The Neville Public Museum

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Rotating Artifacts:An Intern's Experience

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Variety is the spice of life.  Change is always good in museums for a number of reasons.  One, it keeps things interesting for the visitors.  We want to be able to give visitors something new to look at and look forward to each time they visit.  change is also good for the staff, interns, and collections.  the people working on the exhibit get a chance to check on the condition of the collections and the collection pieces themselves need a break from time to time.  Some artifacts can be sensitive to certain lighting or environments, so while they handle being on exhibit for a certain period of time, it's best to put them back into storage so they don't get "overworked."  

One of the exhibit cases that often changes on a yearly basis is the 1920's case in the Edge of the Inland Sea exhibit.  The plan for that case is for the mannequin to be dressed like a "flapper."  the Neville Public Museum has a great collection of textiles which makes dressing in appropriate attire possible.  My first task was to find out what exactly flappers wore.  Every Halloween there are tons of flapper costumes, but that does not mean they are historically accurate.  I learned that flapper dresses were often rather shapeless and/or had a drop waist, hemlines crept up to around knee-length, and the dresses were often beaded and sometimes sleeveless.  I then went on to research flapper's shoes, hats, and accessories.  At that point I could search through the Neville's collections to identify matches.  I pulled several dresses, a couple pairs of shoes, and some accessories.  

After reviewing the selections with the collections manager, our first choice was a beautiful peach-colored dress with white horizontal beading.  Unfortunately, the sleeves were either badly torn or about to be, so it would not stand to be on exhibit.  We instead chose a lace dress with some colored beaded embellishments at the hip.  It dates from ca. 1925 and was accessioned by the museum in 1979.  Next was just dressing the conservation mannequin in the entire outfit chosen and moving "her' back into the case.  As far as positioning the mannequin, flappers were often known for their dancing, and the case's label mentions that dancing The Charleston was popular in the 1920's, so I wanted to make sure it looked like the mannequin was in motion.  I think the finished produce is an accurate and interesting ode to the 1920's, and that change is something to look for often when visiting the Neville Public Museum.

Rene Wilkerson
Collections Department Intern from the Museum Studies Certificate Program at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee


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