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Local woman’s love of lace is woven into new museum in Northville Square

    Hover over image for captions or to pause slide show.
    Photos by Liz Cezat (except those noted as Lace Museum photos).
    For more photos, visit The Lace Museum website.
The Lace Museum of Detroit puts Northville on the map for its intriguing collection of hand-made lace – in clothing, accessories and tablecloths along with the tools used to create the ornamental fabric. This slice of history is tucked away on the lower level of Northville Square.

Owner and Curator Mary Salmon, of Northville, is seeing her dream come true after opening the museum on Nov. 18, 2016, at 133 West Main St., Suite 160. Museum hours are seasonal, typically Tuesday through Friday, 12 to 5, and noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday. Call before going: 937-681-7219. Admission is free.

The exterior looks like an 19th century Victorian storefront. New wood floors cover the 1,000 square foot area, layered with Persian rugs. Sparkling chandeliers twinkle through the large front windows and velvet-lined exhibit cases display lace artifacts. A workroom in the back is equipped with a bright, swivel-mounted magnifying glass where Mary can re-stitch lace, beads and buttons.

With a long history working with disabled Americans in federal court, Mary's collection is self-funded. Her avocation is collecting lace and learning about its history. She is a font of knowledge about how lace was made using hand-crafted bobbins and lace-making round pillows made firm by horsehair. She can also tell you about the cottage industry that evolved around lace-making in Europe, and how the aristocrats who purchased lace-trimmed clothing and handmade linens would often have their initials or names stitched on the garment.

She became fascinated with lace at the age of 10 while visiting her aunt’s home, which had a lot of linen and lace. “I wanted to live there because of all of the beautiful things she had,” Mary said.

“Lace is a female-dominated art form that’s like a Picasso. The really nice pieces will never be duplicated. Lace making is all but extinct. Yet, it was part of the economy in Europe,” Mary said.

“The women who made lace were extraordinary artists. You had to be disciplined and intelligent to create geometric designs. Lace brought beauty to every part of society.”

The lace makers used the money it brought for their farms and their children.

“Lace was part of a cottage industry. It deserves respect,” Mary said. “The lace on display is a part of the souls of the women who made it.”

This remarkable skill was also part of America’s cottage industry in the 1800s but the Industrial Revolution turned lace making into a factory-produced item.

Mary opened the museum in the Northville because she says, “Residents are educated and inquisitive, curious people. They would appreciate what I have. It’s intellectual because of the history.”

When she first told people she was opening a lace museum, some thought it might be like Victoria’s Secret. She quickly dispels that notion, although the museum does have antique lace garter belts. A patron who had been visiting a bar in the building stumbled upon the museum and said, “Hey, what’s going on in here?” Mary deftly handles all kinds of visitors – from teens to seniors and from newbies to history buffs. There is a retail component of buttons, lace garments and some historical pieces.

“Northville has an endearing soul. This museum maintains the city’s quaintness. I feel like it belongs here. If I inspire 10 people a month to learn more, then I’ve done my job,” she said.

While the museum would have greater visibility on Main or Center streets, the lace would be damaged by sunlight streaming through the windows. The museum is bright enough to see the spectacular collection that Mary has carefully arranged within the space.

Mary invites all to come and see this extraordinary, now nearly extinct art-form. There are still some hobbyists who make lace and others who belong to lace or embroidery clubs.

Prior to starting the museum, Mary often took the lace items on the road and set up displays. In 2013, she sent out 40 letters to historic societies and museums in southeastern Michigan telling them about her collection and saying she would exhibit it for free at their venue. All of the museums, even the Henry Ford, turned her down.

She also sent a letter to the VFW Hall in Northville (because of its WWI connection). They were interested and wanted to hear about her plan. They invited her to their board meeting. When she arrived on the appointed day, she found six to seven men in leather vests on the front lawn near the cannon with their motorcycles parked nearby.

One of them said, “Okay Mary. Tell us what you got.” She told them that she would like to use their space to show her lace exhibit during the weekend of the Victorian Festival (renamed the Heritage Festival). The leader asked his board, “Who’s in support?” One by one, the men said “Here, here,” and pointed a finger skyward to show their consent.

“God bless them. They were real characters. But they were the only ones who gave me any encouragement,” she said.

That event launched her exhibit locally and fed her motivation to open her own museum.  She used “Detroit” in the name since she travels on the East Coast and Europe to make purchases and people there don’t know Northville but do know Detroit. Additionally, people come to the museum from Detroit. She often gets small groups of different ethnicities. Lace is a treasured tradition for Italians, for example.

She would like to host fundraisers in the museum for charities that are based in Northville or benefit people in the city. “I want to give to this community and I don’t expect anything back,” she said. However, she does crave feedback…it shows people care and also helps her keep accurate historical notes.



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