Preservation and Access in Oklahoma

Early this week found me in Edmond, Oklahoma. Located along US Route 66, the texture of the town is trains, traffic, bungalows, and mid-century roadside architecture. UCO was founded as a land grant college in 1890, right after the Land Run of 1889. An assortment of mostly 20th century buildings exhibit mid-century campus quirk. I spent most of my time speaking to graduate students within the 1960s Liberal Arts building on the eastern edge of campus. Black felt pressboards fitted with white plastic letters called out professors’ offices. I know eventually this authenticity will be lost under an “upgrade”, but I enjoyed its forthright old campus feel. Staff puts around the campus in Club Cars, labeled with their department. I enjoyed walking the campus, thinking it no larger than a few city blocks, though much prettier.

For two days, I lectured students on 18th and 19th century dress history, researching primary sources, how to vet secondary sources, sourcing materials to recreate historic dress, and program management. The historical interests of the students were varied, representing ancient cultures, medieval art, and World War II. Much of the museum culture in the area involves the Oklahoma City Federal Building Memorial, the historical society, and also the Laboratory Museum on UCO’s campus, which began quite early for a collection of this type, in 1915.

Interestingly, there was little sewing or textile knowledge in the room. I was prepared for that, and incorporated a lecture on textile manufacture (the very basics on fiber harvesting, preparation, weaving, spinning, dyeing, printing, etc). We did some exercises in identifying personas and suggesting research sources, and management scenarios: the “Reenact-tourists” wreaking havoc at the museum and the “40-Year Volunteer” quite pleased with her t-shirt and long pink calico skirt.

I enjoyed being in the classroom again. We talked about printing, and working with extant garments, and how to spell Lewis Walpole and Garthwaite, assessing how elements of clothing change with fashion. I shared advertisements of embroiderers living in Elfreth’s Alley and consternation expressed over how women’s hoops in the 1850s concealed the fine strong figures of their male companions.

Those of us who delight in the painstaking details of historic dress cannot forget its purpose: audience. The collections and interpreters exist not for purity of form in a vacuum; they must be tightly tied to mission and delivery of that mission to institutional audiences. I highlighted communicating their vision for authentic clothing to administration and supporters with a vision for an authentic clothing program, building specific, measureable, achievable, relevant, time-sensitive (SMART) goals for implementing a program, and using training and incentives to help make those changes. Bevin Lynn’s recent article “Starting a Historically Accurate Clothing Program at your Historic Site” in the ALFHAM Bulletin provides invaluable insight to managing historic dress programs.

I treated myself to dinner at Ludivine in Oklahoma City last night to unwind from 10 hours of lectures. Had a nice chat with Chef Jonathan Stranger. His new venture, R&J Lounge and Supper Club, is a throwback spot serving Genesse Cream Ale and relish trays. The inspiration for food and feel? He and Chef Russ Johnson visited the menu collection at the New York Public Library. That was a nice way to seal the trip, watching preservation and access to collections in action. It was delicious, even if the verjuice and house made ginger beer brought tears to my eyes.

Cheese. Ludivine. OKC. RL Fifield photo.

Cheese. Ludivine. OKC. RL Fifield photo.