We’re Going to Need…

… more tissue paper, more boxes, more padded hangers, and more cabinets!

On January 7, the MSU Museum’s Cultural Collections Education and Resource Center received 42 rolling racks and hundreds of boxes containing the Apparel and Textile Design Program’s (ATD) clothing collection. The collection’s move, funded by the College of Arts and Letters, inaugurates a three-year project to evaluate, research, and eventually merge the Museum’s and ATD’s collections to create a well-documented “super-collection” available to more students and researchers.

This is not an easy task. More often than not, curators work with parts of a larger original or imagined whole. What and how would a “super-collection” of mostly American, mostly machine-made dress for the middle class, represent? Art museums with dress collections emphasize couture fashion and design or the dress of elites. History and cultural museums tend to qualify their dress collections within human religious and secular rituals, life stages, class, and gender, and everyday life. The ATD collection, a legacy of the first women’s program at Michigan State University, home economics, has its own history based on the University’s land-grant status. This historic textile and clothing collection was meant and used to support teaching and research within the program, and curricular requirements in part guided the collection’s acquisitions. Carrying within it an original emphases on household management, design, and making, the ATD collection’s historic purpose must be considered in creating the new “super-collection.”

Readers of this blog know that the preparation for this move began last summer, when Sarah Hegge began “grading” the MSU Museum’s dress collection. Sarah will be returning to the project this summer. In the meantime, project director Mary Worrall, MSU Museum Curator of Cultural Heritage and her interns Michele Mudar and Cora Walmby are undertaking an inventory of the ATD collection. Mary, along with Cultural Collections Manager Lynne Swanson and Curator of History Shirley Wajda, are also evaluating the “D” and “F” pieces Sarah graded for possible deaccession.

One by one, these pieces are closely examined with a variety of criteria in mind: Can this garment or accessory be exhibited? Does it have missing elements? Is it torn, stained, or otherwise disfigured to the extent that its research value is lost? Can it be conserved? Does it require special handling, care, and storage? The costs of storage, exhibition, and conservation are expensive, and curators must weigh all these questions and costs against the value of the garment or accessory to the collection overall.


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