Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

A Good Mannequin is Hard to Find

March 13th, 2017

Actually, there are many quality mannequins readily available through a variety of sources – but a good, affordable mannequin that is appropriately sized for a nineteenth-century male of small stature is, in fact, quite hard to find. We were in need of such a mannequin to display a Civil-War-era vest worn by John Fraser, who served as the second Chancellor of the University of Kansas from 1868-1874. Later this year the vest will be part of Spencer Research Library’s new North Gallery exhibit, which will transform that iconic space into a showcase for Spencer’s rich collections.

Chancellor Fraser’s cream-colored wool vest will be featured alongside his sword and scabbard in the University Archives section of the exhibit. A professional mount maker will fabricate the supports for the sword and scabbard, but we in Conservation Services were charged with finding or making an exhibit support for the vest. Our search for a ready-made mannequin of the right shape, size, and price for our needs proved unsuccessful, so we decided to make our own. It’s one of those “other duties as assigned” that presented a fun challenge!

In preparation for building the mannequin, I viewed a webinar about mannequin-making for conservators, and found a handful of blog posts and articles by non-textile conservators like myself who’d built mannequins. It was great to see what others in similar situations had done; their work helped me to form an idea of how to approach this project. I decided to carve the basic mannequin shape out of archival foam, then add more detailed shaping with layers of cotton batting, and finally cover the form with stretchy stockinette fabric.

Prior to starting, I measured the original vest and sewed a simple dummy version of it to use for test fittings along the way. I also printed out some images of torso mannequins from the web to serve as a point of reference for the basic shape. I found a T-shaped jewelry stand, originally meant for retail display, on Amazon to serve as the armature for the mannequin. It has a sturdy weighted base and adjustable height, and the price was right. I began building the mannequin by using hot-melt glue to affix three planks of archival polyethylene foam to the armature and sketching out a basic torso shape on the foam, then set to work carving with a foam knife.

Constructing a mannequin to display a Civil War vest

The mannequin before and after the first round of carving. Click image to enlarge.

At this point the mannequin needed more bulk in the chest, so I glued on more foam pieces and shaped them with the knife, then put the dummy vest on the form to see how the fit was progressing. You can see in the image below (right) that the vest doesn’t look quite right on the form at this stage.

Constructing a mannequin to display a Civil War vest

Left to right: Adding more foam; the mannequin with bulkier chest; testing the fit with the dummy vest.

After yet another round of adding foam and shaping it down with the knife, this time bulking up the chest, abdomen, and upper back, the form began to take on a more natural shape and the dummy vest fit much better.

Constructing a mannequin to display a Civil War vest

Left to right: More foam added to the mannequin; the front and back of the increasingly shapely torso; a better fit.

As the mannequin’s surfaces became more curved, attaching stiff foam planks became more difficult, so in order to do the last bits of shaping I applied built-up layers of cotton batting, again using hot-melt glue.

Constructing a mannequin to display a Civil War vest

Shaping the back and shoulders with batting.

Now the mannequin was almost complete, but I wanted to be sure that the original vest, and not just its stand-in, would fit just right, so I brought the form and some supplies over to the University Archives, where the vest resides, to do the final fitting. I also brought along my colleague, collections conservator Roberta Woodrick, who has a background in textiles, to lend her eye and advice to this stage. We placed the vest on the form and identified a couple of places that needed a little more trimming with the foam knife. With the last adjustments made, it was time to cover the mannequin in stretchy stockinette fabric.

Constructing a mannequin to display a Civil War vest

Left: Testing the fit of the original garment on the mannequin. Right: Covering the form with black stockinette fabric.

After trimming and pinning the stockinette at the neck and base of the mannequin, it was finally ready! I placed the vest on one more time to be really sure of a good fit.

Constructing a mannequin to display a Civil War vest

John Fraser’s vest on its new form for display in Spencer Library’s North Gallery.

The vest fits the form, but there is one feature of the mannequin that remains unfinished. The shiny base of the mannequin stand might be too shiny – it may be too reflective under the exhibit lighting – but we won’t know that until the gallery renovation is completed and we place the form in its new home. If it’s too reflective, we plan to cover it with remnants of the same fabric that will be used to line the display “niche” in which the vest will be exhibited. However, if the consensus opinion is that the shininess is acceptable, we’ll simply polish away the fingerprints and the mannequin will be ready to go!

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

Throwback Thursday: Mary Evelyn Ransom Strong Edition

March 9th, 2017

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 34,500 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

This week’s photograph was selected in honor of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month.

Photograph of Mary Evelyn Ransom Strong in a suffrage parade, 1912

Mary Evelyn Ransom Strong, sitting in the back seat with a dark coat,
campaigning for women’s suffrage in Lawrence, 1912.
University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 2/8 Family 1912 Prints:
Chancellors: Frank Strong: Family (Photos). Click image to enlarge.

Throughout her life, Mary Strong (1870-1953), the wife of KU Chancellor Frank Strong, was active in the suffrage movement, especially in Kansas. She was “integral” to Kansas voters approving the Equal Suffrage Amendment to the state constitution on November 5, 1912, making Kansas the eighth state to grant full suffrage to women.

