Janae R Judd and Professor Mary Farahnakian, Theatre and Media Arts
What we wear reveals a great deal about us, not only as individuals, but also as a society. Likewise, historic clothing allows us to see into the past. For example, in the 1940s cloth was used for war efforts. To help conserve fabrics, women made straight skirts with little flare. Such a simple thing as a skirt helps us understand the past a little better. Over a year ago, the Costume Institute of Utah desired to donate their entire historic clothing collection to Brigham Young University. The university already has an existing collection, however it is limited and this addition would be a great benefit to help strengthen the existing collection. The problem with the collection to be donated was that it was disorganized and stacked in random boxes in the Smith Family Living Center. The university could not accept the donation in this state. Under the direction of clothing historian expert, Dr. Mary Farahnakian, my job would be to help organize the collection, remove unnecessary articles of clothing, catalog each remaining article, digitally photograph each article, and input the collection into a program that would make it available to historians around the world on the web.
The process for me began by moving clothing pieces from the disorganized boxes of all sizes to special storage boxes with acid free tissue to protect the clothing. Dr. Carma Dejong Anderson, the President and Founder of the Costume Institute of Utah was heavily involved. In order to properly catalog clothing, each article must be assigned an accession number which is based on the donor of the article, the year, and other such information. Dr. Anderson kept mental record of most of the clothing’s donors, thus it became important for her to give record of each and every article. A spreadsheet was created for her to list important information about the articlenamely the donor of the article, the year, and the fiber of the fabric. She recorded some on the spreadsheet, then began recording articles verbally by tape. I began to transcribe the many tapes worth of information. This took a great deal of time because included on the tapes were stories about the various articles of clothing. A problem arose. As I transcribed, I found that the donors of the clothing were often left out. Without this information, the article could not be assigned an accession number.
By April, the collection was put into the new boxes. The over four hundred boxes containing over 2,000 pieces of clothing were then moved to the new storage unit. At the end of April, Brigham Young University accepted the collection that was appraised at over $150,000,000. The Costume Institute of Utah and Brigham Young University signed the papers to complete the donation.
With the collection in its new home, we began to separate the articles of clothing by box according to decade. The collection begins in the mid nineteenth century and goes to the present. We then went box by box and removed all articles that were of no worth. More specifically, we removed articles that were made as “costumes,” articles that were in poor condition, or articles that are too current and will have no value in the future. Each article also received a tag with the name of the family who donated the article, the color of the fabric, the condition of the article, the year of the article, the weave of the fabric, and the date of the article’s registration to the collection. Under Dr. Farahnakian’s tutelage, myself and another partner have been sorting and tagging according to the above mentioned specifications. Dr. Anderson comes in on occasion to give the remainder of the names of those who donated to the collection, thus resolving the problem found while transcribing.
However, another problem has arisen as we’ve inventoried the collection. While the collection was being moved from the Smith Family Living Center to its current location of room B67 of off campus storage, at least twenty boxes of the most valuable 19th Century clothing have been misplaced. We are continuing to inventory and catalog the collection as well as investigating the location of the missing boxes.
We are currently ¾ of the way through the project. The most difficult and time consuming part of the project has been going through the inventory, dating each article, and organizing according to period. The remaining 1/4 includes tagging with accession numbers, photographing, and inputting each article into the computer. This will be finished by December. We will still be digitally photographing the articles and then submitting the information on the web, thus making the collection accessible to people throughout the world.
I have learned a great deal about preservation of clothing, as well as become more proficient on recognizing period of clothing according to kind of fabric, weave, and style of each piece. It has been an exciting adventure and a valuable learning experience. I now understand and have implemented the process necessary for an article of clothing to become stored for museum access. Under Dr. Farahnakian, after we’ve finished the computer inputting, we hope to publish a pamphlet for those interested to learn more about the collection. Eventually, we would like that to become an extensive book. However the latter two will come after the collection has been properly organized and become museum accessible.
After its completion, students and faculty, as well as historians will have access to look at this beautiful collection of clothing and use it as a resource for education and history to learn and understand in greater depth about the past. The process is extensive, but necessary to preserve the past.