Life as the textile expert at a regional history museum

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The New Normal

Now that I'm done with my posts about Grand Opening and New Orleans (GONO for short), I guess I have to catch you all up on all that has happened since then.

Right now at MOHAI, the most common phrase in conversations and all-staff emails is "the new normal," as in "we are still figuring out the new normal," and "I hope this isn't part of the new normal," and "me eating cake for lunch is the new normal." Basically, grand opening was such a massive success that we are drowning in public interest. Attendance is crazy, phones are ringing off the hook, and emails are pouring in. People want to book school groups, plan tours, rent event spaces, buy memberships, and donate artifacts, and our staff is struggling to keep up.  We know that opening created a peak in interest which will die down eventually, but we have no way of knowing when and by how much. Is this a passing phase, or is it the new normal?

Because of this wave of excitement, MOHAI made a second appearance on everyone's favorite local daytime talk show, New Day Northwest. For me it meant getting to the museum by 6:30 am to oversee the process of de-installing and packing the artifacts, unpacking at the studio and arranging the artifacts on a table, and then standing like a bouncer and slapping away hands that wanted to touch. Someone tried to set down three cups of water for "just a sec" next to the c. 1900 Nordstrom baby booties and I think my forceful "NO!" freaked her out a little. While I have a fondness for the booties, as far as everyone else was concerned the big deal artifact we brought this time was the basketball championship trophy won by the Sonics in 1979.

Yes, first put on your gloves
Now you may touch
Ok, I'll admit, it is pretty cool. My supervisors wanted only MOHAI people to handle and move it, so I got to carry it out to the table for the taping. I couldn't help but think to myself "There are lots of NBA players who have never held one of these, yet here I am, holding this...and all it took was a degree in fashion." 

The New Day Northwest clips were a pain to imbed last time, so if you want to see the whole thing, here is the link:

Trophy-holding aside, the new normal for me is mostly going to involve another major move project. The entire costume and textile collection has to be moved out of its old storage facility and into a new one. It is exciting, because I can't wait to start going through all the cool stuff we have, but totally overwhelming because there is just so much stuff. Some of it is organized, but there are lots of weird things stuck into strange places and vestiges of projects long past. The whole place is like a monument to the old normal. I found a box of random items with a note that said "these were on the front table when I started so I moved them here" and then some initials and a date from 1996. I also found a dress balled up in a clear garbage bag with a post-it note on the outside that read "Bugs! also stains." 

Among some mannequin props I found an entire shelf of things that looked like this:

If you can't tell what you are looking at (and why would you?) it is two different shapes of wood forms with custom pads that fit over. The one on the left has a round pad that has a drawstring on the top and bottom, and the one on the right has a pad (behind it) that looks like a tea cozy. 

On the way back from New Orleans I lost my phone and then got talked into making the leap to smartphoneville. I still wasn't sure it was the right choice until I encountered these things. I was able to take a photo, email it to the former manager of the costume collection, and receive a response about what the heck I was looking at, all on one device. The answer? The one on the left is hips and on the right is shoulders, and they were stuck on wood poles to create makeshift mannequins. Ingenious yet depressing! 

Yes, it is a brave new future at MOHAI, and I decided that mine is not going to include padded pole mannequins. 


  1. Next time you are in Tiffany's you can casually mention the time you held their Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy. Possibly remark on its fine craftsmanship and how well its vermeil has held up.

    1. It will be worse than that. I'll snottily tell Tiffany's that the vermeil is only holding up so-so.

    2. You should bring it in for a re-gilding, that would turn some heads.

  2. I found a box of random items with a note that said "these were on the front table when I started so I moved them here" and then some initials and a date from 1996.

    I have come across more than a couple of those at the Chapman, let me tell you.

    1. I know! I'm guessing we are not alone. In Special Collections at FIT, Juliet liked to tell the story of how she found a box that was literally labelled "miscellaneous bullshit"