We love our interns and volunteers! We've worked with many wonderful interns and volunteers, and the intern featured in today's post is no exception. Joanna Abijaoude, who wrote a great post on a Victorian skirt lifter, recently completed a summer internship at the FIDM Museum. Currently in her final year of an M.A. program at New York University, Joanna is researching 20th century Hollywood costume designer Walter Plunkett for her thesis. Joanna has also interned in the costume departments of the Phoenix Art Museum and the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. She recently began a collections internship in The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Thanks for all your hard work Joanna! We look forward to seeing where your career takes you.
When you combine a talented staff with a world-renowned fashion collection, there are no limits to the dynamic projects that result. I was lucky enough to witness this first-hand as a FIDM Museum & Galleries intern, a role which taught me so much about the hard work, creativity, and passion involved in developing a successful fashion collection and museum. The team was in the midst of a myriad of projects when I began this summer – from preparing to send “Modern Love: Fashion Visionaries from the FIDM Museum LA” to Bendigo, Australia, to mounting “Gatsby’s Women: 1920s Evening Dress from the Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection” in the FIDM LA gallery, each day brought a new task, giving me a truly exciting internship experience.
One of my main assignments was to digitize the ephemera in the Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection. This astounding collection of approximately 1,200 fashion objects dating from c. 1600 to the 1940s belonged to Helen Larson, a Californian who acquired exquisite historic clothing over fifty years beginning in 1948. Her pieces range from a rare seventeenth-century velvet jerkin to elaborate gowns worn at the most prominent courts in Europe. The FIDM Museum is now fundraising to purchase the collection in its entirety, and in the meantime they house and exhibit it, increasing its profile and introducing the public to this important piece of history.
In addition to the clothing, the FIDM Museum holds the Helen Larson Archive of correspondence, photographs, invoices, catalog cards, and other physical evidence of her effort to build the collection. Her fascinating letters include exchanges with leading costume historians of the period, museum curators, and private collectors, all of whom were critical in establishing and legitimizing the academic study of fashion. Larson’s robust professional and personal relationship with Doris Langley Moore is particularly well documented through colorful correspondence. Moore founded The Museum of Costume in Bath, England (now named the Fashion Museum) and cultivated an unprecedented expertise in the subject over the years; Larson made several visits to London to purchase important selections from Moore’s private collection. The letters are all the more valuable because they give the provenance of many objects in the collection, not to mention the lively conversations that took place over several decades between these two friends – their letters, which mention major world events among their discussions of clothing connoisseurship, read like a compelling novel. I scanned the collection’s ephemera so that the museum can use it to further their research of the objects, and eventually make it available online to museum patrons.
I was also involved in the initial research stages of “Outdoor Girls: Sporting Fashion, 1800s to 1950s,” a future exhibition on women and sports. My job was to begin compiling a comprehensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources, as well as search for historic sporting images online and in periodicals. My own concept of sportswear was completely changed as I learned more about the subject, and I look forward to the displays of elegant croquet, tennis, and promenading ensembles. Though I loved the research aspect of this project, I have to admit my favorite part was going through the FIDM Museum Collection piece by piece with curators Christina Johnson and Kevin Jones as they determined which objects were a good fit for the show. As we combed through the storage shelves, I was introduced to incredible objects in the museum’s extensive collection and learned something new with each box we opened. The exhibition is still a few years off, but I was thrilled to participate in the preliminary stages of its creation.
My time in Los Angeles was over all too quickly, but I hope to remain involved with the museum’s efforts as they continue their important work in this field. I am currently in my final year of the M.A. Visual Culture: Costume Studies program at NYU, and I know my experience this summer will only enhance my studies. I encourage other students of fashion history to participate in the FIDM Museum’s internship program; it offers a truly hands-on opportunity at an exceptional institution.