Monday, August 27, 2012

Exhibiting Symptoms

 The Massacre at the White Homestead

Moving the Jehossee exhibit around like a snake oil salesman in a travelling medicine show has taught me more than I ever imagined. When I started putting these exhibits and displays up, I sort of deluded myself into thinking that I would figure it all out as I went along. This was poor planning because it didn't actually involve any "planning." So for the edification of the three people in the world who, like me, didn't know this stuff in advance, I present my poorly contrived guidelines to Proper Exhibition. (As opposed to Exhibitionism. I can't help you there.)

My advice can be clumped into two general groups: 1. Stuff you should learn in advance, and 2. Stuff you should try to bring on the day of set-up.

Advance work:

* Know where you're allowed to display things. It may not be as obvious as you think.
Knowing the lay of the land is always wise. It generally prevents unpleasant surprises for yourself and will be reassuring to your host. Even if your intended display area is fairly small or very specific, it helps to go over it prior to the day of set-up. You may notice things that need to be moved or adjusted which you don't have the authority to touch, or you may need something as simple as light bulbs changed in a display case.

* Try to scout out your mannequins or dress-forms before the day of set-up.
If you intend to display clothing on forms of any kind, find out what will be available and how it may need to be modified for your needs. I've had issues with mannequins and dress-forms that were too large, too small and generally falling to pieces. Find out what kind of protection your items will have. If you have access to cases, who will have the keys? If the items are in an easily accessed area, will anyone be present to run interference between your precious cargo and the pawing public?

* Maintaining good host relations is always wise.
Always be respectful when you make any inquiries. Do no assume that being welcome equals being entitled. Be mindful of where you can spread out your massive piles of crap as you set up. If you're working with large, bulky adult dresses with multiple under-layers, you're going to need a generous footprint to work within. This needs especially needs to be addressed if you have to set up during normal operating hours to prevent blocking or obstructing portions of other exhibits, doorways in a historic home, etc..

Making contact early in the process is always worth it. You'll inevitably feel more prepared even if the reconnaisance proves uneventful.

Making adjustments at the Pettus Archives Exhibit.

Stuff to bring:

* Always bring lots of straight pins. You never know where or why you'll need them, but invariably, you will. Ditto for Duct tape. 
It probably is pretty obvious as to why you may want extra pins or duct tape, so I won't dwell on it. Just bring them. A small roll of tape and a small box of pins can fit anywhere and can save your arse if something starts to malfunction. Note: something ALWAYS malfunctions.

* Bring extra pieces of material if you have it, or scraps of neutral colors or whites if possible.
Scraps of fabric can be used to fill in gaps if a dress is smaller than the intended form or if a buffer is needed between the "real" fabric and the mannequin. Extra pieces of neutral material may be needed for a back-drop, petticoat filler or even an impromptu scarf. In the three times I've moved the Jehossee Display, I've needed one small square of white cotton each time. It has been reincarnated respectively as a handkerchief, bust-stuffing for a poorly endowed mannequin and an impromptu corset cover.

* Bring some padding or stuffing material. 
Because you never know when you may have to unexpectedly craft a butt.

(These, incidentally, are the EXACT same guidelines I use while directing weddings, if you swap the mannequins for drunken bridesmaids.)

A sampling of the motley crew in all their glory.

I feel a bit foolish posting this, mainly because I worry that this is probably common knowledge. But, as in many facets of life, it wasn't common knowledge for me when I started on this magical voyage and therefore, it may help someone else who is just starting out. I'm sure more can be added with time and experience, but these are the basics. (So far.)

And in other news: I'm going to Dragon*Con! An item is now checked off the bucket list. (Provided the trip actually happens, of course...) Since my capacity is official rather than idle, I won't have much time to do loads of personal things there. But seriously, every nerdy fiber of my being is singing the Hallelujah Chorus. I'll report back in a week or so!

Have a splendid week!

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