Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Why You Shouldn't Display Antique Textiles Underneath A Huge Skylight

Part of my unrest from viewing the Kearny History Museum's permanent fashion exhibit the first time around stemmed from the fact that the dais on which the garments are displayed is stationed right beneath a skylight of the same size. Although this seemed like a reckless choice to me, I do understand that with the "flow" and layout of the museum, the exhibit makes spatial sense to be placed there. However, this skylight could have had its windows painted in, as other equally-monstrous skylights in the library had been. And, it also doesn't help that the whole museum is surrounded by tall windows, only half of which are covered with blinds.

Light damage can be incredibly invasive, though if you aren't aware of it and don't look for it, you might not notice that it has occurred. That is, you might have to look between the pleats or folds of a skirt to see the contrast in color. However, light damage isn't always so subtle...

Take this display of an 1860's crinoline, c. 1905 wool bodice, and possibly mid-20th century petticoat (firstly, not only is this arrangement extremely anachronistic, it was also awkward due to a piece of fabric wrapped around the crinoline but left open in back to display the crinoline...). The mid-20th century petticoat beneath, originally a bright coral, had faded to milky white where the striped fabric "skirt" exposed the crinoline.

So much going on in one photo: the plastic "grass" of the display, the cage crinoline, the faded mid-20th century petticoat, the striped decorator upholstery fabric camouflaging as a skirt...

That streak of brown is actually dirt. The same dirt particles were found on the plastic bag covering the dress form.
Light damage can also be virtually invisible to the eye until we take a closer look. This c. 1905 black velvet and black wool bodice is an interesting example; the black wool has faded to a dull olive green, and I only realized that the original color was black when I read the description card. Light damage isn't only harmful to a garment's color--exposure to light can actually weaken fibers, and this may be the reason behind the silk shattering both on the delicate silk lining of the bodice and on the decorative silk piece that covers the d├ęcolletage.

To cover up some of the silk shattering on the collar of this bodice, someone had wrapped a piece of wide black velvet ribbon around the collar and decorated with a brooch. When I removed the ribbon, I realized the full extent of the damage on this small subject; where the ribbon had overlapped, it retained it's original color, but where it was exposed to the sun, it had faded to a dull, dirty brown.

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