The Vassar College Costume Collection has just been awarded an NEH Preservation Assistance Grant for Smaller Institutions,  to host  a Historic Costume Preservation Workshop!

The Vassar College Costume Collection (VCCC) is a collection of original historic clothing, dating from the 1850’s to the present, that is maintained as a research collection within the costume shop of the Drama department. This grant will allow us to bring 3 professionals from the field of costume history to lead workshops for Vassar staff, students, and community members. Students can get credit for participating in these workshops, by registering for an independent study.

For students who are interested in museum work, this project will provide wonderful hands-on experience with museum quality objects. Working with professional consultants, participants will learn best practices for proper handling of costume objects, assessment and documentation of their condition, museum cataloging procedures, and stabilization and mounting techniques to conserve and safely display the objects.


Workshop 1 – early February

Conservator Jonathan Scheer will introduce participants to the proper handling and storage of textiles and historic costumes. As a part of his visit, he will conduct a formal general preservation assessment, examining our physical environment, types of storage, and current record keeping, using the assessment as an opportunity to discuss best practices with workshop participants. Then he will model the full process of creating a condition report for an object from the collection, and supervise participants to develop their own condition reports of other objects.

Workshop 2 – early February

Costume historian Jessa Krick will teach participants best practices for cataloging historic costume. Working with an object from our collection, she will model how to write a detailed catalogue entry, and then supervise participants working in teams to develop their own catalogue entries. She will also discuss how to write labels appropriate for an exhibition.

From these 2 workshops, we will develop a procedure guide for the handling, storage, and documentation of our collection. To follow up throughout the semester, each participant will continue working on condition reports and catalogue entries for an additional 3 objects per week. Weekly labs will bring all participants together, so that hands-on work is done under the supervision of the participating Vassar faculty.

Workshop 3 – mid-April

Costume conservator and historian Colleen Callahan will be in residence for  a 5 day workshop on basic stabilization and exhibition mounting techniques. This workshop is based on successful workshops by Ms. Callahan at Mt. Holyoke in 2006 and Smith in 2008 .  Participants will work in teams with several objects from the collection (based on their skill level), and will perform the necessary sewing to stabilize each object and properly mount it on a mannequin. This will include both formal class sessions and laboratory sessions, and will take place over a long weekend to allow for full day sessions when student participants are not in other classes.

At the end of the semester, while the objects are all mounted, we will photograph them, and we hope to find a space to host a small exhibition to the public. The photographs and other information about the objects will eventually be available to the public online, as part of our digital collection.

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