Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Research: Visit to Tempe History Museum

I meant to post this a few weeks ago, but grad student that I am, life got away from me. So here you go, better late than never.

On February 22nd, I had the opportunity to visit the Tempe History Museum with my Rhetoric & Public Memory class at ASU. We had been studying memory sites and will be studying museums later in the semester so this was a fun chance to visit a museum and speak with the Dan Miller, the Exhibits Coordinator and Josh Roffler, the Curator of Collections, about how they put together exhibits and organize the collection. They shared with us the plans that were drafted for their recent renovation and discussed the overall message and themes of the museum. As Josh explained, "Exhibits are about experiences." Well, if you visit the Tempe History Museum, be prepared for an experience.

The main exhibition hall is divided into six main areas.

1. An introduction space that features a short video on the history of Tempe.

2. Living in the Desert, which features a timeline history as well as several cases and installations that teach about what it was like living in the desert from the time of the Native American's who lived in the area before white settlers arrived, through to contemporary times.

3. College Town, which describes the history of ASU, from it's time as the local normal school to it's current status as a major Research 1 university.

4. Building Our Community, which shows how the community of Tempe has grown and changed over the years.

5. Living Together, which celebrates the diversity of the population of Tempe.

6. A changing gallery for temporary special exhibits. At the time of my visit it was "The Finley Boys: Arizona's Royal Family of Rodeo.

Among these spaces there are also Exploration Stations in each themed area that offers a chance to learn more about the history through an interactive activity (such as making a custom historical postcard that you can email to yourself at home to share with others), a Learning Lounge where you can look through books or just relax, and Little Devil's Stadium, a protected space for small children to crawl around.

The best part is the Kid's Place, featuring a mini stage (complete with theatre curtains, theatre seats, and costumes on pegs backstage) toys and books for kids to play with, and a 1920s era truck that kids can climb behind the wheel of or load into the bed of the truck to hangout.

But wait, I kind of jumped the gun, the BEST best part? It's totally free! So if you go with young kids and they get bored after 5 mins, you can leave without feeling guilty about not getting your money's worth.

The whole place is very kid friendly and still interesting for adults. It's not huge, so an adult could probably go through it in about an hour, but if you take your kids they may beg to stay longer. I'm finding myself trying to find friends with kids that I can tag along with.

The museum is located at Rural and Southern in Tempe, though any Phoenix Valley resident would find it interesting as it also relates more generally to Arizona history.

And did I mention it's free? Don't miss out. For more information, visit their website here.

Photography art piece above the foyer sitting area.

In the foyer looking into the exhibition hall.

An antique fire truck, this is about the ONLY object kids can't climb on.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Rambling: Meeting a hero

I've heard it said, never meet your hero, you will only end up disappointed when they don't live up to your expectations. Well, two nights ago I met one of my academic/professional heroes and it was beyond anything I could have hoped for.

For those who don't know, this year I am serving as one of the Programming chairs for the Arizona Costume Institute. It has been an incredible experience and I've met some really amazing and wonderful people. But, this month's program featured Dr. Deborah Nadoolman Landis, a costume designer, historian, and scholar whose work has inspired and influenced my research and the work I am currently doing in my studies at ASU. I've been so excited to meet her but as the time grew closer I became more and more nervous, mainly about saying something stupid and looking like an idiot.

Just to give you some background on Deborah and why she's so amazing...

- Hollywood costume designer responsible for classic looks from films such as Animal House, Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf in London, Three Amigos, Michael Jackson's video for Thriller, Coming to America (for which she was nominated for an Academy Award), and more. Oh, and Indiana Jones' famous fedora and leather jacket? Yeah, that's her work too as designer for Raiders of the Lost Ark. So even if you don't know her name, you've seen her work.
- Past president of the Costume Designers Guild, serving two terms for the organization.
- She has a PhD in the History of Design from the Royal College of Art.
- She is the David C. Copley Chair and the Founding Director of the David C. Copley Center for Costume Design at UCLA.
- She has written books about costume design including, Costume Design (here), 50 Designers/50 Costumes: Concept to Character (here), and my favorite, Dressed: A Century of Hollywood Costume Design (here), as well the the upcoming Filmcraft: Costume Design (here) coming in June and Hollywood Sketchbook: A Century of Costume Illustration (here) coming in October.
- She is currently curating the exhibition Hollywood Costume at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, opening October 20th, 2012.

Now do you get why I was excited?

