VIDEO/PHOTOS Emotions run high on opening day at Diana dresses exhibit at von Liebig

— A steady stream of anxious ticketholders filed into The von Liebig Art Center throughout the opening day of the “Princess Diana: Dresses of Inspiration” exhibit on Saturday.

The collection of Diana’s dresses and memorabilia, including letters and holiday cards, moved attendees as they wove through the exhibit, which continues until June 27.

Organizers assigned tickets for timed entry to minimize crowding and allow people enough time to savor the items. Since most of the ticketholders came to the exhibit in groups of two or three, friends commented to one another about the personal nature of the items on display.

Some of the dresses featured in the exhibit are from Diana’s auction of dresses at Christie’s in New York.

The exhibit revealed a side of Diana’s personality that not everyone knew – her sense of humor. Friends Carol Hunt and Judy Nevadomski agreed that Diana’s wit shone through in her letters and even in her fashion choices.

“I never knew Diana had such a sense of humor, which you can see in the cards and letters she wrote,” Nevadomski said. “Everything here is so personal.”

For Hunt, it was the charitable aspect of the event that touched her heart. Hunt’s mother died of breast cancer, which was one of Diana’s favorite charities.

“Diana was such a philanthropist and that’s why everyone loved her so much,’’ Hunt said.

Princess Diana: Dresses of Inspiration is the brainchild of the Pink Ribbons Crusade. The organization raises money for breast cancer prevention and awareness, which stays in the community where the exhibit is displayed.

In the case of the Naples showing, NCH Healthcare System Breast Health Services Fund and Bosom Buddies affiliates will benefit. The proceeds will help with diagnostic exams for women who wouldn’t be able to afford them.

“We will never know all of the stories of the mothers, daughters and sisters who will benefit from this effort, but we’re so thrilled that thanks to these tests, they’ll be around for weddings, graduations and things like seeing their grandchildren grow up,” said Lee Wilson, a Pink Ribbons board member and event organizer.

Some breast cancer diagnostic tests, such as a breast MRI, which is increasingly used to detect breast cancer in high-risk patients, can cost thousands of dollars. Mammograms and ultrasounds can cost hundreds.

“We’re thrilled at the reception we’ve received and so glad the money we’re raising will stay in the community,” said Wilson, whose sister-in-law is fighting breast cancer. “The recipients of the funds we’re raising often have to make tough choices, like whether to provide for their families or receive the medical tests they need.”

Pink Ribbons Crusade is an all-volunteer organization with no paid staff or consultants, and that includes superstar chef Darren McGrady, Princess Diana’s royal chef and vice president of the board of the Pink Ribbons Crusade.

Despite a busy work schedule and family life – the chef has three children from ages five to 13 – McGrady donates his limited free time traveling to Pink Ribbons Crusade events. He is best known as “The Royal Chef” and became involved in the Pink Ribbon Crusade after meeting the charity’s Dallas-based president and avid Diana memorabilia and dress collector, Suzanne King. McGrady recognized some of the items in King’s collection.

After attending the opening day event at The von Liebig Art Center, McGrady gave a lecture to a sold-out crowd at the Jolly Cricket on Saturday afternoon.

Diana was the inspiration for McGrady’s charitable efforts.

“Princess Diana came up to me in the kitchen after the Christie’s auction with a piece of paper in her hand and said, ‘Look how much money I raised for charity just by selling a few of my dresses’,” McGrady said.

For the many ticketholders who came to The von Liebig specifically to see the textiles Diana made famous, the exhibit was rewarding.

“It’s so wonderful to see the dresses up close,” Gail Murphy said. “This is a testament to Diana’s fashion style even after all these years.”

Others were wowed by the memorabilia room and wall of Christmas cards that spanned from 1984 to 1996. The personal Christmas cards, exquisitely framed, seemed to reach out to viewers walking by and draw them in to the memories of the happy times Diana shared with her two children.

Some of the more haunting items were the printed facts scattered throughout the exhibit, including those describing Diana’s love of music and the details of her final resting place on the small island at Althorp, the Spencer family’s home.

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Admission to the Princess Diana: Dresses of Inspiration is $12 for nonmembers, $10 for members and $5 for children under 10. Go to www.NaplesArt.org for more information

__ Contact Kelly Merritt at Kelly@Kelly-Merritt.com

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