The anticipation has been building for weeks. All of us here at CHS have been excited to bring Katharine Hepburn home to Hartford in the form of an exhibition on loan from the Kent State University Museum called “Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen.” Well…on Thursday of last week she finally arrived and the better part of three days has been spent unpacking, dressing, hanging, and generally preparing the exhibit to open to the public tomorrow.
The large crates containing numerous acid free boxes full of pictures, clothing, accessories, and more, arrived last Thursday. On Monday morning, I was finally able to meet the exhibition’s curator and director of the Kent State University Museum, Jean Druesedow. We spent Monday and most of Tuesday unpacking and “dirty dressing” the mannequins so the crates could be carted off-site for storage until the exhibit comes back down in September.
It was such a treat to open each box and see the beautiful costumes housed within them. Seeing them come to life on the mannequins was even better! One of the nice things about this exhibition (which has been traveling a variety of places since it was first installed in 2010), is that the mannequins come pre-prepared! So, we did not have to worry about fussing with getting each garment to fit just right, attaching arms, stuffing mid-sections, and building busts. All of the mannequins were already prepared for each individual costume and all we had to do was match them up and get them dressed.
Some of the most interesting mannequins to dress were the disembodied legs that would be dressed with seven pairs of Katharine’s pants that are included in the exhibit. They sit. They run. They even stand upside-down!
It was so much fun to learn some of Jean’s dressing secrets. Everyone has their own little tricks and it is so much fun to share them with others. I also enjoyed getting to chat with Jean as we dressed the thirty-something mannequins in the exhibit and hear all the great antidotes about Katharine.
Some of the costumes, like this one from The Little Minister, were so small that Jean and her team at KSUM had to make the mannequins to fit the clothes! Katharine’s tall stature and thin measurements (32, 20, 34), means many of her early costumes don’t fit traditional mannequins…even small ones! This piece of the costume for The Little Minister is the red petticoat worn by Katharine when she portrays a gypsy. She discussed with the costumer, William Plunkett, the need for a red petticoat to make her feel more like a gypsy and get into the character…so, even though it wouldn’t show up in the black-and-white film, Plunkett made her one. You can just catch a glance of it in the exhibit.
Wednesday was spent fussing with the costumes…steaming, placing, and pinning. I even got to do a tiny bit of conservation on one of Katharine Hepburn’s costumes (I might have geeked out a little…but shhhhh…don’t tell!). So, now she’s all set and ready to go. The many costumes of Kate are ready for your viewing pleasure! The exhibit will be open from April 11th until September 13th. So catch it while you can, because after that she returns to KSUM and to see her again you will have to travel a bit further than your own front door!
If you are interested in finding out about some of the many programs we have going on surrounding the exhibition, check out the programs page at chs.org.