Securing the Museum

When I began working as the security supervisor for the Fashion Museum, I didn’t anticipate a pandemic; that’s a level of “paranoia” I had yet to reach in the security business. Shortly after starting at Kent, however, I was thrown for the quarantine loop. Precautions such as masks and walkways are now necessities in this new normal. Museums are not exempt from these safety measures, but that is not all they require. I’ve come to learn that museums need people as much as people need museums. And protecting their valuable collections from the degradation of time is a full-time job.

Many businesses have closed their doors to the public and our museum was not exempt. What I had not expected was how much this building needs visitor. The humidity is all off; those doors should be opening. temperatures must be controlled; the museum likes it cool. Not just that but leaks must be mended, and general upkeep must be maintained in order to ensure that when the doors can open to the public again, the museum looks her best. Call me lackadaisical but I had not realized how many things kept a building running. However, I had to adapt and so I took on the responsibilities required of me. I didn’t know it to start but my duties include keeping this building company until at least the visitors come back.

It’s been surreal and a little strange. With so much of campus closed, the emptiness is palpable. Yet already we have made plans to reopen. Planning procedures which will, on that day, allow people to come and visit safely. The new normal is something we’re all adjusting to but it won’t stop us from enjoying the culture and voices of artists once again.

A wonderful thing I’ve noticed is that this museum means so much to our students. Even with the doors locked, many recent graduates come by and pose in cap and gown, displaying their diplomas. They care about this place, its memories and what it’s meant to them.

The quarantine hasn’t all been deep reflections though! I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Stella, the museum’s lone ghost (as far as they’ve told me). The paranormal is something I know way more about than fashion, so that’s a subject I’m much more comfortable speaking about. besides a few flickering lights now and then, I can safely say I feel welcomed. Maybe it’s just because I’m a naturally quiet person, but I think Stella likes me… or at least tolerates me.

It hasn’t been the most typical introduction to a new job, but when has typical ever been worthwhile? And as I count the days until I can welcome people back, I’ll continue to keep the building (and Stella) company.

I’m only 70% certain her eyes follow me when I walk by.

–John Puntel, Security Supervisor

Preparing for the “new normal”

Masked ChristieAs museums around the world begin to explore just how to return to operating in a world with COVID-19, we are all having to gather as much information as possible about new protocols to keep our visitors and staffs safe, while continuing to fulfill our missions. Museums and related organizations are quickly and carefully researching and sharing information about materials and techniques for ensuring clean environments, maintaining social distancing, preserving and caring for the collections, and providing a quality visitor experience. The Kent State University Museum is working tirelessly behind the scenes to incorporate this data and to develop our own policies and procedures to make your next visit enjoyable and worry-free. Security Supervisor John Puntel and Exhibition Designer/Preparator Jim Williams are spearheading the effort to manage our protocols to ensure visitor safety. Thank you for your patience as we make these improvements.

Your experience will likely begin at home, via our website, where you’ll be able to reserve a time slot for your visit. Museum members have free admission, non-members will be able purchase tickets on the site. When you arrive you’ll present your pass (either printed or on your device) while maintaining safe boundaries. If you drop in without a reservation and we aren’t at capacity, you’ll be able to scan a QR code and purchase tickets on the spot using your phone. We are strongly encouraging a cashless environment! University Facilities Management will have installed acrylic shields to protect both you and our staff, and signs will help maintain safe spacing between guests. There will also be hand sanitizing stations throughout the galleries, and visitors will be asked to wear a mask while in the museum, if possible.

Depending upon how busy we are (we will limit capacity to 50 persons at a time) you may be directed by our friendly guards to take one of two paths, helping you avoid contact with other guests. These paths will be color coded and numbered and you can move through the exhibitions in sequence, and not feel rushed to avoid other visitors. There will be social distancing reminders to help with this, and guards may gently remind folks to spread out if needed. Staff will be monitoring the spaces and sanitizing “high-touch” areas like handrails, doorknobs, and elevator buttons, and the galleries will be cleaned at the beginning of each day, and maintained throughout.Christie N95 mask

If you want to complete your visit with a trip to The Museum Store, you’ll be confident that it is being constantly cleaned and sanitized, and it, too, will be cashless. We will limit the number of customers to ensure your safety. We are currently working to make our inventory available via an online store, too, so you can shop from the comfort of your home.

