It was on February 12, 2012 that Dr. Alison Matthews David opened an unmarked door on the seventh floor of the library for me. Behind that door were racks, bins, boxes and piles of clothing, stacks of books, journals and papers that comprised the Ryerson Costume Collection (as it was then known). Although the collection had been founded in 1981 by Professor Emeritus Katherine Cleaver, the collection had become largely dormant after her retirement and the database was corrupted.
Where others saw the dust and neglect, I saw an opportunity to reprise the collection in order to make artifacts accessible to students, faculty and scholars . So began my journey of discovery in which I unlocked the treasures therein, as well as shaped and added to the collection and made the FRC into a site of interdisciplinary research.
For the past 7.5 years I have been the champion of the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection. I have worn many hats including curator, collection manager, registrar, conservator, lecturer, mentor, mannequin dresser, exhibition planner, donor relations liaison and tour guide.
I have taken a dusty, neglected archive and made it into a pristine, well-organized research hub within the School of Fashion. The collection, about 3000 garments and accessories that date back to 1815, are catalogued and properly housed. The catalogue is online and accessible to anyone around the world. Scholars have visited from far away places such as Kyoto, Beijing, Melbourne, London, Manchester, and elsewhere.
Dr. Sarah Casey (shown in the photos below) made repeated visits from the University of Lancaster and her drawings of selected FRC artifacts were displayed in the exhibition Absent Presence: A Wedding Dress and the Drawings of Sarah Casey at the MLC Gallery (May 9 – July 2019).
The book The Dress Detective: The Practical Guide to Object-based Research in Fashion (Bloomsbury Academic 2015), which includes several case studies and many photographs of artifacts from the FRC, is used in classrooms around the world. And I have already written its sequel.
My decision to leave is bittersweet, but the time has come for me to begin another chapter in my career as a scholar, author and lecturer. As I look back, I recall many moments of gratification in helping students, scholars, faculty and others discover the possibilities in object-based research. In the summer of 2014, almost every day felt like my birthday as I unpacked the 600+ artifacts from the Suddon-Cleaver Collection. Although my work was often very difficult and lonely, I always did what I thought was right.
I thank all that have supported me during my time at Ryerson and I sincerely hope that my legacy will live on.
Watch for the publication of my next book Reading Fashion in Art for Bloomsbury Academic (forthcoming 2020).