Mannequins – storage thereofJuly 23, 2012 Fashion
We have been rearranging our mannequins. Again. Moving things around is definitely one of the big stories of my life and artificial bodies loom large. I’ve lost count of how many times I have tried to come up with a good solution for mannequin storage in this and a previous job (life?). The image above was taken about two years ago during one of our previous attempts when I first thought of describing this super-exciting part of my job.
I am writing about it now because I think we have come up with something not altogether bad this time. But I am also hoping for space and time-saving suggestions from you!
This is the back story: we have a lot of fibreglass mannequins, mainly torsos, from previous temporary exhibitions and the last incarnation of our permanent display. Many of these bodies were made for specific, mainly 19th century, outfits. In my experience, bodies for particular clothes are often kept – though rarely re-used – until after about ten years they are finally given to someone else or thrown into a skip with relish, depending on their state.
At a previous cull this is just what we did (both options) but we now have a new reason to retain as many bodies as we can. Our textile conservator Christine is rapidly becoming, or already is, an expert in making bust forms out of paper strips and glue (all conservationally sound, I let you know). Because she needs a body to start off with, we are now very keen to keep different shapes. We might never use the torsos for display but they could easily form (haha) the basis of a papier-mâché construction.
So this time round we looked at our torsos and their limbs with slightly different eyes and decided only to get rid of multiples of the same shape. We were hoping we could dispose of a few bodies or at least rationalise their storage as we continue to have space issues, like everyone else, I suppose. (In my imagination, though, mannequins at the Metropolitan Museum are stored in vast vaults, beautifully wrapped with their measurements and photos attached, and are fed by lab-coated elves at night).
I did not take a ‘before’ photo so you have to imagine several shelves worth of fibreglass torsos taking up a lot of space despite having been separated from their limbs to push them closer together. We usually cover mannequins in large bubble wrap bags. We don’t write anything on the outside because we found that while this might be useful, it is too much hassle to match up bags with mannequins after use when you don’t have much time (and we normally don’t). Like most carers for mannequins we have experimented with photographing and measuring the whole lot and keeping this information as a hard copy and/or electronically. This makes a good project for volunteers but while it allows to easily identify useful bodies in the file, you then still have to locate them in the store. Assigning a permanent base to all our mannequins and keeping track just seemed too much extra work (I bet they have such a file and permanent mannequin locations at the Met …).
Our storage method meant that a) our mannequins were all very nicely protected and b) we never used any of them for any purpose. (I’m not talking about our dressmaker’s dummies, which are in constant use, or our relatively new full-figure mannequins, which we tend to employ when photographing 20th and 21st century clothing.)
After donning our lab coats, Christine and I got out as many bodies as we could fit on our large table and roughly ordered them in some way by size and/or shape. We then tried to reunite each body with its limbs if appropriate (thankfully a previous curator had made sure everything was numbered). We did not find any bodies that were very similar so decided to keep the whole lot this time. Rather than taking photos and compiling yet another list, we took a few measurements and wrote those on masking tape stuck to each torso. If a torso was made for a specific object, we put a note on our database. We did not cover the torsos but just put them back on the shelf ‘nude’, as it were.
Yes, the masking tape might leave a bit of sticky residue and yes, the figures will probably get a bit dusty. But we know it is unlikely that we use them for display as they are and if we do, we will manage to get rid of the dust and residue.
You might think I made this up, but only two days after the introduction of our new regime I had to find a body for a 19th century bolero we had to photograph. I could easily locate a suitable torso and did a very quick black jersey/pin job (with a little help from Christine). The lady who originally wore the bolero was probably a bit more busty, but the fibreglass figure definitely worked better than the dressmakers’ dummies we tried first. So, for now at least, our new method works.
Please let us know of any solutions that you have come up with or anything you think should be avoided. We are also looking into improving the storage of our 192 men’s neck ties. Any suggestions would be very, very gratefully received. We have some ideas we will try out but they seem very labour-intensive. We are particularly keen on any suggestions that will make it easy to see at least part of the tie’s pattern.
PS: We will get back to the previous owner of the Chéruit dress and some of her other possessions shortly.