This week, the wonderful world of footwear has brought us us the opportunity to help Smithsonian preserve one of the most iconic pairs of shoes out there—Dorothy's Ruby Slippers from The Wizard of Oz. The project's Kickstarter is seeking a whopping $300,000, and with a little under one month to go, they've already raised over $190,000.
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The Ruby Slippers are a prime example of what can happen to historic artifacts after years of intense exposure to harsh light and the wrong environmental conditions—around 80 years in this case. The slippers were made in typical costume design style—quickly and cheaply. The production method benefited film production at the time but is hurting the preservation process now. Over the past 80 years, the slippers' sequin, mesh and glass beading has become more sensitive and has faded in color. Smithsonian's campaign features this chart outlining the slippers' issues:
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Image via Smithsonian.
Putting parts of our history on display for people around the world to see is important, but there's a delicate balance when it comes to finding proper environmental and lighting conditions—it's understandable that Smithsonian needs some extra cash money to learn more about specific materials.
The non-profit organization is proposing a two-step materials and environment solution to the deteriorating shoes:
"We're looking at the materials and the construction and finding a way to better preserve and conserve them for the future. We'll construct a state of the art, environmentally controlled display case that will keep them sparkling far into the future."
Museum conservator, Richard Barden, examining the slippers. Image via Smithsonian.
While Smithsonian admits they have no idea what the optimal condition settings for the shoes' new display case are, here's what they do know:
"We will need calibrated light exposure, as well as controlled humidity and temperature. Our conservators will work with scientists to study the slippers' materials to determine the right conditions. The slippers will then undergo a conservation treatment to clean and stabilize them."
I'm curious to learn more about the display case's features and how it will be able to protect the shoes from further light and climate related damage. Will it's design be clearly function based or will it look similar to regular museum display cases? Either way, it's very refreshing that a massive institution like Smithsonian is recognizing their lack of material preservation knowledge.
Wishing we could just zap the color back into the slippers
Let's not forget, this isn't Smithsonian's first Kickstarter attempt—not very long ago, they created their Reboot the Suit campaign to conserve, digitize and display Neil Armstrong's and Alan Shepard's spacesuits. Hopefully Smithsonian's research and crowd funding efforts will yield positive results for the whole museum community. Let's hope their conservators can work as fast as their skyrocketing funding rates have.
Emily is a freelance writer based in NYC with an interest in all things design, specifically the design process. When she's not writing about design, Emily can either be found taking care of her 31 houseplants, going on "nature" walks in her neighborhood or studying Japanese. Before going freelance, Emily was an Editor at Core77.