Ok, so now that you're caught up on this brilliant woman, let me go back to two nights ago, when I was invited to have dinner with her and Dennita Sewell, curator of fashion for the Phoenix Art Museum. The contents of that conversation will never be printed in public and are for me alone, but Deborah was beyond kind and gracious and the evening was amazing. It's always nice to meet nice people. I can only imagine what she would be like as a professor but if I had the chance to take one of her courses I would jump at it, I think she'd be wonderful. She, very patiently, listened to my research and the work I'm doing, and I think I came across as a relatively intelligent woman. The evening ended with her, very kindly, agreeing to sign my copy of Dressed, a book that has become the foundation of much of my research.

She signed my book! :)

The next morning I got to the hall where the 2nd Wednesday lunches are held and had the continued good fortune of sitting with Deborah at lunch and having a fun time with all the ladies and gentlemen at our table. Then at about 12:30 we all went into Whiteman Hall for the presentation about the exhibition she's curating at the V&A.

It started with Deborah calling volunteers to the stage and then deconstructing their outfits to show the difference between fashion and costume design and how costumers build character through clothing and accessories. As she pointed out, when a character comes on screen, they have already been living a life prior to their entrance and their clothing should demonstrate that in some way. The volunteers were great and really got into the spirit of the exercise.

Doing the "Deconstruction" workshop

Then the lights dimmed, and this is where I struggle with how to describe what happened next....

This exhibition is going to be unlike anything we've seen. Seriously, my brain was exploding just from watching the concept presentation, which is what Deborah was showing us. She had only seen it a week ago when it was presented to her in London last Thursday. Spanning a century of Hollywood costume design, this show will take viewers from the first stages of design, through collaborating with directors and actors, to a finale of classic film characters mingling at a cocktail part and an epic battle showdown. There will be lots of projection and use of visual effects and nearly every iconic character you can think of will be represented.

Some highlights:
- Sitting at a table with Tim Burton and Colleen Atwood discussing the Mad Hatter with the costume poised on the table above them. Other conversations will include Alfred Hitchcock and Edith Head, Martin Scorsese and Sandy Powell, and Mike Nichols and Ann Roth.
- Listening to Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro talk about how costumes effect building the character
- Holly Golightly, Marilyn Monroe from Some Like It Hot, Rose, from Titanic, and more at a cocktail party, while Nicole Kidman's famous costume from Moulin Rouge swings on a trapeze above.
- Epic finale battle between heroes and villains as Harry Potter, Trinity, Spiderman, Superman, Errol Flynn, Darth Vader and more battle it out.

As if I wasn't already excited to go to London this winter to see it! If you have a chance to go, you should. If you know anyone in the area, tell them to go for you. Fortunately there will be a book published to go along with the exhibition. For more information about the show click here.

There was so much more, but a lot of it is a blur. But the whole thing was amazing and by the looks of it, I might need to tour the show at least twice in order to fully process it all!

The audience had great questions afterwards and a few people had brought their copies of Dressed to be signed as well.

Finally it was all over and time for me to leave for class at ASU. If I didn't have several pages of notes and a picture with Deborah, I don't think I'd believe it really happened. I'm still pinching myself and after my conversations with her I'm throwing myself even deeper into my research. I think one of the most valuable and validating parts of this experience was understanding even further the importance of the research I do on dress and costuming. If I can one day produce a fraction of the scholarship that Deborah has I will know I have been a success.

Deborah Nadoolman Landis and I

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

"The Sea" at the Phoenix Art Museum

On March 2nd I went to the sea. I walked along the boardwalk, passing sailors and ladies in fine dresses. I saw swimmers of all ages, in a variety of swimming costumes. I even saw mermaids and other beautiful creatures of the deep. And I did all of this without leaving the landlocked confines of the Phoenix Valley.

No, I was not hallucinating. I was attending the opening reception of the new exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum. On view now in the Ellman Fashion Design Gallery until July 15th.

For those of us who will not be able to make it to the beach this summer, The Sea is a refreshing and beautiful escape from heat and brownness of the desert during our hot summer months. The exhibition, "explores the far-reaching influence of the romance, colors and forms of the sea on fashion design. Drawn from the Museum's extensive permanent collection and private collections, The Sea features work by Prada, Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, Christian Lacroix for Patou, Zandra Rhodes and Pauline Trigere among others."

I've been attending the exhibitions in the fashion gallery at the Museum since 1999, and every time I am amazed by the work of curator Dennita Sewell and her team. The Sea is no exception. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, so I will stop talking and let you see for yourself. Just know that the pictures don't do this exhibit justice and you really must make a trip to the Museum and see for yourself.

