Backstage at the Goldstein: Tour and Tea

Readers,

A 1920s dress adorning one of the mannequins in the Goldstein Museum's offices.

A 1920s dress adorning one of the mannequins in the Goldstein Museum’s offices.

I mentioned recently that I volunteer one morning a week for the Goldstein Museum of Design on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota.  I’ve been wanting to show you what it’s like to be back in the office space, where every week I may see hats, handbags, shoes, scarves, dresses, textiles, or ceramics pulled from storage for study by College of Design students or outside researchers.

Fortuny cloak and dress in the Goldstein office space.

Fortuny cloak and dress in the Goldstein office space.

I got my chance last Saturday when Jack and I attended a new members’ tour and tea with a Downton Abbey theme.  Curator Jean McElvain pulled some 1920s garments, hats, handbags, an ostrich feather fan, fashion illustrations, ceramics, and a Paul Poiret-designed textile for our group to admire up close.

Jean McElvain, curator, wears cotton gloves to handle fragile artifacts.

Jean McElvain, curator, wears cotton gloves to handle fragile artifacts.

Then our little group of 7 or 8 got to go back into climate-controlled compact storage to see just a sample of the Goldstein’s evening wear–a cabinet of Bill Blass dresses and coats from the 1960s and ’70s.  We were so cramped back there photography was just about impossible.

Luckily, one of the dresses we saw has been photographed for the Goldstein’s image database.  This silk voile dress from his spring 1970 collection is light, bright, and floaty.

Dress by Bill Blass, 1970. (photo: Goldstein Museum of Design)

Dress by Bill Blass, 1970. (photo: Goldstein Museum of Design)

We also got to see how the Goldstein’s many shoes are stored: in these nifty holders that allow viewing and moving without touching the fragile contents. Natasha opened a cabinet of shoes from a time all of us visitors could easily remember: the ’70s. (I was tempted to poke around in the 1930s and ’40s cabinets. I’ve seen those shoes, and they’re wonderful.)

1970s shoes in their protective carriers.

1970s shoes in their protective carriers.

Then our group moved on to another area that was like Grandma’s attic times a thousand–that is, if Grandma were an archivist and her attic was a climate-controlled, archivally-designed storage space. Drawers and doors had been opened for us to peek at decades-old wedding dresses, day dresses, menswear, textiles, hats, and children’s shoes.

Jack caught me admiring some of the Goldstein's many hats.

Jack caught me admiring some of the Goldstein’s many hats.

Our last stop was at the Goldstein’s current show, Redefining, Redesigning Fashion: Designs for Sustainability, where we saw garments imaginatively fashioned from recycled table linens, thrift store clothes, fur, throw-away packaging, even branches that had been sliced into coins.

To round out the program, we enjoyed excellent scones with clotted cream, tea sandwiches and macaroons and learned about the Goldstein’s 30,000-item collection, including about 23,000 items of apparel; furniture, textiles, silver, and ceramics.IMG_2515 (460x345)

Only about 15 percent of the collection has been photographed so far in a multi-year project. An elaborate wedding dress can take a workday of steaming and styling by a professional to ready it for its closeups, so the process of producing images can be slow. But just search the Goldstein’s image database and see the fabulous results, available to anyone with a computer.

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Just one of many cabinets brimming with treasures. There’s no end to the variety in sleeve designs.

Our limited time with the Goldstein’s collections only whetted our appetites for more.  With my weekly exposure to the richness and variety of its holdings, the stories of its donors through my work with the files, and seeing the everyday activities surrounding the preparation and development of programming, we’re going to become regular visitors.