Inspired and excited by a presentation at the 2019 annual symposium of the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries (AAMG) that FA&M director Dr. Karin Bohleke attended with the FA&M Advisory Council President Robin Dolbin, Dr. Bohleke assigned her graduate costume Applied History class a real-life museum task: select artifacts to purchase for the permanent collection. Thanks to a combination of special donations and revenues from the sales of deaccessioned items, her students had a budget of $9,000 with which to work. With such a sum, it was entirely possible to purchase significant items to enhance the collection holdings.
During the fall 2019 class, the students assessed the existing holdings and consulted with Dr. Bohleke to define areas of weak representation and at the same time become aware of time periods or types of items that needed no further development. Armed with this knowledge and a list of reputable dealers, the class divided into smaller groups and ultimately each group presented its list of proposed purchases, justifying the choices with supporting arguments. The students then had to come to a consensus as a whole in the course of an evening’s debate.
The students finalized their choices, and Dr. Bohleke purchased the following items:
As is evident from the list, students placed their emphasis on early items that are less likely to arrive at the FA&M in the form of a donation. Their choices are especially important given that students in the early American history undergraduate classes build their final research web exhibit projects starting from artifacts from the FA&M collection. In fact, a number of the items listed above made their debut in student projects before the items were even catalogued.
In addition, a generous FA&M supporter stepped in and donated the necessary funds to purchase a pair of shoes associated with a wedding that took place in Kent, England, in 1780. To maximize the available funds still further, Titi Halle and her staff at Cora Ginsburg LLC extended a generous special discount when they learned of the project and fully supported the students’ learning experience.
This project is an example of the real-life museums tasks that students pursue in the FA&M, and it is a genuinely unique aspect of the programming. Regarding her experience, Nastassia Gantz commented, “The class had to think about whether or not an item could tell a story about an important moment in fashion history, be a stand-out piece among the rest of the collection, and whether we believed that people would be excited to come and view the item it on display in a future exhibit. I was able to gain a better understanding of how institutions acquire objects along with what the general decision-making process looks like, and I left the course feeling elated that a short gown that I found was actually chosen by the class to have a permanent home at the Fashion Archives.”
Another student, Courtney Smith, noted that in their excitement for the project, “Our group took the project a step further. In order to show how the garments we selected would fit into the museum’s collection, we designed an exhibit around them. The entire experience was fantastic. It taught us real-world skills that we will definitely use.”