Life as the textile expert at a regional history museum

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Let Me See Your Quaker Face

I couldn't think of one story worth a long post this week, so here are several short stories, resulting in one giant post.

Quaker Face

Yesterday I did something I've never done before: I went to a high school football game. My roommate (a teacher) invited me, and I was strangely intrigued by the prospect. My high school didn't have a football team, so everything I knew about the experience was from TV and movies. Admittedly, the Seattle HS football scene isn't exactly like small-town Texas (probably 'cause, you know, there are other things to do here on a Friday night) but it was pretty fascinating nonetheless. There were cheerleaders, a marching band, and the team even charged through a big piece of paper when they came out after halftime. I was watching the Franklin Quakers, so the only thing missing was some sort of terrifying Ben Franklin mascot.

Or maybe just the skeezy one from that episode of The Office

Near the end of the third quarter, the cheerleaders started this cheer that everyone seemed really excited about. They chanted something, and then said "let me see your alligator!" and everyone did snapping jaw motion with their arms. Next they said "let me see your dougie" and then some little dance move thing happened. And last they said "let me see your QUAKER FACE" and then time stood still as my brain was like "What is happening right now? What is Quaker Face? What could it possibly be??" All my Quaker friends from Earlham materialized in an apparition before me as I threw up my hands in confusion.

Then time started again. It turned out to be some sort of motion with hands on the side of the face. WHAT DOES IT MEAN, CHEERLEADERS? WHAT DOES IT MEAN??

Welcome to Bellevue

On the other side of Lake Washington stands a city called Bellevue, which is a strange land that Seattleites make fun of. The feeling is mutual.

As I crossed the bridge and took the first exit, right away I saw something I had never seen before.

"Huh," I thought. "So THAT is what a Mitt Romney yard sign looks like."

Girl. No. 

This week I bought an awesome vintage dress that I had tried on a few days earlier and came back for because I couldn't stop thinking about it. Seriously, this dress is going to blow everyone's minds when I wear it. Get ready.

Anyway, while I had it on, the woman at the store was, of course, trying to convince me to buy it. That's what salespeople do. At one point she pointed to the beading and said, "This is very nice workmanship. It is definitely couture." I was like:

Girl. No. That does not work on me. Don't use words you don't understand.

Things Dmitry Said Today

Yeah, you saw it coming. I still want to talk about Dmitry. The problem is, I usually watch Project Runway either Friday night or Saturday morning, so when I blog on Saturday, it is all I can think about.  

Remember when I was excited for him to serve up sequins for the Rockette challenge? Well, it was awesome. First of all, we got treated to hearing him say "Rahkyette" about 10 times, and then he started snarking to the camera about how boring another designer's dress was. He actually said this: 

Hilarious. I'm going to make that a daily affirmation. 

This week they had a sort of dumb challenge to design baby clothes, and as part of it they gave them all baby dolls that cried constantly. They even made them take them home to their apartments that night. In the morning, they showed the babies all screaming, and the bleary-eyed designers scrambling to calm them. Dmitry was glaring at his baby over his pillow, and then said to the camera:

"I forgot. I am a father now."

When they made it to the workroom, Tim came in and said, "Good morning designers. How was your evening and night?"

Dmitry responded: "I barely had time to put my pants on."

Yeah, So I Figured Out How To Add GIFs To The Blog

I think it is really going to spice things up around here. 

Thanks, Michael. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fond Farewells to the Elevator Machinery Room

When I talk to Seattle people about my job, one of the first things I get asked is, "Oh! Have you guys moved yet?"

What they mean is "has MOHAI moved to its new location and opened to the public?" but what I hear is "please tell me lots of details about the MOHAI move process" (I'm the worst).

The fact is, there is no one move. Soon after I started, we moved artifacts out of an old storage location and into a new one.  This summer, staff started moving to our new Georgetown facility. The first wave of artifacts soon followed, and are still arriving in batches. Of course artifacts have also been moving to our new building in South Lake Union, and the rest of the staff will move there in about a month.  And yesterday, I moved.

At "old" MOHAI in Montlake, I had my own little office, complete with dim lighting and loud elevator noises. Here is how it looked just before the movers arrived:

And here is my new space:

First off: LIGHT. I brought my whole arsenal of lamps with me from my old office and now they are just lined up helplessly in the corner. Second: WINDOWS. Yeah, ok they aren't to the outside, but no collections person expects that. I have a great view of the hallway and collections storage, and that is a heck of a lot more cheerful than a cinder-block wall. Third: HUMAN INTERACTION. There aren't people visible in the photo, but there are lots around. The rest of my department moved to the new space months ago, and I've been spending a lot of quiet days alone in my old office. I'm looking forward to feeling more connected and not worrying that if I fall asleep at my desk I might get forgotten and locked inside the building. Here, if I fall asleep at my desk, everyone will see and make fun of me (the windows help with that). 


