Global Gateway: Dress Scholarship in the 21st Century- Symposium Recap

At the beginning of the month I was in Atlanta to attend the 38th annual symposium for the Costume Society of America.  This year my status as a presenter, as well as my obligations back home in New York (which required me to leave early on Saturday), prevented me from seeing all the presentations that I would have liked to.  Yet, I had a wonderful time, and it is my hope to provide an overview/recap of the general conference for those that were unable to attend, as well as open up a forum for comments from others that might want to share their own experiences.

As tradition dictates, the conference began with the Angels Project, in which volunteers from CSA worked to provide conservation help to a museum collection.  The recipient this year was the Marietta Museum of History.  This project provides invaluable help to museum collections, but it is also a wonderful opportunity to practice your collections care skills while working alongside experienced volunteers from across the country.  While Wednesday was packed with a Care and Display of Collections Workshop, board meetings and informal gatherings, Thursday started the first full day of symposium activity.

American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity, installation shot.

The day began with the annual meeting and quickly launched into the first session of juried papers and a concurrent professional development session titled: Exhibition Planning 101 that was led by the engaging and entertaining pair of curators from the FIDM museum, Kevin Jones and Christina Johnson.  As Kevin and Christina walked participants through the various stages of the exhibition process using their past show Fabulous! Ten Years of FIDM Museum Acquisitions 2000-2010 as a case study, in the adjacent auditorium the early morning papers primarily addressed a material and visual culture studies approach to looking at fashion history.  The object took the spotlight in Neal Hurst’s presentation: “To remaking your coat”: The Story of a Coat in the Blair Family of Virginia 1740-2011, and Sarah Woodyard’s examination of a gown from the North Carolina Museum of History collection that had been altered over time.  The image was the origin for interpretation in presentations such as Anne Bissonnette’s from the University of Alberta that utilized fashion plates from the French Journal des Dames et des Modes and Rebecca Kelly’s from the Fashion Institute of Technology, which drew from the work of the painter Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun in the decade prior to the French Revolution to reconsider the truth of the documentary nature of her paintings.

One favorite from Thursday afternoon for me, was Clarissa Esguerra’s presentation titled: Dressing the Macaroni Male, which served as a teaser introduction to an exhibition that she is working on for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  While flamboyance and sexuality are often seen as inextricable from the phenomenon of fashion, it will be interesting to see how this show evolves for LACMA as well as to find what parallels might be drawn from the upcoming Queer Style exhibition that the Fashion Institute of Technology is working on for Fall 2013.

I presented later that afternoon as part of a panel that included Jessica Barber who delivered a fascinating paper titled, Postmodern Pop Culture: Deconstruction, Destruction, and Reconstruction in Fashion, which looked at these three physical and metaphorical ideas within fashion presentations, editorials, and ad campaigns, followed by Cornelia Powell’s paper titled, Beyond the Princess Myth, which showcased some of her research for a pending book that I am looking forward to reading!  Although all of the papers on this panel looked at diverging time periods and aesthetics, I was really inspired by the common thread of constructed identities and ideas in which clothing is a primary tool.  Additionally, the different roles of those involved in this social production of identity, was really interesting to consider and I left the panel with a lot to think about.  The final presentation of the day was by Andrew Bolton from the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art who presented the Richard Martin Exhibition Award Presentation for the show American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity.   As always, Andrew was an eloquent and fascinating speaker, and it was wonderful to hear the curator perspective on this exhibition.

Swan House at the Atlanta History Center

On Friday, we headed to Atlanta History Center where Gordon Jones welcomed us and we were offered the opportunity to participate in an archival felt mount making workshop, hear several award presentations, and explore the grounds of the history center.  Colleen Hill and Jennifer Farley presented on Eco-Fashion: Going Green, the other recipient of the Richard Martin Exhibition Award last year, Susan Hiner shared research that went into her Millia Davenport Publication Award title, Accessories to Modernity: Fashion and the Feminine in Nineteenth-Century France, and Denise Nicole Green from the University of British Columbia presented on Noo-chah-nulth First Nations Ceremonial Regalia as the recipient of the Stella Blum Student Research Grant.  This was one of my favorite presentations of the whole conference, as all of the work and time that had gone into her research was clearly evident, and the enthusiasm and dedication that Denise demonstrated for her topic was absolutely infectious and inspiring.  She utilized the Stella Blum research grant to visit research collections in Germany and it is disappointing that there were no applicants for the Stella Blum research grant last year, as it is a wonderful and helpful opportunity for students working on thesis and dissertation research that can benefit from such travel.

The day concluded with the keynote presentation (Andrew Bolton) on Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, and time to tour the Atlanta History center, which includes the Smith Family Farm, The Swan House  (pictured), and exhibitions on the American Civil War, The History of Atlanta, and Folk Arts in the South among other things.

While I wish that I could have attended Saturday’s exhibit armchair tours, juried papers, and research exhibits, overall it was a really fun conference and I look forward to seeing how next year’s event in Las Vegas shapes up.  The call for papers is out and the theme is Mining the History of Costume: Fantasy and FactI’m very interested to hear about the presentations that I missed, and how others enjoyed the event.  What were your favorite aspects of the conference? Did you find anything particularly promising or lacking? And was the price tag worth it?


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