University displays decades of fashion trends
Published: Monday, March 4, 2013
Updated: Monday, March 4, 2013 21:03
“Going to the exhibit and seeing the labors of my hard work on display was probably the best part for me,” senior Katie Bonanno says.
Bonnano, an art conservation major who worked on the textileconservation for a 1950’s prom dress in the exhibition “Common Threads: History of Fashion through a Woman’s Eyes,” says her favorite part of contributing to the project was witnessing the product of her efforts put on view in Old College’s West Gallery.
The exhibit incorporates the results of a two-year collaboration between faculty and students of the university’s fashion and apparel studies, art history and art conservation departments, Vicki Cassman, undergraduate student director for the art conservation department, says. Cassman co-curated the exhibition, along with Dilia López-Gydosh and Belinda Orzada of fashion and apparel studies, which is funded by a grant from the Interdisciplinary Humanities Research Center of the College of Arts and Sciences, she says.
At the entrance to the exhibit is a timeline of fashion from 1900 to 1999, as represented by the Newark community and demonstrated by photographs borrowed from the university’s archives. Cassman says the images feature students and faculty flaunting trends popular on campus at different times. They are followed by pieces students selected from the Historic Costume and Textiles Collection that span the 20th century, as well as outfits representative of each decade.
Of the chosen pieces, a number required conservation treatment before they could be included in the gallery for viewing, Cassman says.
“Art conservators help curators and educators present artifacts to the public in a safe manner, so that they can be appreciated by the public,” Cassman says.
Particularly challenging pieces, she says, included those that were “inherently problematic and self-destructive,” such as a 1970s red vinyl maxi coat and two beaded dresses from the 1920s.
Tricky fabrics weren’t the only challenges in the project’s creation—the student-created podcasts, each of which corresponds to a different piece on display, were required as a means of explaining the piece’s historical context and any conservation it required. These podcasts can be played on smartphones by scanning a Quick Response Code posted on the wall at the entrance to the gallery.
As for the background on 1950s women’s clothing, much of the research done on this topic was done by Martha Hall, a fashion and apparel studies graduate student, who explored the 1950s prom dress in its historical context—the same dress which now graces the cover of the exhibition’s brochure pamphlet. Hall also spent this past summer working on a companion essay on the exhibition, which would end up in the brochure, she says.
“This is a huge part of what I’m personally interested in, so I was really honored to be a part of it,” Hall says. “It was really exciting to see how it went from an idea to an actual installation.”
Hall also says the project gave students the opportunity to see what goes on behind the scenes in the production of an exhibition.
Part of that production included deciding what would go in the last decade represented in the collection. For the 1990s, Cassman says there was no clothing in the university’s collection from the time period because it was too recent, so the students were responsible for picking pieces that would be representative of the grunge-style era. Students settled on a slip dress, displayed with a plaid flannel tied around the waist.
A total of four graduate and 28 undergraduate students worked on the exhibition, Cassman says, all of whom contributed by providing supplementary research, conservation work and exhibition podcasts. As a collaboration between multiple departments, the project enabled an exchange of new ideas and perspectives, and according to Hall, this variety of voices made working on the project more interesting.
The exhibition, which opened on Feb. 6, will remain on display until June 28. On April 6, Trabant University Center Theater will host a corresponding symposium.
“It was really good to have so much feedback and so many experts in different areas,” Hall says.