A Lasting Legacy: Mannequin Mania!

removing foam wedges from the mannequin

My name is Emily Schuetz Stryker, and I am a member of the WUDPAC Class of 2013, majoring in textile conservation. I am spending my 2012 summer work project in Glasgow, Scotland. Although I am primarily based at the Burrell Collection, many of Glasgow’s museums are affiliated through an organization called Glasgow Life, and as a result, I have the opportunity to work on projects for some of the other museums. Right now, I’m helping one of the Burrell’s textile conservators, Maggie Dobbie, with the installation of a dynamic exhibition featuring the uniforms and equipment of Scottish Olympians at Glasgow’s Riverside Museum of Transport and Travel, which will help celebrate the 2012 Olympic Games in London. I am a huge Olympics junkie—I have never missed watching an Opening Ceremony since I was six—so this is really exciting for me. In fact, I even remember watching one of the Olympians who has loaned his kit for this exhibition compete in the Beijing Games…in men’s kayak slalom. This brings me to the challenging part of this experience: how do you get a mannequin into a kayak?

Mounting is an important part of the safe display of all types of objects, and when displaying costume textiles, mounting usually involves the use of mannequins. The exhibition designer for this show has created a really energetic display, and she wants the mannequins to be in lifelike athletic poses, which is much more difficult than it sounds. Because the amount of time before the exhibition opens is limited, it was not possible to order custom mannequins in the poses that we needed. So we started with regular shop mannequins, which were advertised as “bendy mannequins” and were constructed of a metal armature covered in a dense foam, encased in jersey fabric.

bending the mannequin

In reality, “bendy arm mannequins” would have been a more accurate description, and we had to get creative in order to get them into the positions that we needed for the display. For example, the first thing we figured out was that in order to get the mannequins into the kayak, we needed to cut off their feet.

We next realized that the dense foam strongly resisted our attempts to bend the metal armature into a sitting position, so we needed to cut out wedges on both sides of where we wanted the mannequin to bend. Removing a wedge from the front allowed for compression, and removing a wedge from the back eased tension. After removing the foam, though, a lot of force was still required to turn the metal armature, and the best way to do this was on the floor, so I could use my whole weight.

a mannequin ready to go into a kayak

This was a very physical day of work—at times, it felt like a mannequin Civil War field hospital, and at other times it felt like mannequin physical therapy. In the end, though, we succeeding in modifying a comparatively inexpensive mannequin so that it was seated and could fit into a kayak, ready to be dressed in an Olympic cag deck!

Emily Schuetz Stryker graduated magna cum laude from Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in 2008 with a degree in Physics and a minor in Classical Civilization. She has always had a broad range of interests and sought out ways to connect them; her senior research, for example, was on the relationship between pitching mechanics and injury rates of Major League Baseball pitchers. Discovering the existence of art conservation during a routine lecture in an Intro to Museum Studies class felt like finding the Holy Grail—an elusive, interdisciplinary field that combined her passion for art and all things old with her appreciation for science and manual skill.

Winterthur is celebrating 60 years of graduate programs in art conservation and material culture studies in the current exhibition, A Lasting Legacy: Sixty Years of Winterthur Graduate Programs, on view through June 16, 2013.

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