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History flocks to Hubbard’s McBride House

There’s something to be said about 129-year-old chicken feathers that look like they were just plucked yesterday.

Similarly, vintage ostrich feathers perch regally upon an elegant lady’s hat. The Victorian ladies had a thing about feathers — they liked them a lot.

They liked them so much that they adorned their hats with aviary wonders and took exceptional pride in turning even lowly feathers, like chicken feathers, into intricate works of art.

Among historical pieces donated to the McBride House in Hubbard and displayed on a wall in the home’s dining room is a shadow box containing an ornate design of flowers. However, looks can be deceiving. The flower arrangement is actually composed of chicken feathers, superbly arranged to appear as delicate white flowers in an elaborate horseshoe design. Considering how unsuspecting it is, it is popular among visitors to the Hubbard Historical Society’s home.

Online research has uncovered some interesting facts about this art form. A blog written by the Clarke Historical Museum in Old Town Eureka, Calif., notes that chicken feather art was the handiwork of Victorian housewives who took pride in “beautifying” their homes and were active hobbyists to that end.

Hobbies included the making of “…three-dimensional wreaths and adornment items made of a variety of materials including thread, feathers, and, perhaps surprisingly, human hair,” the blog explains.

This unconventional artwork typically commemorated events, both somber and celebratory, and when in the shape of a horseshoe, it symbolized good luck. Such is the case with this particular artwork, created by Hubbard resident Lulu Baird Pettit in 1893.

The saying goes that birds of a feather flock together, and as such, this framed feather work is not the only ruffled object in the McBride House. Ladies of the Victorian period (typically 1837 to 1901), also beautified themselves with feathered hats, so much so that the custom caused great controversy when some species of birds, coveted only for their feathers, became endangered. The fashion trend eventually tapered off.

Yet, evidence of the “feather era” remains in vintage reminders like these to keep visitors looking for other intriguing items to pluck from the pages of history.

The Hubbard Historical Society is headquartered at the 138-year-old McBride House at 27 Hager St. in Hubbard. The society has three regular meetings a year, a summer picnic and a Christmas party. For more information, email Robin Zambrini, secretary, at robinzam56@yahoo.com.

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