27 August, 2011

What's Under Things? Hidden Colonial Clothing, Part I

My apologies, dear readers, for my absence! The procedure on Wednesday went smoothly, and I slept quite a bit. I had to stay off of my feet and when reclining, sleep just happened to come quite easily. Since I had a couple of days off, I'm going to change up the format just a little bit and instead of fly-by posts, talk to you about the exhibit I worked on and am so proud of! Part I begins beneath the jump.

One of the great things about working for a museum is getting to see the things that the public does not. I don't think many members of the public realize that what you see out on display is usually just a small selection of a larger collection. Some things stay permanently out on display while others are rotated back into storage, or perhaps out for conservation and preservation. But there are a great many treasures to be seen in artifact storage, if you get the chance to look inside!

I "tripped" into museum work, and met a curator who also moonlighted as a history professor. He just so happened to need a graphic designer. Fate, some would say. I began interning for him at Pilgrim Hall Museum down in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and while learning about collections and handling artifacts, I was also able to learn about exhibit design. Since then, I've designed 3 major temporary exhibits for Pilgrim Hall, designed collateral for 2 small temporary exhibits, and when I took the Exhibit Planning & Design course at Tufts, tacked on one more to my resume (6 in all now!). I find myself most connected to What's Under Things?, however. I mean, who couldn't, as a reenactor and history nerd? Unless you worked at a museum, or reenacted, or were a costume historian, you may never get to see what colonialists wore under their gowns!

Intro text panel. Elizabeth Paddy Wensley was our "matriarch."
The exhibit showcases the underwear in the collection, as well as some borrowed items from other institutions and even others were reproduced by professionals in the field. The textile department at Plimoth Plantation reproduced several 17th century items for the exhibit including an absolutely enormous pair of knitted wool stockings and a 17th century shift. My dearest friend Hallie Larkin reproduced a 17th century bodice (her first foray into the 17th century!) as well as made mounts for the repro bodice, the original bodice, and the original 18th century stays that are in the collection and exhibit. You can read her post on her adventures with the 17th century bodice here!

Stockings & garters with panel. The stockings were bought from
one of the Colonial Williamsburg stores, and the garters were
made by Plimoth Plantation.
The exhibit was designed so the order of the objects was chronological, approximately how a woman would have gotten dressed. I say approximately because the exhibit didn't start with the shift (though I wanted it to), but instead with a dressing box. It then moved to stockings and garters, shoes, shift, sleeves, stomacher, stays and busks. Realistically, a woman would already be wearing her shift, or she would put a clean on one in the morning. However, the corner the shift is in is better suited for it in its large case, so the executive decision was made to have it be better lit than necessarily in order.

Some of PHM's shoe collection.

I have to repeat this picture, even though in small format it does no justice to this small sample of PHM's shoe collection. There are some really, really beautiful shoes in the exhibit and also in other galleries of the museum.

The reproduction shift and panel.

That's all for part 1, stay tuned to part 2 tomorrow, where I'll show you the bodice, stays, and busks!

These photographs are mine. Please do not take them or use them without permission.

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