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Your New Favorite Movies

I just couldn't resist writing an extra post about Dmitry and his rickrack, but I promise this isn't going to turn into a Project Runway recap blog. This here is my real post for the week.

This week at work it was back to pushing boobs around and building beer guts. You know what I'm talking about--mannequin dressing.

When the new MOHAI opens in December, our first temporary exhibition will be about movie theaters and filmmaking in Seattle.  For the show, we are borrowing costumes from a local company that dressed a number of recent films that used Seattle as a location. The only problem is that most recent films set in Seattle actually use Vancouver for filming (something about taxes), and so actual films made in Seattle tend to be sort of obscure and little known. So, to get you all hyped up about the costumes I'm dressing for Celluloid Seattle, your assignment is to become obsessed with the following movies:

Stephen King's Rose Red

This was a 2002 made-for-TV movie which ended up being forgettable for everyone except those involved in Seattle-area historical societies. The story about a haunted Seattle mansion was totally fabricated, but the marketing campaign tried to get people thinking it was a true story--much like the Blair Witch Project had done a few years earlier. They set up a fake University website and had a faux documentary about the history of this non-existent building. The result was that lots of people were fooled and started contacting places like MOHAI try to find out more. When told it was just made up, some became angry and assumed that we were either misinformed or part of the cover-up. Historylink has a pretty hilarious run-down of all the inquiries it received, which includes comments like "If the story of Ellen Rimbauer is not true then where did the photos come from?" and "The unaccounted for bodies of those who visited the mansion should be proof enough...who are you to depict which are true and which are false?"

The movie is mostly set in the present day, but luckily the costumes we have were worn by ghosts from more fabulous historical eras.


Grassroots came out this year and is due on DVD soon. It actually looks kind of great.

On the long list of things I could never have guessed I would do in life:
#438: Scrutinize a movie trailer in order to better understand the body proportions of Jason Biggs

Ira Finkelstein's Christmas

Also looks kind of fun, right? It was filmed partially in West Seattle and in nearby Bavarian-themed town Leavenworth.  At about 40 seconds in you get a great view of Elliott Gould's grandpa costume which we have for the exhibit. Hardly haute couture, but the printed shirt is Tommy Bahama which is a local brand. I think it's a nice touch. 

With this movie and Grassroots, it's a reminder that most costume designers don't spend their time churning out Elizabethan gowns. Generally they work with ready-made pieces, and have to put outfits together that match the life and personality of each character. If you make the wrong choice with a period piece, only nerds like me will notice.  But if you dress a contemporary movie, you have to tap into people's present understanding of what certain styles and colors mean. If you put a dark toned, structured blazer on a retired Floridian, everyone is going to feel that it looks wrong. 

The movie was made in 2011 and was shown at the Seattle International Film Festival, but I think it has yet to have a general theatrical release. It might be coming soon to a theater near you!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Dmitry Update

Thanks for all your kind words about the various traumas I endured last week. I'm doing better. The work thing will probably haunt me for a long time, but the actual event is over so at least I can sleep at night. Love continues to be dead, but a reasonable facsimile is still available in the form of Jane Austen novels.

As for Project Runway, I tried to seal up my heart and start separating myself from this season, but then this happened:

That would be a childhood photo of Dmitry, dressed up in what appears to be a drum major uniform with extra rickrack. As part of a challenge about personal and cultural heritage, the designers were surprised by visits from loved ones and shown photos from their past. Dmitry started crying when his friend Irina played him a video of his father in Belarus, offering words of encouragement. It was a heart-melting moment. 

Look! He already has an affinity for blonde ladies!

(For the record I'm aware that Dmitry is probably gay. Not to make blanket judgments about opposite-sex friendships, but the presence of a lifelong, female best friend is a possibly an indicator. His low V-neck t-shirts are another. But who cares? He also probably doesn't live in a Dracula castle either.)

THEN not only did Dreamy Dmitry go on to win the challenge, but we found out that next week they were going to be dressing the Rockettes. At first I was worried for him, but then another blog pointed out that Dmitry "Strictly Ballroom" Sholokov might have this one in the bag. Oh yeah. He used to be a ballroom dancer and probably learned to sew by making his own costumes. I bet he practically grew up in stretch polyester. 

Contemplating this, Olivia and I proceeded to have the following offensive conversation:

"Yeah, I feel like Eastern Europeans love their sparkles."

"For all I know sequins are the national currency of Belarus."

"In old country we put sequin on everything."

"But then we have great sequin drought of 1987."

"Yes, it was very difficult time. Is why I come to America."

