Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Always Learning: A New Silhouette of Alice

Quite some time ago, I was all excited to have discovered a little sihouette of Janet Livingston, made during the family's trip to England in 1921 (at right, Honoria and Janet on Woolacombe beach in North Devon). Because it was the only one in the file box, I had assumed this little card to be the only silhouette cut that day, and I mused about why no one else in the family had gotten their own.

Well, it just goes to show that there is always something new to be learned in the archives, because while I was researching Alice's clothing for an upcoming lecture (different file box), I found this little card at right: Alice Livingston's silhouette cut by the same artist as Janet's, Mr. Handrup in 1921.

Here we see Alice dressed for a day of exploring London with her family. Her collar is high in back and sweeps lower in front. Her broad hat is perhaps a little out of fashion for 1921 but would help to keep the sun out of her eyes and the city dust out of her hair.

The lesson here is that even as a museum, we are always learning more about history. Instead of a curious Janet being the only one to get her silhouette made, the new scene shows that probably all of the women in the family took a turn to sit down on a stool and get a souveneir image of themselves. The story changes a little bit with each new piece of information.

How did Alice's silhouette get forgotten?

Museum collections can be very large, consisting of thousands of items. In our case, it is most of the belongings that filled the Livingston's 44 room home. Records are kept so that we know about the condition and location of each one. Ours are kept in three ominous gray filing cabinets as well as in a computer program housed in Albany. Each curator spends time getting famliar with what is here and where to find it. But in this time of economizing and downsizing, museums are suffering from shrinking staffs much like the rest of the country, leaving the curator's responsibilities to be divided amongst several staff memebers. Now sometimes items like Alice's silhouette can hide, forgotten in collections just awaiting rediscovery.

My question now is, if Alice and Janet both got their silhouettes cut, what ever happened to Honoria's? Did she keep with her, give it away as a gift, or what? Or is it still here filed away in another box in the archives? I guess it just gives me an excuse to go exploring another day.

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