Preliminary evidence suggests that the photograph was taken on Vermont Street just north of Tenth, looking east toward Massachusetts Street. According to notation on the back of the print, the “Methodist Church [is] at right and back of car.” In his book Across the Years on Mount Oread, Robert Taft captioned the image by noting that “the photograph was taken on Vermont street and looks towards Massachusetts” (124). These two pieces of information, checked against the 1912 Lawrence Sanborn fire insurance map, suggest that the church in the background is the First Methodist Episcopal Church, now the First United Methodist Church.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Melissa Kleinschmidt and Abbey Ulrich
Public Services Student Assistants

Louie Chester Walbridge Photograph Collection

March 8th, 2017

“I’m off Friday noon, destination Russell, Kansas…Direct all letters to Russell, Russell Co., Kansas, until you hear from me to the contrary”

Letter from Louie C. Walbridge, September 27, 1882

Louie C. Walbridge was born in Saratoga Springs, New York, in 1859, the youngest of six children. In 1878, after finishing his education at the Riverview Military School in Poughkeepsie, he headed west to take a clerical job in St. Louis, Missouri. He left that job in the summer of 1879 to join his brother in Sioux City, Iowa, where together they worked for the government, surveying the Missouri River. Next, Louie went to Chicago and worked in a hardware store for a couple of years. Sometime after his 23rd birthday, he made the decision to move to Russell County, Kansas, and on October 24, 1882, Louie signed papers to form a partnership in a plot of land that would eventually grow to 3,000 acres and a herd of over 1,000 sheep. This would be the start of his life-long career as a sheep rancher and farmer.

Photograph of Louie C. Walbridge on porch of his home, 1884

Louie C. Walbridge on porch of his home,
Profile Ranch, Russell County, Kansas, 1884.
Walbridge Collection. Call Number: RH PH 21.
Click image to enlarge.

About two years later, Louis bought out his partner and proceeded in business alone. He named the property Profile Ranch. He wrote, “I have made this purchase basing all my calculations on the future prosperity of the country.” And just to remove all doubt as to who owned the property, he painted “WALBRIDGE” on the roof of his most visible barn.

Photograph of wool wagons on Profile Ranch, circa 1885

Wool wagons on Profile Ranch, circa 1885. Walbridge Collection.
Call Number: RH PH 21. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of sheep on Profile Ranch, circa 1885

Sheep on Profile Ranch, circa 1885. Walbridge Collection.
Call Number: RH PH 21. Click image to enlarge.

On January 21, 1892, Louie married Louise Rachel Castle (1861-1947). They had six children: Margaret (1893-1974), Louise (1895-1966), Caroline (1898-1989), Anne (1900-1971), Chester (1903-1984), and Henry (1905-1949).

Photograph of tive of the Walbridge children, undated

Five of the Walbridge children: Caroline, Margaret,
Louise, Anne, and Chester, undated (circa 1904).
Walbridge Collection. Call Number: RH PH 21.
Click image to enlarge.

One of Louie’s hobbies was photography. He owned his own equipment and set up a darkroom in his family’s home. He photographed his property and his herd, but his favorite subject was his family. What sets Louie’s family photographs apart from those of other amateur photographers of his time is the intimate and candid way in which he captured their images. Many of his photos show his children relaxed and smiling, often leaning on or touching one another, looking at each other and not at the camera. In one image, their faces, hands, and clothes are dirty, as though they had just come in from playing outside, and their attention is on a cat they are holding, seemingly unaware of the camera. It is as though Louie wanted to portray his family as they really were, and he did not try to get the “perfect” photo of “perfect” children. In this way his photographs are quite endearing.

Photograph of Louie C. Walbridge with Louise, Caroline, and Margaret, undated

Louie C. Walbridge with Louise, Caroline, and Margaret, undated (circa 1899).
Walbridge Collection. Call Number: RH PH 21. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of Louise Walbridge with Margaret, Caroline, and Louise, undated

Louise Walbridge with her children Margaret, Caroline, and Louise, undated (circa 1899).
Walbridge Collection. Call Number: RH PH 21. Click image to enlarge.

Margaret, Caroline, and Louise Walbridge holding a cat, undated (circa 1900).
Walbridge Collection. Call Number: RH PH 21. Click image to enlarge.

The Walbridge family enjoyed many years of overall success in ranching, and later in farming, but the Depression hit Louie and Louise hard, and their business suffered greatly. Poor economic conditions were made worse by dust storms, drought, crop failures, and Louie’s declining health. He was eventually forced to sell the ranch, and Louie and Louise moved to town. Perhaps the words he wrote years earlier gave him comfort: “There is one prominent feature of the Walbridges that I hope will descend to the coming generations, i.e., enduring with good grace what cannot be helped.” On February 1, 1939, just two months after moving to town, Louie passed away at the age of eighty. Louise would follow him in death eight years later.

Sources

“Louie Walbridge, Renaissance Man,” Kansas State Agriculturist, March 1981.

Walbridge, Caroline K. Ranchorama and Louie C. Walbridge: An Illustrated Story of Profile Ranch and the Owner, 1859-1939. Russell, Kansas: The Russell Record, 1966. Call Number RH D787.

Walbridge, Caroline Knickerbacker. Gallant Lady 1861-1947. Topeka, Kansas: Clyde E. Gilbert, printer, 1968. Call Number RH D3896.

Kathy Lafferty
Public Services

Throwback Thursday: Prospective Students Edition

March 2nd, 2017

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 34,500 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

Photograph of a sign, "Information for Prospective KU Students," 1971

“Information for Prospective KU Students,” 1971. University Archives Photos.
Call Number: RG 14/0 1971 Prints: Office of Admissions and Records (Photos).
Click image to enlarge.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Melissa Kleinschmidt and Abbey Ulrich
Public Services Student Assistants