Ah Dmitry, you know I'm just jealous because if I ever had to turn to my family heritage for a fashion challenge, I'd be stuck trying to reinvent the Mennonite head covering. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Everything is Terrible.

Here is why this week really sucked, in reverse order of suckitude:

3. Dreamy Dmitry made an ugly finale collection

If you know me, you know I love Project Runway. I own the first five seasons on DVD and used to clear my schedule whenever it was on. But the move to Lifetime has been rough, and I thought a low point had been reached when Gretchen won instead of Mondo in Season 8. But the real low point was when I just stopped watching Season 9 because I realized I was dreading each episode and I felt actively anxious and unhappy while watching. I made it through All-Stars but it felt like a chore. 

So I was pretty sure I was going to watch little, if any, of Season 10. But Olivia and I ended up watching a few and got hooked, mainly because we fell in love with Dmitry Sholokov, the hilarious, ballroom dancing Belarusian who looks like younger, hotter incarnation of Professer Snape. His thick-accented quips have single-handedly brought the joy of Project Runway back into my life. 

So far, he has made some great dresses but hasn't won a challenge. I was hoping his "always the bridesmaid never the bride" story would be similar to that of Jay McCarroll, who uttered that line just before producing one of the best finale collections to date and winning Season 1. But this week the remaining designers showed at fashion week and Dmitry's was...kinda bad. Which means he won't win. Then again none of the collections were particularly exciting, so once again, a season of Project Runway is destined to collapse into one giant letdown. 

2. Love Is Dead

I probably shouldn't be dreaming of moving to Eastern Europe so I can live in a castle and have pale babies with Dmitry because the news came this week that love is dead and we should all give up.  

If you have been wondering why people are sobbing openly in the streets or why pints of Ben & Jerry's are sold out at your local grocery store, you must not have heard that all-time awesome couple Amy Poehler and Will Arnett are breaking up. 

Every time I chuckled with schadenfreude over some overexposed celebrity couple going bust, I wondered if I was just hard-hearted toward love and if I would ever be upset to hear about the break up of two people I don't know. And for years the answer was obvious: Amy and Will. Besides both being two of the funniest people I can think of, they seemed like they really had a loving, respectful, fun, equal marriage. 

So if they can't make it work, it means that love must be broken and that we should all just crawl into bed with a box of doughnuts and commence eating our feelings. 

1. Ugh

This week something very, very frustrating happened at work and it appears that there is nothing I can do about it. Since this is a public blog, I can't tell you about it, but I can tell you that my level of sheer rage on the subject has had me listening to Mozart's Queen of the Night aria on repeat for cathartic comfort. If you're not familiar, here is a clip. 

Yep. That is pretty much how I feel.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Beefy Arms Brigade

On Monday at the new museum, I had the exciting task of monitoring the moving crew while they worked with some of our larger artifacts. Basically that meant I was supposed to watch them with a steely, judgmental stare that says "under normal circumstances I would rip your head off for touching an artifact like that, but that thing weighs 1400 pounds so I suppose I need your help to move it." The project included taking the wheels off of a cart and reassembling it in a gallery, and moving our famous racist fish-gutting machine into place.

After watching for a little while, I realized I was actually having fun witnessing the whole process. It was just so different than my normal workday. I work mostly with women, and manual tasks are completed slowly and methodically. Fabrics get vacuumed with brush attachments that aren't much bigger than a quarter, and an entire canoe can get cleaned with a q-tip. But here was this pack of tough guys hammering axels into place, bracing things with giant pieces of wood, and using exciting tools like "winches" and "bottle jacks." For both projects they had ingenious, well thought-out plans for how to move the objects carefully and methodically, but there were still a few moments where the best option was "hand me the hammer," or "let's just see what happens if we push it really hard."

Later that week, as I was sewing padding to male mannequin arms to make them look beefier, I was struck by the bizarre presence of the faux men I have in my work life. And no, that isn't some cruel comment about the dudes who work at MOHAI-- I'm talking about this house of horrors:

That would be the mannequin that I made the aforementioned beefy arms for. How would you feel if you turned on the light in your office one morning and saw that? 

Eventually, he will have hair and hands, and will be wearing a hat, vest, tuxedo jacket, pants, and shoes. But right now he looks like some sort of pants-less, nubby-handed Frankenstein monster. 

This then brought to mind my other favorite creep-tastic collections photo:

This is Black Bart, a quick-draw cowboy arcade game from the 1962 World's Fair. Here we see him back from the conservator (where he got some face-work) and tucked into his packing crate. His shirt was removed so it could be replaced with a prop shirt.

But seriously, the whole scene with the plastic, the covered head, the tight pants, the bare chest, and the gun at the ready, it looks like he was the victim of some sex game gone awry and now his killer is trying to dispose of the evidence.

Nice arms though.