It might not sound like it would fit in with recent major exhibits showcasing the Titanic, dinosaurs or the current "Bodies Revealed," but this fall, the Putnam Museum will host a tribute to Princess Diana.
"We're also a history and culture museum, and that should never be overlooked here," said Nichole Myles, the Putnam's vice president of education. "Diana is really a piece of our history. It's a modern history, but she is the People's Princess."
"Diana, a Celebration" will begin in mid-September and continue through the first days of 2014 at the Davenport museum. Tickets are available beginning in mid-July.
The exhibit, which includes more than 25 of the late princess's dresses, suits and evening gowns as well as her iconic wedding dress, was a last-minute coup for the Putnam, Myles said. Another facility had to cancel its planned tour stop, and when the call went out looking for hosts, Putnam President and CEO Kim Findlay quickly replied.
"We've got great leadership here who knows a great opportunity when she sees it," Myles said. "And we were lucky enough to secure a spot."
Findlay was on vacation last week and unavailable to speak about the exhibit.
In a prepared statement, Findlay said, “The Putnam is honored to be one of the last three places this remarkable exhibit will ever be available to the public. The exhibition gives us an opportunity to be close to the compassion and sense of natural sophistication for which Princess Diana became legendary."
The Diana exhibit has had few stops in the Midwest during the past few years, said John Norman, president of Arts & Exhibitions International, which produces the display. It has been on display since 2003 but has never played in Chicago.
It also will be one of the last three scheduled stops for the exhibit. Through his company's agreement with Earl Spencer, the princess' brother, the items will be returned to Diana's sons, Princes William and Harry, late next year.
"I feel very honored that they entrust me and our team in taking care of those objects," Norman said from his company headquarters in Cleveland.
While the exhibit has traveled as far away as Hungary, Australia and Canada (it's currently at a mall in Edmonton, Alberta), the items return to the Althorp Estate in England from July 1 to Aug. 31 annually. They are displayed in stables there, next to a walkway that leads to the lakeside spot of Diana's burial after her 1997 death.
They will return to the United States, and the Putnam, after that display.
"It will literally cross the pond," Myles said. "It will be a fleet (of trucks to haul the items), I'm certain.
"When you're talking about these pieces, diamond tiaras and things that are quite small, these dresses, it's not like you're packing them up in a U-Haul cardboard box and hauling them off."
"They are treated just as you would a Monet painting," Norman said. "They have art handlers, all of the objects are packed like it's fine art in climate-controlled vehicles with security."
Two workers from the company are employed specifically to arrange Diana's wedding gown and its 25-foot train. They are the only two people allowed to touch it.
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"It's fascinating to watch the installation," Norman said. "A lot of them are ordinary items that belonged to an extraordinary person. They're all dealt with kid gloves, as they say."
In contrast to the flashy and beautiful gowns, there are also items such as the flak jacket the princess wore while working for her charity to prevent landmine deaths. Other items demonstrate Diana's humanitarian side, while the personal turmoil she faced in her later years is not represented.
"This was put together to be the family's remembrance of Diana and all the good she did," Norman said. "Everybody knows she was a human being and had some problems that were all in the media. But that isn't what this exhibition is about.
"It's a celebration of a life, and free to ponder what she could have done if she were still with us. She was always using her celebrity for good. She was able to bring awareness to a lot of unpopular issues by using her celebrity."
Myles said the price for the Putnam to bring in the exhibit is comparable to the cost for exhibits such as "Bodies Revealed" and "Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition," both of which were produced by the same company. It would normally be higher, she said, but the Putnam received a discount for its last-minute agreement.
The exhibit is presented by the Isle of Capri Casino, the Putnam Museum Guild and the Quad-City Times.
"Diana was such a wonderful icon, not only because she was a royal or because she was fashionable, but she was a great humanitarian. This is an opportunity to tell that story," she said. "These are massive financial investments, and we make them believing they're the best thing for the museum and the best thing for the community."