CSA 2011- Boston Uncommon: Revolution & Evolution in Dress- Symposium Recap Part I

This past week was the annual Costume Society of America Symposium, “Boston Uncommon: Revolution and Evolution in Dress”.  Although I have been a member of CSA for several years, this was the first time that I was able to actually attend the conference– and on many levels I found the experience to be extremely rewarding.

The schedule was packed with concurrent presentations, panels, and professional development sessions, along with a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts as well as trip to the MIT Museum.  As a natural continuation from the Angels restoration project that took place pre-symposium at the William Hickling Prescott House on Tuesday, a care of collections workshop started the day on Wednesday, led by Margaret Ordonez from the University of Rhode Island. With the assistance of several students from her program, a variety of demonstrations were given that showcased practical skills for the proper handling and preservation of fragile textiles and costume pieces.  The workshop offered an abundance of tips useful to the novice conservationist, as well as those caring for professional collections.  While the opportunity to attend a workshop like this could be useful to anyone interested in working with antique clothing and textiles, participating in the workshop with so many people who already had extensive backgrounds in conservation (with many insightful commentaries of their own to contribute) made it especially valuable.

Later that afternoon, the first of four professional development sessions was offered, “Professionally Speaking: A Career in Costume and Fashion”.  This session, which was organized by Ariele Elia and Howard Vincent Kurtz, drew from the expertise of a variety of industry professionals and was particularly interesting as the panelists focused on strategies applicable to different professions and offered advice that could apply dually to a more specialized career track as well as more general career development for students and beyond.  I found this panel to be particularly well organized, and I really appreciated hearing the different perspectives of the multiple speakers, as well as learning about their own personal career trajectories.  The day concluded with a really interesting presentation from the keynote speaker, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, who looked at American revolutionary history and the cultural evolutions that came with time, as traced through objects of material culture such as the tricorn hat and Native American rose blankets.

Thursday began with the annual meeting, in which the particularly poignant issue of a potential name change for the organization was a main topic of conversation.  In a growing area of interest, in which terms such as costume, fashion, and dress all can take on various meanings that are subject to context—the discussion about changing the name of the organization to the Dress Society rather than the Costume Society, seems to be a timely one.  In my personal experience, the term that seems to elicit the most confusion in general conversation is costume.  While I do understand some members concerns about heritage, it seems that dress is a more all-encompassing term that more accurately represents the multifarious interests of the diverse membership of the costume society.  However, the issue remains open for debate, and it will be interesting to see how the rest of the general membership feels.

Presenter Anne Bissonnette

After the annual meeting, Thursday was packed with juried paper presentations that ranged from  Rebecca Jumper Matheson’s examination of the career of tween fashion designer Emily Wilkinson, to Jean Parsons paper “Integrating History and Design: Patent, Process, and Invention”, to a look at the work of Erté and Walska by Louise Coffey-Webb.  It was impossible to see and do everything, but one standout from the day for me was the Richard Martin Exhibition award presentation by Kevin Jones and Christina Johnson from FIDM’s Museum for their past show, High Style: Betsy Bloomingdale and the Haute Couture.  I found their anecdotal discussion of how the exhibition came together, certain key choices were made, and their working relationship with Betsy Bloomingdale to be really interesting and inspiring.  They provided a really wonderful glimpse into many of the important decisions that go into creating an exhibition, and they were able to connect even the most mundane logistical decisions that they were confronted with to the greater work as a whole, in a way that really exemplified the labor of love that goes into creating an exhibition, while simultaneously communicating the generosity and passion for clothing that their donor and subject had as well.  Later that evening a screening of a documentary film about the exhibition was shown, which looked deeper into the life of Betsy Bloomingdale.  For those working at non-profit and educational institutions, copies of this documentary are available through the FIDM Museum.

Image from the FIDM Museum Blog, caption: Mrs. Bloomingdale's first view of the exhibition catalog. From left to right: Christina Johnson, Betsy Bloomingdale, Barbara Bundy (VP of FIDM), Kevin Jones



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1 Comment

  • Kat June 16, 2011 10.58 am

    Excellent first part review! Glad the young professionals panel met your expectations. Ariele is awesome at that kind of stuff!!


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