What you won’t see is all the other “back of house” stuff that is also complicated by this pandemic. Curatorial staff is working to develop new best practices for handling works of art and costume, which is challenging given the demands of social distancing. Even modest sized works require two sets of hands, so we will be working hard to ensure staff safety while also protecting our valuable collection. Our upcoming exhibitions will require an entirely new work environment to achieve this, so our learning curve, like everyone else’s, will be steep. Tools will be assigned to individuals, and will need to be cleaned and sanitized every day. Handling dressed mannequins will require new choreography. Even building new exhibition furniture like cases and platforms will take a thorough reevaluation of how to bring in and process lumber and materials in a very tight shop. Luckily, our entire staff excels at creative problem solving, and we have many resources at our disposal to help us do it right!

None of this is written in stone, and it will all be a work in progress as we learn and grow in this new, challenging environment. The Museum will, of course, be following the lead of the University, and will only reopen when it has been deemed safe. Currently no events are permitted on campus until at least July 4, 2020. Future events like lectures, films, or receptions will be scheduled and coordinated within the standards set by the University and the College of the Arts. We have exciting exhibitions in the works, so stay tuned, we will be back soon, better than ever!

–Jim Williams

It’s the little things in life…

NetsukecroppedI was checking the museum’s off-site storage facility last week, walking up and down the aisles to look for any problems. I was drawn to one of my favorite pieces from the decorative arts collection, which could be easily overlooked because of its size. I decided to take a quick image so I could share this sculpture and its little surprise with you.

Standing just two inches tall, this is a Japanese netsuke dating from the Meiji period (1868-1912). I will do my best to explain its purpose. Netsuke are toggles often carved from ivory, bone or wood and were attached with a cord to a small, decorative container called an inro. The inro carried various necessities for men, due to the lack of pockets in kimonos. The netsuke helped secure the inro to the waist sash (obi) by passing the netsuke under and then over the top of the obi sash. The netsuke would dangle at the waist and be an ornamentation for all to see. This small sculpture was a functional and fashionable accessory.  In my mind, I keep comparing the netsuke to a pocket watch fob.

Netsuke were crafted in various sizes and shapes and represented an array of themes like nature, deities, demons or theatrical masks. After some research, I learned that this is an example of a karakuri netsuke, as it has moving parts. The face rotates from a serene mask to an ogre-like mask; what a fun surprise! I am fascinated by the implement being carried. Could this be a bell tower? Is this a Noh actor, related to Kagura dance? I know just enough to be dangerous, so please enlighten me! Any thoughts?


1987.012.0043 Gift of the John Wilkinson-Gould Collection

Joanne Fenn, Collections Manager and Museum Registrar,

Snaps, and hooks and eyes, and more snaps

1998.78.7.FrontAs fashionable silhouettes change  it sometimes takes a while for dressmaking techniques to adapt to the new styles. An example of this is this 1921 wedding dress. The elegant, draped exterior of the garment gives no hint of the complex dressing required.

It has the 1920’s youthful look, the bust and waist are de-emphasized and the arms and lower legs are exposed. But the construction of this dress is still is very similar to the way dresses were made in the mid-teens. A wide waist tape still anchors the dress in place and layers of fabric still  wrap around the body. Below are step-by-step images of mounting the dress.

Joanne Arnett
Curatorial Assistant

1880s Black & Mint Corset

This 1880s corset has been part of the collection since the museum was founded, but it has never been displayed. It will be on view as part of the Undress exhibit, opening September 27, 2012.


The label inside reads Marie Grochovska, a Varsovie, Faubourg de Cracovie No 39.

KSUM1983.1.1500 Label

Faubourg de Cracovie is now called Krakowskie Przedmieście. It is a prestigious street in Warsaw’s old city, and with such an address  Madame Grochovska’s shop would have been stocked with only the finest money could buy. The corset is made of two layers of silk, the exterior a black brocade and the interior a pale blue moire. The maker’s name is also engraved on the busk.

