My intern Natasha Davis-Harris and I visited the Kent State University Museum, more popularly known as the Fashion Museum. The trip was designed to show Natasha how other museums store, display, and exhibit their artifacts as well as confirm that we, at the Aurora Historical Society, were properly caring for our costumes and material artifacts. Joann Fenn, Assistant Professor and Collections Manager/Museum Registrar directed our tour. As Professor Fenn took us through many different storage areas, we discovered that we care for our collections in very similar ways. KSUM has more hanging storage space and follows a directive from the 1980s for storing its artifacts in open closets, covered with hanging blinds, making it easy to see what items are available. They also utilize acid-free boxes for fragile items and items that do not fit into the closets as well as using acid-free non-buffered tissue paper to protect clothing, shoes, hats, purses, and related items stored in boxes and drawers.
Exhibition of clothing and other artifacts is carefully done on manikins created in-house using foam core, muslin material, and non-buffered tissue paper to fill out sleeves, hats, and coats. Due to the small sizes of the clothing from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, modern manikins and other display devices are often too large; hence design of their own displays makes more sense than buying costly ready-made ones and cutting them down.
The museum recently changed the way it exhibits its collection. It currently employs minimal text describing artifacts and relies on full-color glossy brochures to explain the artifacts displayed and contextualize the exhibits. This technique allows visitors to focus exclusively on the artifacts displayed and then to read the brochure text to find information about its date, fabric, style, etc.
The KSUM was a wonderful museum to tour and Natasha and I came away with many new ideas regarding our displays in the Aurora Historical Society museum. We enjoyed the Katharine Hepburn exhibition as well as the decorative arts display. KSUM utilized a new way of displaying some of its collectibles, putting a collector’s entire collection on display rather than one part of it. This allows the visitor to see the myriad and disparate things that one person might collect in his or her lifetime
Our visit was a great way to meet with professionals in the museum field, see how other institutions function behind the scenes as well as what new ways they employ to display their artifacts. We always can learn from others and as we continue to visit other museums in our area, we will continue to bring new ideas, techniques, and concepts to AHS.