J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Coming Soon: “Fashioning the New England Family”

The Massachusetts Historical Society and Prof. Kimberly Alexander have spent two years preparing an exhibit based on garments, cloth samples, accoutrements, and manuscripts in the society’s collection.

“Fashioning the New England Family” will be mounted later this year. This month the M.H.S. is sharing samples day by day on a special webpage. For instance, on 1 February it featured the very embroidered waistcoat that magistrate Andrew Oliver, Jr., wore in his portrait by Joseph Blackburn.

The society has also announced a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for a full-color book based on the exhibit showing how “the multiple meanings of fashion and fashionable goods are reflected in patterns of consumption and refashioning, recycling, and retaining favorite family pieces.”

The crowdfunding page explains:
Many of the items that will be featured in the project have been out of sight, having never been exhibited for the public or seen in living memory. The publication and exhibition will give scholars, students, and professionals in fields such as fashion, material culture, and history the chance to see these items for the first time; encourage research; and, provide the possibility for new discoveries.

For the public, it is an opportunity to view in detail painstaking craftsmanship, discover how examples of material culture relate to significant moments in our history, and learn how garments were used as political statements, projecting an individual’s religion, loyalties, and social status. It may allow some to recognize and appreciate family keepsakes but it will certainly help us all to better understand the messages we may have previously missed in American art and literature.
In early America it was common for books to be pre-sold by subscription like this. Back here I discussed how Phillis Wheatley offered her poems for sale that way in 1772. But that effort failed, as did Wheatley’s post-war attempt to fund a second collection. Her first book was instead published in England with the help of an aristocratic patron; the manuscript of her second disappeared.

In the same way, the Fashioning the New England Family book depends on advance orders from people interested in historical clothing. As in the eighteenth century, there will be a list of especially generous supporters inside the book. And at the top levels of the crowdfunding campaign, donors can have a special tour of the exhibit.

1 comment:

St. Frida said...

Thanks so much for sharing info about the book and the Kickstarter campaign with your readers. As the MHS editor of publications, I am eager to get this one into print. It will be akin to In Death Lamented, the illustrated volume we did for our mourning jewelry exhibition in 2012. And of course I love the comparison to the 18thC subscription model--that's exactly what occurred to me as well. Ondine