Callie Prince and Melissa Traub are this year’s Dangremond Museum Studies Interns at the Connecticut Historical Society. Through this ten-week internship, they are gaining exposure to different aspects of the museum field.
Melissa and Callie’s first assignment was in developing and setting up a new display, Trends in the Tides: Connecticut’s Beaches that opened July 7 and runs to September 5 at the CHS.
When I applied for this internship, I never thought I’d end up sitting on a cement floor stuffing a mannequin with cotton to make it fit a one hundred-year-old bathing suit. For over a month and a half now, Callie and I have had the experience of a lifetime interning at the Connecticut Historical Society.
When our internship began, the flag that hung in President Abraham Lincoln’s box the night he was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre was on display in the CHS central lobby. We had to move it to make way for the Trends in the Tides: Connecticut’s Beaches display. As a Civil War buff, helping to move the flag back into storage and taking down the other Lincoln memorabilia (a lock of Lincoln’s hair and the buttonhole from his vest) was a dream come true for me.
One of our first projects was to create a small display about Connecticut’s beaches. The CHS has an incredible and extensive collection of textiles and graphics. Selecting what to put on exhibit was like taking a trip through time! We chose two women’s bathing suits from different time periods. I then wrote a label to give a brief history of the female swimsuit. Trying to convey over 150 years of history in less than 200 words was quite the challenge, much different than the 5-15 page papers I’m used to writing.
We decided to use postcards from the CHS collection to show Connecticut’s beach destinations. With dozens of boxes, each with hundreds of postcards from every town, I searched for ones depicting the hot spots on our coast while Callie began to write the accompanying labels. Focusing on towns such as Westbrook, Clinton, Branford, and Madison, I carefully selected a variety of postcards to showcase the history of Connecticut’s beaches.
Ordering the postcards and placing numbers to identify each postcard was meticulous and time consuming. The tiny numbers were hard to peel off, and, because the postcards are arranged in windowed lines, it was a challenge to figure out the logical ‘flow’ of the cards and their numbering.
I wrote the overall description about Connecticut’s beaches for the exhibit. Being from California, I wanted to research which beaches were popular, when did they become so, and why? I started with places like Madison, Old Saybrook, and Westbrook. I was curious about when these beaches became popular vacation spots in Connecticut. I found that as the trolley system expanded, new leisure activities became possible.
We picked out old swimsuits from the CHS collection, put them on mannequins, transported them downstairs, and set them in place within the exhibit. Deciding which swimsuits to display was fun because many of them fit the old title of “swimming costume” better than our modern day swimsuits. Sorting through all the old, heavy swim attire, I could not imagine that people wearing multiple layers of wool would be capable of venturing into the ocean!
It was fun to handle the swimsuits and feel the differences in fabrics; dressing mannequins was something neither Melissa nor I had done before. It was fun and unique experience I did not expect to have the opportunity to do as an intern. The older swimsuit we chose is from around 1910, so it was very delicate and more difficult to put on and adjust. The other swimsuit is from the 1940s-50s and much more relatable to styles today. After putting the bathing suits on the mannequins, we realized they looked drab and unlike a real woman’s figure.
We were then introduced to another unexpected part of exhibit work: stuffing the mannequins. Melissa and I took pantyhose and cotton batting and gave the mannequins more womanly figures. It was more difficult than I expected to make everything fit correctly. We then took care to transport the mannequins downstairs to the exhibit. Setting them in the nook was easier as we could work together, from afar, to make sure they looked good. Putting up the labels next to the mannequins and the postcards was really satisfying. It was exciting to know that we had played a big part in this small exhibit.
Overall, writing the label for the exhibit, helping with the postcards and swimsuits, and learning the behind the scenes activities like moving the flag and stuffing the mannequins made this a highly enjoyable experience. We had not previously appreciated all the work that would go into a small exhibit let alone the work it would take to create a large one.
Come see the display Trends in the Tides: Connecticut’s Beaches this summer at CHS! The exhibit runs from July 7 to September 5, 2015.
Melissa Traub is from New Hartford, Connecticut. She’ll be a senior at the University of Connecticut, graduating in December with a double major in history and political science. She is hoping to pursue a career in the museum field, particularly as a museum educator.
Callie Prince is from Oakland, California. She will be starting her junior year at Trinity College in the fall. She is a history major with a focus in the 20th century. Callie’s advisor at Trinity recommended she apply for the Dangremond Museum Studies Internship at the CHS after discussing her interest in pursuing a career in the museum field.
About the Connecticut Historical Society
A private, nonprofit, educational organization established in 1825, the Connecticut Historical Society is the state’s official historical society and one of the oldest in the nation. Located at 1 Elizabeth Street in Hartford, the CHS houses a museum, library, and the Edgar F. Waterman Research Center that are open to the public and funded by private contributions. The CHS’s collection includes more than 4 million manuscripts, graphics, books, artifacts, and other historical materials accessible at our campus and on loan at other organizations.
The CHS collection, programs and exhibits help Connecticut residents connect with each other, have conversations that shape our communities, and make informed decisions based on our past and present.