Assembled by her brother, Charles the Ninth Earl Spencer, Diana, A Celebration is a poignant and personal homage to one of the most compelling women of the twentieth century.
Direct from Althorp, the Spencer family estate in England, the exhibit of 150 objects provides an intimate look at the life of Diana Spencer, from goofy child to poised humanitarian. Taking up two floors of the Design Exchange, the exhibit is divided into 10 sections, each representing a stage in Diana’s life.
One of the most captivating is the Childhood Gallery. Comprised of family photos of a young girl mugging for the camera, home movies, toys, schoolbooks, and letters written to her parents, these artifacts illustrate something central to Diana’s character—that she was just an ordinary girl who later found herself in extraordinary circumstances.
The exhibit offers an extensive look at the Princess’s public life, starting with memorabilia from her engagement and wedding to Charles, Prince of Wales in 1981. The breathtaking silk taffeta, ivory tulle and lace wedding gown, complete with veil and 25-foot train always draws a considerable audience. Fashion followers also appreciate the more than 20 recognizable dresses included in the Dress Gallery. Outfits are accompanied by photographs and descriptions of the event attended, a detail that effectively illustrates Diana’s public role and the evolution of her image from shy girl to confident style maven.
The outpouring of grief that came in the wake of her death in 1997 is well documented in the reflective Tribute Gallery. Alongside letters of condolence are a large pool of fragrant rose petals symbolizing the thousands of bouquets left in respect at the gates of Kensington Palace. Also included is the original dog-eared copy of her brother’s heartbreaking eulogy and the lyrics of Elton John’s revision of “Candle in the Wind.”
The most important component of Diana, A Celebration is undoubtedly her pioneering charitable works. Letters from appreciative organizations, drafts of her speeches, and personal notes from world leaders, including a prayer book from Mother Theresa, illustrate what came to be her enduring legacy. All profits from the show go to support the ongoing work of the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund benefitting communities living with the legacy of landmines.
Diana, A Celebration continues at the Design Exchange, to April 11. The exhibit opens at 10 a.m. daily and tickets are $25 for adults, $20 seniors/students, $15 for children—Meredith Birchall-Spencer