Fashion Bytes

Image via The New York Times

On 8 September, in the lead up to the tenth anniversary of September 11, The New York Times ran an article on the various relics people saved from that day. There is a slideshow of images of the relics, from the artistic to the everyday, and Dan Barry does an exquisite job of weaving together people’s stories with descriptions of the relics and some analysis of our “sacralization” of objects from the site and the day.

He ends the piece by discussing the way in which the rubble from the World Trade Center is being distributed throughout the country to police and fire stations, school districts, or local museums that would like to commemorate the event by creating a memorial garden, or including the piece in their collections.

As dress and material culture scholars, we do not need to be told about the inherent desire to collect or preserve history; the fact that events can turn the mundane into the sacred is not news to us. But in reading the article, I did find myself wondering if something is not lost when personal pieces are transferred to museum collections.

I recently did some volunteer work with a local historical society’s costume collection, and while they have some exquisitely well-preserved early twentieth-century garments, the one that I loved the most was a rather unattractive black and white-checked dress from the late nineteenth century that had been mended to within an inch of its life. Sometimes it had been patched with mismatched checked fabric, sometimes with whatever fabric the owner had to hand. The pristine garments had no visible history, this dress could be read like a book if you knew how. I kept asking myself, Was it mended out of love, necessity, or both? I will never know because it was donated before the historical society began taking information about pieces from those offering the donations.

Do you think that museums can or should preserve the personal aspects of the relics it collects? Do you think that knowing the ascribed emotional history of an object makes it more or less valuable? Do you have any mundane objects in your collections, or that you have seen in museums that you loved for their plainness? Do you have anything you, yourself, or your family has kept from September 11 that you would like to share?

Please share your thoughts.

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1 Comment

  • Leigh Munro January 03, 2012 10.22 pm

    In response to these two questions…Do you think that museums can or should preserve the personal aspects of the relics it collects?YES. Do you think that knowing the ascribed emotional history of an object makes it more or less valuable?YES. I understand why others might just want to see a pristine artifact. But I am always looking for the human connection. For instance, had that rather drab dress you mentioned not been revisited so oft by it’s owner, it would likely have been unremarkable. Human touch in art or artifact is absolute in it’s uniqueness.

     

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