Name of Museum: Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI) Type of museum: Local History Location: Seattle, WA Admission cost: $14 Adults/$12 Seniors, Students, Military/Free for children 14 and under Hours of operation: Daily 10am – 5pm and until 8pm on Thursdays Museum contact information: 860 Terry Avenue N Seattle, WA 98109, 206.324.1126, email@example.com, www.mohai.org
Q: Can you introduce yourself and what do you do at the museum?
A: My name is Clara Berg and my official title is “Collections Specialist for Costumes and Textiles.” I manage the museum’s clothing and textile collection, do research about the objects, dress garments for display, and give presentations about Seattle fashion history.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit more about your museum?
A: The Museum of History & Industry (known as MOHAI for short) is a history museum specializing in Seattle and Puget Sound history. We have a lot of cool, weird, fascinating stuff, including the glue pot that boiled over and started the Great Seattle Fire, the first commercial airplane built by Boeing, the first down jacket produced by Eddie Bauer, just about every possible souvenir from the 1909 and 1962 World’s Fairs in Seattle, cardboard signs made by protesters for the WTO meeting in Seattle, and of course, lots and lots of clothes owned and worn by Seattleites. At the tail end of 2012 we moved into a fantastic new building—a refurbished, historic Naval Reserve Armory right on the edge of one of Seattle’s beautiful lakes. The move project was a huge endeavor but it has been a success— we’ve seen a big increase in attendance, membership, and public engagement.
Q: What is your day-to-day job like? What’s the best part of your job?
A: One of the things I like about my job is that there are a big variety of tasks. Sometimes I spend all day at my desk—answering emails, putting together a presentation, or updating some records in our database. But other days I’m packing things in boxes, climbing ladders, sewing labels, doing a few loads of laundry (muslin covers and gloves- not artifacts!), dressing mannequins, or making padded hangers. One of the biggest tasks is vacuuming. We use HEPA vacuums with adjustable speed and small attachments to surface clean a lot of our textiles. It is slow going and there is a ton of it to do, so pretty much every day I’m either vacuuming something, overseeing a volunteer who is doing it, or putting away and storing something that was just vacuumed. I actually have a blog called “Things I Vacuumed Today.” (http://thingsivacuumed.blogspot.com/)
Q: What are some of the upcoming programs/exhibits your museum is doing?
A: We just opened an exhibition called Drawn to Seattle: The Work of Seattle Sketcher Gabriel Campanario. Campanario has an award-winning Seattle Times blog and weekly column in the Seattle Times where he sketches interesting Seattle locations, events, and experiences. We’ve uncovered some of the windows in the gallery space so that visitors can sketch the lake or the Space Needle, and on Saturdays there will be members of the Seattle Urban Sketchers on-site to offer guidance. For me, I’m looking forward to changing out several of our costumed mannequins in January (I try to rotate the garments in our permanent exhibit every 3-6 months), and giving a lecture in April titled “From Paris to Seattle: The Fashion Careers of Helen Igoe and Madame Thiry.”
Q: What would the museum do if it had more funding?
A: I can think of so many things. For my department (Collections), it would be hiring more people. We have so many artifacts to take care of and so many projects to work on. But part of the goal of having more people would mean having more time to do projects that directly serve the public—getting our database online, helping researchers, and learning more about what we have so it can be used for exhibits and educational programs. That is probably what you would hear from most other departments too—more money would mean providing the public with more programs, more services, more access.
Q: What is one of your favorite objects in the collection? Why did you pick it?
A: This is so hard because I have so many, but one that I have particular fondness for is the “Bubbleator Operator” uniform. The Bubbleator was an attraction at the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle. It was a large round elevator (elevator + bubble shape = Bubbleator) that took visitors up into a multi-media exhibit about the future. The theme of the fair was “Century 21” and so the focus was on science, space, and the future. The uniform for the operators perfectly embodied an early-1960s idea of what the future would look like. The top is all silver lamé, with wide gray lines creating details at the collar, cuffs, and across the chest. The whole thing, including the pants, fastens with Velcro—a product that hadn’t fully made its way into everyday consumer use at the time but was being used by the aerospace industry for space suits. Just looking at it makes you dream of colonies on the moon, flying cars, and robot maids attending to all our household chores.
COLLECTIONS SPECIALIST FOR COSTUMES AND TEXTILES
MOHAI Resource Center
5933 6th Ave S, Seattle, WA 98108
Mailing address: P.O. Box 80816, Seattle, WA 98108
P: 206.324.1126 ext 144 | F: 206.780.1533