KSUM1983.1.1500 Busk Detail

The lightweight silk and whalebone combine to create a foundation garment responsible for the era’s strong silhouette.

KSUM1983.1.1500 Back

KSUM1983.1.1500 Three Quarter Front

We are thrilled to be bringing this garment out of storage and into a gallery.

Joanne Arnett, Curatorial Assistant

Balenciaga Up Close

Christian Dior did not say Cristobal Balenciaga was “the master of us all” without reason. Even with something as simple as a nightgown, Balenciaga’s high standards and exquisite craftsmanship set his work apart. There will be a few Balenciaga items on display, including these two pieces of intimate apparel, as part of the upcoming exhibit, “Undress: Shaping Fashion and Private Life.”

KSUM1983.1.561 Front View

This slip, made with black silk and Alencon lace, has rows of hand stitched, vertical pintucks that aren’t visible at first glance.

KSUM1983.1.561 Pintuck Detail

The peach silk nightgown is also deceptively simple.

KSUM1983.1.559 Three Quarter Front View

Upon closer inspection one sees the carefully joined pieces of lace and delicate appliques on the bodice.

KSUM1983.1.559 Bodice Detail

Looking closer still  we can see each impossibly small hem stitch used to secure the applique to the bodice.

KSUM1983.1.559 Back-lit Applique Detail

So precise! It nice to be able to share these details!

Joanne Arnett, Curatorial Assistant

Katharine Hepburn: Rebel Chic now available in the museum gift shop

If you missed the exhibit, Katherine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen, don’t fret. Many of the costumes that were exhibited are featured in the book Katharine Hepburn: Rebel Chic.

Katharine Hepburn: Rebel Chic

The book  celebrates Katharine Hepburn’s original style and includes thoughtful essays and many never before published photographs.  The next time you visit the museum be sure to pick up a copy!

Paper Wigs for the Fashion Timeline

Hairstyles are an important part of the ever changing fashion silhouette, so we added wigs to all the mannequins in the Fashion Timeline exhibit.

18th century man’s wig

White paper was used to construct the wigs so they would complete the period look while not distracting from the garment on display.  Each wig began as a coil of twisted white paper. Once untwisted it was flexible yet maintained its manipulated form and the linear texture mimicked flowing tresses.

The white paper as it came off the spool, and untwisted on the left.

The paper was cut into strips and curled around pencils, wooden dowels, knitting needles, anything that provided the correct width. It was then fixed to a wig cap with hot glue.

Fosshape wig cap.

The caps were made with Fosshape, a synthetic felt that can be cut, sewn, and shaped into a fairly rigid form with heat. Building wigs on caps requires a bit more work than simply taping the paper curls directly to the mannequin, but it allows the wigs to easily be removed and reused without damaging the mannequin or the wig. Before making the wigs we gathered research. This included images from period fashion plates, portraits, and advertisements.

Hairstyle reference images.

Each style presented it’s own set of challenges. Some were built up by gluing curl upon curl, others were layered then styled and trimmed the same way an actual haircut would be.

1810 wig

1920s bob

The wigs had to capture the essence of each era and also add visual impact.

1940s wig

18th century woman’s wig

The paper hairdos have been generating lots of comments. Do you have a favorite?

Joanne Arnett                                                                                                                     Curatorial Assistant

Shoes in the Fashion Timeline exhibit

We’ve been photographing the accessories on display in the Fashion Timeline exhibit. This is the first time many of the shoes and hats are being exhibited and it gives us the opportunity to bring the objects into the studio to properly photograph them.

Green and peach brocade shoes. European, 1780s, KSUM 1996.58.143ab

Satin mules with ribbon trim. French, 1900-20, KSUM 1991.48.12ab

Black leather and grey twill boots. American, 1920, KSUM 1996.58.147ab

Red brocade shoes with turned up toe. French, 1930s, KSUM 1983.1.1691ab

Brown and  black leather high heeled pumps. KSUM 1955-65, KSUM 1989.81.11ab

We’ll be back next week with photographs of hats!
Joanne Arnett, curatorial assistant