Life as the textile expert at a regional history museum

Friday, November 25, 2016

Grief, Action, and St. Catherine

For four years now I've been posting on (or around) November 25th about St. Catherine's Day--the day that celebrates the patron saint of archivists, couture house workers, and single women over 25. In years past I've gathered my friends, donned silly hats, and toasted to history, fashion, and life without husbands.

But this year, I haven't been feeling it. Since the election I've been more in the mood to wear a black veil than my 90s Blossom hat. I realize though that going into full Victorian mourning would only play into the conservative taunts that liberals are just being "dramatic" about Donald Trump's election. "Liberal Idiot Now Only Wears Black Crepe" the Breitbart headline would read.

Which is to say that all of this melancholy has got me thinking differently about Saint Catherine this year. Her legend tells the story of an educated woman from a privileged background who spoke out against persecution and injustice. For those of us who grieve the results of the election but have the privilege to possibly sail through the next four years mostly unscathed, we need to resist the lure of that comfort.

Of all the things Cathy is a patron saint of, the ones that resonate with me the most is her patronage of archivists and educators, couture house and millinery workers, and single women over the age of 25. So this year, rather than writing goofy prayers to a (most likely) fictional saint, I'm going to make some Catherinesq post-election pledges.

As a museum professional: I pledge to be inclusive in my collecting and seek out opportunities to tell stories about people who are underrepresented in museums. I pledge to remember that I do not preserve objects for their own sake but for the benefit of the people of the community. I pledge to not only tell the happy, triumphant stories of history but also the ones that are painful and difficult. I also pledge to not always be the storyteller, to step back and amplify other voices, and allow those voices to educate me.

As a person who loves fashion: I pledge to care about those to make my clothing, and the environmental impact of clothing manufacturing. I pledge to buy fair trade, to buy from companies that pay their workers a living wage, and support local businesses whenever possible. I also pledge to buy less, to care for the clothing I already have, and dispose of unwanted clothing as conscientiously as possible.

As a single woman who has the gift of free time and disposable income: I pledge to seek out concrete actions and activities that I can do, to sign up and show up, to push myself, and to also take time to recharge. I pledge to increase the annual amount that I give the charitable causes. I also pledge to be conscious of self-congratulation about any of my actions, thinking not in terms of "enough" but always seeking to do more.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Dark Corner of the Internet

In a few short weeks MOHAI is opening a major exhibition about food culture in Seattle called Edible City. Even though food is the focus, there will also be clothes-- including some chef's jackets and dresses worn to a famous Seattle restaurant.  For various reasons, we wanted a couple of the mannequins to not be the usual ones we had in stock. So I was tasked with finding some new mannequins.


Since we had a limited budget and limited time, it meant finding something from a retail supply company rather than a custom order from someplace fancy. So I went online to search. And I'm here to tell you that the internet world of mannequins was grimmer and even more upsetting than I expected.

I realize that the bar for icky things on the internet is set pretty high, but I still feel like this was a dark little corner I had stumbled upon. 

The idea was to get mannequins that were a bit more dynamic and lifelike than our regular ones. So I guess, faces? But if the faces are painted, you sort of need wigs...

Ok, ok, no wigs. Maybe "molded" hair? 

Erm. A little better, I guess, but sort of hard to pass her off as a 1930s housewife, right? 

Hey, oh actually this molded hair one looks a little better... come all the non-white mannequins are specifically listed as "Ethnic" or "African"? 

This...feels a bit racist. I guess it is good that they even sell mannequins that aren't white, but you lose points if the white version of the style is "female mannequin" and the black version is "ethnic female mannequin." And you definitely lose points if all your "African" mannequins are in a separate special category, away from all your "regular" (white or abstract) mannequins. 

Oh there was also a site that used "Latin style" as the euphemism for mannequins with larger butts. 

Even without the casual/blatant racism, there were lots of weird categories on the sites. Some that I really didn't want to click on...

And some that were a little more intriguing. Like a whole section of "Euro Male" mannequins???

Tell me more!!

And then there was just straight-up nightmare fodder. 

Aren't you glad I started blogging again?