(For more info on visiting the Phoenix Art Museum, click here.)

Seaside dresses from the 1860s.

At left, lounge pajamas from the 1930s, right, Rita Jo dress from the 1930s.

Selection of swimsuits showing how styles have changed over the years.

Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel. Left, swimsuit and dress from early 2000s. Right, jacket, swimsuit and shoes from the Cruise 2011-12 collection, gift of Saks Fifth Avenue.

So, according to the story, a woman wanted to be able to wear her Chanel jacket poolside but obviously tweed is not the best material for lounging by the pool. She requested it be made out of terry cloth and the idea has taken off. Is there anywhere you can't wear Chanel to now?

It was also the Museum's First Friday event so the gallery was packed. It was so nice to see so many people experience the exhibition.

Clair McCardell

Left and behind, Chado Ralph Rucci, Spring 2002 Couture. Right and front, Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, Spring 2012, gift of Neiman Marcus.

Synthetic brocade and monofilimant lace with paillette and bead embroidery. Simply stunning, front and back.

Great Naval uniforms.

Dress from the early 1860s, "water mark" moire silk.


Christian Lacroix for Patou "Chaldee" Dress and Overskirt, Spring 1986.

The amazing accessories case.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Rambling: An Education

So, sometimes I'm a little late to the party, and in the case of An Education I'm really, really late. But as I tell my students, better late than never. I've been making use of the film collection (small as it is) at the community college where I work and today I checked out Lone Scherfig's brilliant film. You really would have thought I'd have made more of an effort back when it was released, especially after it was nominated for three Academy Awards in 2009 (Best Picture, Actress, and Adapted Screenplay). But, alas, sometimes I miss out and come around much later than everyone else.

Initially it didn't seem like my sort of film, and I'm not sure I would have appreciated it as much when it was first released. However, seeing it now, I found it mesmerizing and highly relatable. Carey Mulligan, as Jenny, the heroine, simply shines and the rest of the cast is phenomenal, seriously the best Britain has to offer. Peter Sarsgaard (not British, but we'll forgive him), Alfred Molina, Rosamund Pike, Olivia Williams, Emma Thompson, Dominic Cooper, Sally Hawkins and more all wrap you into the story of a young girl caught between her planned future of attending Oxford and the dashing older man that enters into her life.

I won't go into details of the plot because I'm sure you all have seen it, but what really caught me were the amazing production values. The music and score are wonderful and enhance the '60s feel of the film. The cinematography is stunning, there's really no other way to describe it, just clear and beautiful. The script, by Nick Hornby is great, better than anything else I've seen of his. The production design and art direction are so perfect and precise, it's just amazing. So many brilliant little details. But can I just say something about the costumes?

Oh my goodness! Why was this not nominated for best costume design? Oh yeah, because it's too "contemporary" and isn't considered a "costume" film. It's a real shame that people don't understand what good costume design looks like because this is just breathtaking and highly underrated. *sigh* I'll be purchasing my own copy just to watch the costumes again.

One other thing, the Anglophile in me loved all the locations, particularly the scenes set in Oxford. Just gorgeous.

Finally, I loved the overall message about education. Though the film is set in the 1960's it's just as important now and really resonated with me. One quote by Jenny really stood out in regards to the work I'm doing at school.

"It's not enough to educate us've got to tell us why you're doing it."

Just brilliant, and spot on with the discussions I'm having in my grad classes. I love when a movie makes those real world connections and you come out not only entertained but more aware of your place in the world. If you're like me, and you haven't seen this movie yet, go watch it. You won't regret it.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Book Review: The Sartorialist

I'm reading so many books right now for school, but every now and then something completely fun creeps in. Last semester I had the chance to read Retail Hell for a class (I still can't believe that book was homework!). If you missed my review for that, read it here.

There've been a few others than have managed to sneak into my reading pile and I thought I'd share some with you. Well, the ones that don't have long and complicated titles and aren't about rhetorical theory. :)

Today I'd like to share with you The Sartorialist by Scott Schuman. Published by Penguin Books in 2009 you can find it in paperback form on Amazon for $16.50 or wherever you like to get your books. This book magically found it's way into my Amazon order at the start of the spring semester with a bunch of text books (I don't know how that happened :) How strange!).

