Rosalynn Carter yesterday came to see the new setting for her inaugural gown, amid furniture collected for the White House during Jacqueline Kennedy's days as first lady.
The Smithsonian's Museum of History and Technology has added "the Red Room" to its First Ladies Hall, the most popular display in the museum. This is the first addition to the hall in its 15 years.
The setting, called by Mrs. Carter "so warm and becoming to the gowns," is designed in the spirit of Mrs Kennedy's decoration of the White House's Red Room in 1962. Models standing in the 15-by-20-foot room wear dresses belonging to Betty Ford, Pat Nixon, Lady Bird Johnson and Jacqueline Kennedy, the most recent first ladies. Margaret Klapthor, curator of political history, researched and supervised the room.
The walls of the room are covered in cerise silk and gold borders. The same fabric also covers the sofa.The curtains at the window are actually from the White House. "We gave them to the Smithsonian," said White House curator Clement Conger. "They were worn out but the Smithsonian had them patched up."
By law, the White House must place in Smithsonian keeping any piece of White House furnishing not in use.
In the new room is a French Empire desk with 19th-century ormolu mounts -- "It was too big for the Red Room," said Conger. "But I suppose it was all Mrs. Kennedy could find at the time. We replaced it with a smaller, American Empire desk, much more appropriate." The rug, also once in the White House, "was getting thin," said Conger. Other antiques from the White House include an American Empire card table held up by a gift-winged sphinx (1820), two American Empire side tables and a bronze forchier.
Conger said he hadn't come to take anything back. "We send the Smithsonian our leftovers," he said grandly. But others said he turned green with envy at the painting of Mrs. Herbert Hoover and her dogs beside the lily pool in 1932, painted by Franklin B. Clark.
Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley and Mrs. Ripley chatted with Mrs. Carter about Mrs. Ripley's mother's place in Quitman, Ga.
Mrs. Carter told a large audience that she thought the First Ladies Hall was good because it helped people feel closer to their president, and more a part of history.