Thursday, January 28, 2010

Making the Cut

By: Virginia Reynolds, CGP class of 2011

In the last ten years, reality TV has taken thousands of Americans behind the scenes. Whether it’s a jar of peanut butter or an evening gown, shows like How It’s Made and Project Runway show how much goes into a final product. Creating a museum exhibition is no different. Along with two other students from the Cooperstown Graduate Program (CGP), I have been working on the Fenimore’s upcoming exhibit, Empire Waists, Bustles & Lace: A Century of New York Fashion, which will open April 1, 2010.
My first official project was to locate prints in Godey’s Lady’s Book and Peterson’s Magazine, two nineteenth-century fashion magazines, to show changes in style over time. With over a hundred beautifully hand-colored images to choose from, selecting a few to accompany the exhibit’s labels was challenging. Next, I picked accessories for an 1830s dress and a men’s velvet suit from 1800. Even with a list of bonnets from the 1830s, it’s hard to not get distracted. Remember, the dress only needs one bonnet. The bonnets are stored in different boxes. Looking through and carefully unwrapping the acid-free tissue paper from the headwear feels like Christmas every time. While in storage or doing research, I am always surprised by what I discover.
Brooke Steinhauser and Jennie Davy also researched and recommended pieces for the exhibit. Brooke focused on undergarments – corsets, crinolines and bustle pads – all essential for creating iconic, nineteenth-century silhouettes. To put the dresses and people who wore them better into context, the some of the clothing will be displayed on antique furniture. Applying the information from her American Material Culture course, Jennie Davy selected a variety of furniture including chairs, mirrors, a sewing machine and reed organ.

From the time a museum picks an exhibit topic or theme, creating it takes hours of imaginative thinking, innovative research, careful selection, and meticulous design. Selecting what gets exhibited is only a small part of the process. Deciding what makes the cut is always difficult, but not everything can be displayed at once. Nevertheless, the design, materials, and intricate details of the items, which will be exhibited beginning in April, make the pieces absolutely incredible.
top: Godey's Plate, Fenimore Art Museum Collection.
bottom: 1890s hat worn by Catherine Odessa Sands Packard, Fenimore Art Museum Collection.

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