Life as the textile expert at a regional history museum

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Fur On The Brain

Fur collar from the Henry Art Gallery Collection

Ok guys, I can't spend much time blogging this weekend because I've got this big lecture coming up about fur and fashion in Seattle and...well let's just say it still needs a lot of work. So here are some links to entertain you.

If you are like "Clara talking about fur and fashion?!?! Tell me more!" Go here:

Guest post I wrote for the Henry Art Gallery Blog

Info about my program and how to sign up

"Thanks Clara, but I'll pass. What else is going on in the world of costume and fashion this week?"

Gland you asked! The Miss Universe pageant is happening soon, which means that it is time for the FANTASTICALLY RIDICULOUS PARADE OF NATIONAL COSTUMES. I direct you to this wonderful four-part commentary:

Part I: Bird Women and Show Girls!
Part II: Virgins & Brides!
Part III: Warriors, Goddesses & Queens!
Part IV: Crazies, Lazies, & Try-Hards!


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Goodbye To Weird Limbs

It is done. This week I finished switching all the outfits on the mannequins at the museum, which included removing the weird paper heads and limbs. Besides what I felt was a serious creep factor, the extra parts made these twice-yearly dressings a lot more difficult. I understand why we decided to use them initially, and I gave them a good two-year try. But the heads and limbs were very hard to work with and added an element of uncertainty that ate up a lot of time. 

For example, last time I switched out the 1950s mannequin I had to contend with this:

This is actually one of my favorite little suits in the collection: It is beautifully cut, has an elegant drape of fabric on the back, and was sold by John Doyle Bishop. But on display it looked dour and awkward. After dressing it the first day I had to buy some additional accessories to try to cheer it up, but it still basically looked like this in the case.

This time, we had pre-padded the 1950s mannequin and so at the museum it took only a few minutes to dress and we knew exactly what it was going to look like. I forgot to take a picture of it in the case, but this is the basic idea:

So simple, so elegant! You notice the dress first and not the face! 

I also was able to add artifact shoes to the cases for the first time ever. The old mannequin limbs had feet that were large and stiff. I only used prop shoes because getting something on those feet involved a lot of frustrated stretching and shoving. But now, since we weren't trying to create the illusion of a body, I could just set a pair of artifact shoes on the case floor next to the dress. These are the totally cute shoes I picked:

So now the limbs are all resting peacefully in a strange jumble on a supply shelf. 

The only part that gives me a little pang of sadness is the paper hair for the 1850s woman (at the center of the picture). I think the volunteer and I who worked on it did an awesome job. The 1920s hair turned out pretty nice as well. Creating the paper hair for the mannequins was a particularly fun part of the prep for the new museum, and it is a skill I wouldn't mind developing further. 

There is actually one head n' limbs mannequin still on display. Just around the corner from the 1850s pioneer woman we have the 1860s "Mercer Girl" who is not in a case and is wearing a reproduction dress that we commissioned for the exhibit. Since it is a reproduction, the dress doesn't get changed like the others. It makes sense for her to be more lifelike because the mannequin isn't showing off an artifact, it is representing the idea of a person starting her new life in Seattle. I'm the most proud of the 1850s hair, but I really like the little 1860s snood we gave this one. 

Sorry the photo is so washed out. My camera also really hates those mannequin parts. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

New Year, New Database

Last week, instead of finishing up a bunch of end-of-year projects on my to-do list, I got sick!

Slow Pie To The Face = 
That "I think I'm coming down with something" feeling

On New Year's Eve I went to bed at 8pm, and rang in 2015 the next day by binge-watching Friends.

So this week I ran headfirst into 2015 with a messy desk and a mannequin-dressing area still coated in scraps of polyester batting and wayward bras. But there was no time to tidy up mannequin undies, because the big news this week was our NEW DATABASE. 

Databases are a cause of anxiety for most museum collections staff. You basically HAVE to have some sort of digital way to track your collection unless 1) You have only 10 items and you can see them all from your desk or 2) You are a time traveller from the 1950s and find it perfectly acceptable to use a paper card catalog where "running a search" means looking through every single card. BUT databases don't come cheap, and you can drive yourself crazy trying to pick which one is perfect for your needs. 

Getting this database has been a multi-year process of begging, advocating, researching, discussing, polite arguing, and more begging. At once point, one of the higher ups was like "Why do you you need a new one? The old one seems to be working just fine." JUST FINE??? JUST FINE!?!?!?!? Clearly you don't see us working at our desks every day like...

I'd like to protect the identity of our old database so let me just call it "Chad." Chad was old. Chad was outdated. Chad had lots of features that didn't make any sense. Chad didn't have a global search, so so if you were looking for a specific name or business, you had to search separately in each field that might contain that word. Chad would crash at random times or all the colors on the screen would get weird and it meant he was corrupted and had to be reinstalled. Even the company who made Chad wasn't supporting him any more. 

So we FINALLY have our new database up and running. It is called Proficio (actual name) and it is life changing. I'm still learning how to navigate all its features and I sometimes get frustrated, but it is usually just because Proficio is different and change is hard. When I stop to think about it, I realize the old way was actually a nonsensical Chad work-around, and this new way is better. 

While the data was being transferred from the old to the new, there were a few weeks there where we couldn't use Chad OR Proficio. So in addition to feeling like I didn't finish all my year-end organizational projects, I also have a whole backlog of database work to catch up on. So it is just a few days into the New Year and I already feel way behind. 

Oh well. It is 2015, baby! At least I can pretend to be fabulous and in control.