Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Mary Helen Hering Middleton Tiara – An Accessory from Imperial Russia

by Carin Bloom, Dottie Stone, and me!
Original Tiara

     I was asked by Middleton Place National Historic Landmark House Museum to recreate a tiara in their collection.  When first shown to me, I was a bit intimidated.  I mean, look at it!?  Wow.  The detail.  Well, I do love a challenge and something that can expand my jewelry making abilities!  Usually, I channel my muse to help me figure out how to put together or improve my products and offerings and this was no exception.
     My mind started to ponder - how could I recreate this piece?  It is intricate, and as many know, I use ready-made findings, pieces, antique, and vintage items to create my jewelry.  The base was the immediate concern, but I found something that I have used before, and it would work to give the same feel of the original.  I then got started!

Just started and added the Amethyst paste stone that I set to the base

     This was a challenge in that I had to do my best to match the original – with cupids/putti and all.  The original has a large dark amethyst stone in the center, with aquamarine stones in the rest of the piece.  The aquamarine was very light.  I created two of these lovely tiara – one with aquamarine paste and one with clear paste – to try to match it.  I also had to enamel paint the little vintage feather plume brass castings that I found for this purpose, and I also painted the cupids the same gold color as the base.

Plumes modified and painted

    Setting the stones, cupids, and plumes
     To understand who wore this wonderful piece, I asked Carin Bloom to help me out with understanding the woman whose head this was upon.  Carin is the one who asked me if I could recreate the tiara back in the spring.

Mary Helen - Photo courtesy of Middleton Place

     "Mary Helen Hering Middleton was born in Jamaica to a Captain in the British Army, Julines, and his wife Mary Inglis, a prominent Philadelphian. Captain Hering owned sugar plantations on the island but wanted to raise his children in Philadelphia, a plan that was derailed by the outbreak of the American War for Independence. The family moved back to England instead. As fate would have it, England is where Mary’s husband, Henry Middleton of Charleston, SC, would eventually find her. The two met when Henry was on a visit to Bath in 1793, and though Mary had many suitors, her brother Oliver championed for Henry Middleton to win Mary’s hand. The couple were married on November 13, 1794.
     Mary and Henry stayed in Europe for the next five years, living mostly in England – though they spent a year in Paris – and had three sons. By October 1799, they were bound for the United States arriving after a three-month sea voyage. Mary was raised in high society in England, and was an asset to her husband’s political career in Charleston. Though she wasn’t a fan of the climate of coastal South Carolina, she made the best of her time, dedicating herself as a mother to 11 surviving children. She enjoyed the company of her husband’s sisters and was well-received among both the Charleston elite and the wealthy of northern society due to her family ties to Philadelphia.
     When Henry Middleton was appointed by President James Monroe to the post of Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Russia in 1820, Mary Helen packed up her family and made the voyage to St. Petersburg. Her upbringing certainly made her a fine companion for Henry, and though she might have been free to stay home as her husband traveled to Russia, Mary Helen chose to accompany him. Louisa (Mrs. John Quincy) Adams wrote that this choice on her husband’s behalf would “permit him to live as a minister should live.” For an Ambassador’s wife, life was a whirlwind of social and political engagements for which she needed to be properly dressed and accessorized.
Czar Nicholas I - gifted portrait to the Middletons

     For a decade Mary Helen accompanied her husband in matters of state and society, and the House Museum at Middleton Place National Historic Landmark is fortunate to retain within their collections several pieces attributed to Mary Helen’s life; not just clothing and accessories, but furniture, ceramic, flatware, décor, and a variety of household goods that all graced the Middletons’ St. Petersburg home. The most notable of her personal items is the tiara that she wore at the court of Czar Nicholas I. Stunningly fashioned in gold with enamel accents and golden cherubs, the tiara is set with one large amethyst and several delicately pale aquamarines. As the staff of Middleton Place Foundation seek to expand our story into areas of the site beyond the museum itself, it seemed a natural fit to start with the tiara as a jumping-off point for re-creating some of the historic pieces in the collection for sale in the Museum Shop.
     Middleton Place was so happy to partner with me for this massive undertaking, sure of the quality and craftsmanship that I lovingly include in my work. The Foundation sent as detailed photos as they could, to ensure that I would have every opportunity to create a piece truly inspired by Mary Helen’s court attire. The results are phenomenal, but don’t take my word for it – check out the photos of both pieces!  Middleton Place was so happy to have gotten a chance to work with me on this project, and the bonus of being able to help my rescue horses is the icing on the cake. 

     I am told that Middleton Place Foundation is proud to promote jewelry and accessories by K. Walters at the Sign of the Gray Horse; there is no doubt that this piece upholds the rigorous standards of beauty and quality for which Middleton Place is known. I look forward to a continued partnership, bringing historically accurate and beautiful jewelry into the lives of modern visitors and history buffs alike!"

Finished reproduction in the clear crystal version
     *Many thanks for much of the information in this post goes to Dottie Stone, Research Associate at Middleton Place Foundation
Tiara in its case and ready for sale at Middleton Place!  
Perfect for a wedding or your costuming needs.

Aquamarine version of the tiara