Three Ship graduate students in the Applied History program had the opportunity to install eight mannequins in support of the Brandywine River Museum’s exhibit “Votes for Women: A Visual History.” The exhibit curator, Amanda Burdan, and the FA&M Director Dr. Karin Bohleke had already selected the outfits representing the suffragists during the design phase of the display preparations, and FA&M staff and volunteers had already performed all needed conservation. The final stages of the exhibit loan and installation were now in the hands of the graduate students under the supervision of Dr. Bohleke.
As an assignment for their independent study on museum exhibition installation, Cijianna “Ciji” Berry, Amanda Partner, and Martavis Washington dressed the mannequins. They learned how to adjust the fit through padding and to select appropriate underpinnings to achieve the proper period silhouette. This exhibit features mannequins from head to toe, meaning the students also added footwear, styled the mannequins’ hair, and finished the look with hats and gloves. Given that the mannequins sported purple hair, namely one of the official colors of the suffragist movement, the results were certainly dramatic. Then all of the outfits had to be undressed and packed for transport, the mannequins labeled, their hairstyles protected, and everything loaded into vehicles for transport to Chadds Ford, PA.
Dr. Bohleke and the students then spent January 24 at the Brandywine River Museum working with Ms. Burdan and the others. The mannequins’ outfits had been deliberately chosen to match those in period photos of suffragists, and the finished mannequins were positioned on the platforms near large graphics reproducing the original images. The Brandywine exhibit team welcomed the students as professional art handlers and were wonderful hosts. The final result featured two mannequins each in winter outerwear, cool summer whites, tailored walking suits, and driving gear. In a whimsical touch, the students added purple or gold gloves from the exhibit support materials, again to match the official colors of the suffragist movement.
In reflecting on this first real-life exhibition experience, Martavis Washington noted that the installation at Brandywine Museum was a “proud moment” and that “seeing the end result turn out as fantastic as it did was rewarding.” He was thrilled at the genuine, hands-on experience that the Fashion Archives provided him. Ciji Berry also greatly appreciated the real-life opportunity and found that dressing the mannequins and helping to create them by carving the bodies and styling the hair “provided skills that I may not have learned elsewhere. This experience also gave me the chance to meet others in the field with whom I hope to work in the future.” A visitor to the Brandywine exhibit wrote to Dr. Bohleke, commenting that the FA&M “did a fabulous job and deserves the credit.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, “Votes for Women” is temporarily closed at the time of this publication. However, the exhibit’s time frame has been extended into the fall. Please check the Brandywine River Museum’s own website for reopening dates and schedule (www.brandywine.org).
Photo, below, from left to right: Cijianna Berry, Amanda Partner, Karin Bohleke, and Martavis Washington post in front the “tailored” mannequins. The suffragist sash is a surviving original on loan to the exhibit from another institution.