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MSU Museum receives substantial grant, hopes to expand apparel and textiles education

December 1, 2021
Photographed on Feb. 20, 2020.
Photographed on Feb. 20, 2020. —
Photo by Alyte Katilius | The State News

The MSU Museum was recently awarded a $170,332 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, or IMLS. 

The grant will be used to enhance preservation and expand educational opportunities for teaching and research with the museum’s apparel and textile collection, specifically to help fund the photography, cataloging, rehousing and storage of a large collection of apparel and textile design that the museum received from the MSU Department of Apparel and Textile Design.

The collection mainly includes clothing pieces from women in Michigan, with pieces dating back from 1810 to the early 1990s. The historical clothing represents what women wore at home, in school, at work and in leisure activities. 

“They represent that range of everyday life in Michigan,” textiles and social justice curator Mary Worrall said. “Some of the strengths that these new pieces brought to our collection include a lot of really nice mid-20th century pieces.”

The new acquisition nearly doubled the collection that the museum already had — the new collection contains approximately 3000 pieces of historic clothing. While such a large addition is exciting and provides opportunity for increased learning, all of those articles of clothing must be properly organized, recorded and stored. 

“We already had a big collection of women's clothing,” Collections Manager Lynne Swanson said. “But, then when we joined this other one, now it's going to grow a bit. So, we needed additional space, but we wanted to bring it up to this sort of level of organization and care.”

In order to safely store the clothing, the grant will be used to purchase storage that will protect the articles from agents of deterioration. 

However, before the items are stored, they will be meticulously cataloged — each piece must be numbered, researched, photographed and uploaded to a digital database. The museum plans to use the grant to fund positions for paid student internships and for an emerging museum professional that can assist with the process.

“I feel like one of the most important things we're doing is we're providing paid internships with this grant,” Worrall said. “So it's the hands-on learning capacity and the ability to pay interns which is really, really important, but that preservation and digitization aspect is also just very important for increasing access.”

While grateful for the upgrades in storage and assistance with cataloging that the grant will provide, Worrall and Swanson are most excited for when the pieces are ready to be used as a university educational resource. 

“Besides the preservation aspect, this work will help enhance our ability for them (the clothing pieces) to be used as university resources for people to come in and teach with and to do kind of obvious teaching like design or history, but also to think about all of the different ways you can use clothing to explore other issues,” Worrall said.

Worrall said they can be used to teach about environmental, work or cultural issues, as well as the technology involved with clothing, design and construction.

Both hope that the items in museum storage will be increasingly utilized as educational tools in the future. 

“It's a small museum and so we only can put like one to two percent of our collection and exhibit at any one time,” Swanson said. “So, what we have here is all the stuff that's sitting waiting.”

Cultural collections are available for onsite research and class use by appointment only. Visitors must complete a research request form and contact the appropriate staff. 

“I feel like there's kind of an endless potential (for learning with this collection) because clothing touches so many,” Worrall said. “It's a touchstone for everybody and everybody has a connection to clothing.”

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