The book is a collection of images that first appeared on Scott's blog of the same name, check that out here (seriously, check it out, it's amazing). I first found Scott's blog when I was researching fashion blogs for my seminar paper last semester. I ended up going with a different blog for the paper but bookmarked The Sartorialist on my computer and return to it frequently. His images are amazing.

The book is just as brilliant as his blog, featuring images of fashion on the street. Random people he crosses paths with in New York, Paris, Milan, and more. These aren't all models and celebrities (though they do make the occasional appearance) but mostly are just everyday people.

What I love about this book, and the blog, is seeing all the different ways that fashion and style is interpreted by people around the world. What you will find in the pages of this book are not bland copies of what you see within the pages of the top fashion magazines. Instead, you will find interesting, unique, quirky, beautiful people, dressing for themselves and expressing themselves through their clothing. As Scott says in the opening pages of his book, "I have been sharing photos with my audience on a daily basis for the past four years, and over the course of that time I have begun to see my images more as a social document celebrating self-expression than as a catalogue for skirt lengths or heel heights" (5).

Part of my research at school is examining the rhetoric of fashion, what we wear, why we wear it, and what our choices say about ourselves and our personalities. This book is a perfect case study for that research. Most of the outfits I see I wouldn't wear on my own, because they don't speak to my personality. But the outfits I see make me think a little differently, and a little more outside the box, about how I might combine items in my own closet. Scott goes on to say in his introduction, "I hope that, while looking at the images in this book, you will begin to see fashion and style in a different light: that you make it yours, let yourself get inspired and experience a deeper enjoyment of your own sartorial expression" (7). That is exactly how I feel as I go through this book.

Another great thing about this book? It's mostly pictures. So for my poor burnt out brain, at the end of a long day of studying, or even as a mid-study brain vacation, flipping through the pages is pure visual heaven! I really don't have any time to read books that aren't part of my class reading list, but with The Sartorialist, whether I have 5 mins or 50, I can enjoy the book and not feel like I have to take a ton of time to get back into it.

This book is a must read/look for anyone with a love of fashion and art. You won't regret the purchase. And when you're done, just visit the original blog for more! (In case you missed that link above, I'll give it to you again, you have not excuses now! Check it out here.)

Rambling: My Zatchels Satchel

Last semester, while doing a seminar paper on fashion blogs (I really do need to post that on here, or at least an excerpt) I found this great fashion blog run by two women living in Glasgow, Scotland, called Kingdom of Style. Check them out here. While reading through there blog I stumbled upon this great site to order custom made satchels. Well, actually two sites, each of the blog mistresses had their favorite. Queen Michelle posted about the Cambridge Satchel Company (see here) and Queen Marie favored Zatchels (see here).

After looking at both sites I decided to go with Zatchels and ordered my very own, beautiful red leather satchel. What's so great about a Zatchels satchel you may ask? Well, let me tell you!

Each bag is handmade, per order, in the UK. You decide what color you want, what size, whether you want to add a handle or not, and within about 30 days (mine took only about 10) a pretty, shiny leather bag arrives at your door. Well, unless you order one of the distressed leather bags, then it probably won't be that shiny, but nice and crackly instead. :) They come in a variety of shapes and sizes and every color, finish, and print you can imagine. The combinations are endless!

These are not bags to order on a whim, the 16" size satchel like I ordered will set you back about $150 USD (including the extra for the handle, plus shipping). I waited months to order mine since discovering them back in October. But for a custom made leather bag, shipped from the UK, that will last me practically forever, this is just the thing to make me feel a little happier about going to school each week.

Each satchel is shipped in a custom sized box and has it's own dust cover to store it in when you're not using it. I ordered mine in red and just looking at it makes me happy. :)

You also get a certificate of authenticity detailing when it was made and by whom and a bag number. I'm so giddy over my satchel I might just frame this! Ok, not really, but still, I'm in love.

I used it today for the first time to teach class and it fits my class files and 13" MacBook Pro nicely, with enough room on the side to fit my charger. On ASU days it will fit my iPad and text books just fine with room for a water bottle.

As Queen Marie said, this bag will, "make going anywhere, feel more fun, even school!!!!!" I agree. :)

Rambling: Grading at Starbucks

So, I've fallen seriously behind on grading my student's papers, primarily because I'm too busy writing my own for my classes at ASU. I made a good dent during class while my students watched Citizen Kane (I've seen it 3 times, I didn't need to pay attention for a fourth). But today I made it a point, after teaching my Saturday morning class, to come to Starbucks and finish grading.

