Life as the textile expert at a regional history museum

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

In the Shadow of the Dome

This weekend I took a trip to Tacoma with my mom, and was perhaps more excited than a Seattleite is allowed to be about visiting Tacoma. (For my out-of-state readers, Tacoma is a large city about an hour drive south of Seattle. The two cities got in a vicious fight in the 19th century regarding a transcontinental railroad terminus and we've been throwing shade at each other ever since).

My mom's choir had a concert on Saturday and a late rehearsal the night before, so a bunch of choir members decided to stay the night in between. I came along in order to hear the concert and hopefully visit a museum while we were there. And Tacoma really rolled out all its grandeur for this trip. We stayed in a hotel with a glorious view of the Tacoma Dome:

(what this photo doesn't capture is the grime on the window)

But I was still excited about what Tacoma had to offer because it is home to the Washington State History Museum, which happened to have a clothing exhibition on view! The show was called Pomp & Circumstance: The Clothing of Transformation and when I heard about it I thought the concept was brilliant. It was all about special occasion clothing, which is exactly what every history museum has coming out of its ears. So why not put your wedding dresses, christening gowns, uniforms, inaugural gowns, and weird ceremonial gear from fraternal organizations on display together and come up with a theme that encompasses it all? GENIUS.


The exhibit was a little smaller than I expected and it looked like it had been put together on a tight budget, but there was a lot of interesting and unexpected stuff. It was the perfect topic to showcase their collection and I was really impressed by the loans they got. Including...



Mannequin dressing nitpick though: I would have put this dress on a slim male mannequin. If you add foam boobs to existing mannequin boobs you get: 


After basking in all the clothes, it was time to check out their core Washington State history exhibit which I hadn't seen since the 8th grade. It was light on artifacts and heavy on sets and props. Not my cup of tea but I realize that school groups are a huge part of their audience, and sitting inside a fake covered wagon is way more engaging for a kid than a real wagon wheel behind glass. But where they really lost me was with the full-size plaster people. These things were like creepy mannequins taken to the NEXT LEVEL.

So many plaster ruffles...

That is one pissed-off frontier drag queen

So remember how I said that there is a bit of a rivalry between Seattle and Tacoma? Because obviously Seattle is better and Tacoma is just bitter about it? 

Well, since this was an exhibit about the history of Washington State they obviously had to at least mention Seattle. So how did they do it? 

Welcome to Seattle! Land of hopeless slums!

Yep, they put the spotlight on Seattle for the section on the Great Depression, illustrating the era with a reproduction "Hooverville" shack. When you went inside there were two plaster men talking about how everything was terrible, accompanied by an audio track of heavy rain falling on a tin roof. 


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