Grand Rapids Art Museum hosts "Diana: A Celebration" exhibit

By: Joel Schipper Email
By: Joel Schipper Email

In August of 1997, the world lost one of the most beloved women of our time in a tragic car accident in Paris.

It's been more than 13 years since Princess Diana's death, but an exhibit featuring items from her life is now on display not far from Michiana.

She is known the world over as the "people's princess," always more apt to wear everyday clothing rather than a designer gown; but when she did, she dazzled, the way one would expect royalty to look.

The Grand Rapids Art Museum is currently home to "Diana - A Celebration," a rare look into the life of Diana Spencer from childhood until her death, and even after. Grand Rapids is just one of the few cities in the U.S. to obtain such an exhibit, and it's drawing crowds from all over.

“It's an experience. They remember where they were when the wedding happened,” said Kerri VanderHoff, Director of Marketing for the Exhibit, of visitors.

That 1981 wedding to Prince Charles was one of the most-watched television events in history with an equally famous dress to match, created by the Emmanuals, a little known designers from Britain. That dress is on full display at the museum, hand-embroidered with more than 10,000 pearls and the famous 25-foot train.

“When it's displayed here the entire train can be seen. When it's back at Elthorp, and it goes back there every summer, it has to be twirled around a little bit so it's really wonderful to see it in its entirety here on display at the art museum,” said VanderHoff.

The wedding room is just one of many at the museum. There's a room showing videos of Diana's childhood and displaying some of her toys and personal family photos and albums. There's also a humanitarian room.

"When she was with these people and these causes she cared so much about it was always about them,” explained VanderHoff.

Of the items in the tribute room are the lyrics for "Candle in the Wind" that Sir Elton John re-wrote after Diana's death in 1997. The song was originally written for Marilyn Monroe.

A condolence room houses just a small section of the hundreds of thousands of sympathy notes and books sent to Diana's family after her death; but it's the design gallery that really shows Diana's style and sense of fashion.

The world's top designers would clamor to have her wear their creations. The museum is also host to the Jaqcues Azeguary gown the princess wore at her last public appearance right before she died.

Photography is not allowed in the exhibit, which is ironic considering she was one of the most photographed women in history. Because she was so lovingly looked at as one of the people, it was very rare to see Diana wear a crown, aside from the occasional photo shoot.

Security inside the exhibit is very tight and it's much-needed. One of the crowns dates back to 1840 and is almost entirely comprised of diamonds. It is just one of the many priceless jewels visitors can see.

"They go back many hundreds of years. Earl Spencer, her brother, currently lives at Elthrop estate and a lot of those are family jewels that are passed down through the generations so they're there because of her family heritage,” said VanderHoff.

It's a historic and very personal look at a woman who touched so many lives and continues to do so.

"Diana - A Celebration" will be at the Grand Rapids Art Museum until February 16 and buying tickets in advance is recommended. You can learn more by clicking here.

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