antique laces.  She had read about the Doheny lace and wondered whether it had been auctioned along with Countess Doheny's rare book collection back in the late 1980s. Or did the Mount still have it?

The Doheny Docents do, in fact, have some of the lace safely stored away in No. 8 and bring it out on occasion for tours. (Much of the collection is evidently missing, whereabouts unknown.)

Nancy then presented us with a minor mystery of the kind we love. Back in 1975, Carolyn S. Murray of the Los Angeles Times produced a handful of articles about Chester Place, one of which was a short sidebar about the Doheny Lace collection. Ms. Murray quoted Gwen Krakeur, the widow of Martin Krakeur, owner of Beverly Hills' famed linen store Grande Maison de Blanc and the designer of the lace.

Mrs. Krakeur recalled that the lace had been made on the island of Burano, Italy. This couldn't be right, Nancy suggested, because this special kind of lace wasn't made there – the best point de Venise à réseau came from Brussels. Did we have any documentation?

Nothing like sales receipts or anything conclusive like that – but we did find something nearly as good: details in the master's thesis of Sister Mary Irene Flanagan, CSJ.

Sister Irene, a longtime Home Economics professor who earned her degree at San Jose State College in 1967, documented the architecture, furniture and contents of the Doheny Mansion. In the section about the dining room is a picture and her description of one of the place mats:
Designed in 1931 by Mr. Martin Krakeur of the Grande Maison de Blanc, the place mat represents one of four patterns that might well be termed the most beautiful lace sets in the world. ... This is an example of the most filmy and delicate of all point lace.
Sister Irene describes how the lace took more than three years to complete by handful of artisans. And here she solves the mystery:
The designs were minutely executed on graph paper and approved before being sent to Brussels. Here the finest lace makers took on the work of point de Venise à réseau.
And, wouldn't you know, Sister Irene attributes this information to none other than Gwen Krakeur, whom she interviewed  at 8 Chester Place on November 15, 1966.

Memories are tricky, and archives will often reveal bits of conflicting information, even from the same source. We seldom have scholarly research on hand to solve a mystery but this time we lucked out, and in the process have added a footnote to the Mount's story of lace.

The collection originally comprised four each of these four  designs
of the Doheny Mansion. Remaining pieces are shown on Docent tours.

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