When I sat down I noticed something about my cup, it was smiling at me!

This made me ridiculously happy. Seriously, I'll take a smile wherever I can get one at this point.

Then, to make things even better I noticed the heading of one student's paper and my day got even brighter.

It should be noted that I'm not actually a professor. I'm not even in a doctorate program yet, let alone a full PhD. But I love that this student would print this, they know how to get extra points. :) Seriously though, it's little things like this that remind me why I'm doing all the hard work I'm doing. Because if I stay on this path, one day "Prof. Severson" will be a reality.

Rambling: My Crazy Life

Wow, last post was back in December. I've definitely been slacking off on this whole blogging thing. I think, initially, I had grand designs of becoming one of those blog geniuses who live grand lives, filled with excitement, and tons of fun details to blog about so we can live vicariously through them. I wish that were my life! I was on the right track. People always seem impressed when I tell them "what I do". I get asked that question a lot, and I certainly sound like I have a cool life (and I do, really, I realize that). So, what do I do? For those family and friends of mine who have been reading this blog, or following me on Facebook, here's the recap. I'm a full time grad student at ASU in the English Department, working an an MA in Rhetoric & Composition (don't ask me to explain what rhetoric is, that's another blog post entirely). I also work part time (nearly full time) as an adjunct instructor at a local community college where I teach 3 classes (4 is considered full time, fyi). On top of all the teaching and studying I'm also heavily involved with a local organization, the Arizona Costume Institute, which is a lot of fun and an incredible opportunity but definitely a lot of work, and all volunteer. I also am getting back into costume design and helping to set up the local chapter for the Jane Austen Society of North America (details to come).

By the time I fill people in on these details they look a bit tired and ask me, "when do you sleep?" Amazingly, I do sleep. Not as much as I used to but I manage. I love my life, but it's definitely busier and more full than I ever imagined it would be.

When I went back to school I imagined it would be something like this:

Smiling, happy, friends (including a relatively cute guy) to hang out with. Of course, 3/4's of the way through it's more like this:

Most of the time I'm exhausted, buried under a mountain of books to read and papers to write (or grade), no time for friends or family (it's a good thing most of my friends live out of state, I wouldn't see them anyway).

People ask me, "Why did you go back to school?" With the above visual examples, you might be asking me the same thing. I guess because I like torturing myself. Just kidding. Well, sort of. I suppose it does take a bit of insanity to subject yourself to the rigors of grad school. It doesn't end with the degree. After this degree (a Masters of Arts) there will be a PhD (God willing, I still have to get accepted). Then after that comes the long process of trying to get a job, and with the tenure system being what it is who knows what it will mean for those of us who will be entering the job market in five years or so. This whole process is not for the faint at heart.

But seriously, I went back to school because I knew I wanted to teach, and I wanted to teach at the college level, particularly at a university or liberal arts college. I love working with my students at the community college but with education taking such a hit right now with budgets community colleges seem to be preferring part time/adjunct instructors, and I would like to move out of my parent's house at some point.

As tiring as it can be, I love it. I may not always seem like I love it, but I do. There are certainly points in the semester, (and I'm entering it about now) where everything starts to hit, proposals for final papers are due, long hours are being spent online looking up research or sitting on the floor in the stacks at the library hoping the book I need will magically fall from the shelf into my lap, and the last 10 charges in a row on my bank statement are for Starbucks.

God bless my family for dealing with me during the last 6 weeks or so of a semester, I'm no picnic. You never know if I'll be angry, frustrated, crying hysterically or laughing maniacally. Overall, it's best to just keep your distance and just ignore the screams of frustration and expletives coming from my room. And if there's silence? Don't worry, I've only passed out from hyperventilating. Ok, not really. Really I've just given up for a moment and have probably turned on North & South for the millionth time and fallen into a Richard Armitage coma for an hour or so until it's time to change the DVD discs.

So, as I enter the last several weeks of my second semester (of more semesters than I care to count right now) I just want to thank my friends and family in advance for their ongoing love and support. You all are awesome. My friends who text and post messages on Facebook so I can stay in touch, even when buried under a pile of library books, and remind me that even if I don't go out an party every night I do, in fact, have friends that aren't figments of my imagination. My family out of state who send me messages and let me know that I am loved and supported. My parents for not kicking me out of the house by now, especially my Mom for not making me cook my own meals, without her I'd probably starve (or be surviving on poptarts and frozen dinners). I love you all and thank you for your support and encouragement. I couldn't do this without you.