Monday, August 30, 2010

Scarlett's sad little dresses

When I worked on my undergrad degree at the University of Texas, my unique major (Textile Artifact Conservation, within the broader scope of a BA in Human Ecology), allowed me access to the Historical Garments Collection, the Rare Books library, and the opportunity to do research on the GWTW collection of garment artifacts at the Harry Ransom Center. [BTW: Scarlett O'Hara's waist may have been 17-inches -- Vivien Leigh's was not.]
It is a stunning collection. Scarlett O'Hara (Hamilton Kennedy Butler) was nothing if not fashionably, and superbly clad. Of course, the famous "curtain dress" is the hallmark of the collection, but, in fact, it is merely one of hundreds of thousands of artifacts in the Ransom Center's possession. There are scripts, props, hand-written notes by directors and writers, costume sketches in Walter Plunkett's hand, and scores and scores of petticoats (Director David O Selznik insisted on authenticity to the tiniest detail).
Sadly, the garments have not always had the care they require. In order to be displayed they must now be repaired, restored and displayed oh(!) so carefully.
UT has mounted a major fund-raising effort to solicit contributions for this effort.
I confess: I have mixed feelings. Such an important collection of American literary and film history ought not be allowed to fall unaided to the ravages of time.
From design to materials to construction, these dresses continue to educate and inspire creators of current and future art.
I am bothered in the extreme by the fact that my alma mater has allowed this level of negligence to occur.
I am simultaneously gratified to see that something is, at last, being done to rectify the problem.

You may view the collection, and read the fascinating history of its association with the University of Texas here:

Let me know what you think.