All About the Details

October 14th, 2016by Guest Blogger Filed under: Exhibitions, Stories

As a preview to the opening of Making Mainbocher: The First American Couturier, volunteer Kristin Bernstein explains the process behind building props and determining accessories for the mannequins featured in the exhibition.

In Making Mainbocher, mannequins are dressed from head to toe and no detail is lost. A gifted sketch artist who defined luxury in the early twentieth century, Mainbocher often included accessories in many of his fashion designs to present a polished, comprehensive look to his clients. To evoke his elegant style in this exhibition, a team of volunteers and contracted specialists custom built props for each mannequin and object, including paper wigs, ribbon shoes, and even prop dresses. Similar to the background of a painted portrait, exhibition props are included to support and complement an object—rather than draw attention, they subtly add to the visual experience. These details elevate Mainbocher’s designs in the hopes that the mannequins embody his full vision.

An example of how paper wigs and ribbon shoes can fill in a mannequin’s blank presence. Behind-the-scenes photographs taken by CHM staff

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Chicago and the Rise of Gay Politics

September 20th, 2016by Gary Johnson Filed under: Stories

In his Author! Author! blog series, Museum president Gary T. Johnson highlights works that draw on our collection.


Timothy Stewart-Winter. Queer Clout: Chicago and the Rise of Gay Politics. Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press (2016).

“The path of gays and lesbians to political power led through city hall and developed primarily in response to the constant threat of arrest under which they lived.” With this thesis, Timothy Stewart-Winter offers a carefully-researched and richly-textured account of rising gay political power in postwar Chicago. Students of urban history will find familiar themes, such as the politics of a group that migrated to the city. Students of the civil rights movement will recognize their own patterns of movement politics playing out in a different setting. Well-known political figures have roles, such as Alderman Cliff Kelley, an African American who allied with LGBT communities. Mayor Richard M. Daley’s relations with those communities were bumpy at first, but by 1991 he was hosting the induction ceremony for the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame, the first event of its kind in an American city. While the author weaves his account into the political life of the city, he brilliantly pieces together the stories of the communities themselves, with milestones such as the portrayal of the gay and lesbian political “Gang of Four” on the cover of the Chicago Tribune Magazine’s February 7, 1993 edition. Archival and oral history resources in the hands of an expert researcher made this book possible, but when scholars in other cities follow Stewart-Winter’s lead, as I know they will, I wonder what resources will be available to them. Again, the LGBT community might look to the African American community for a model. There, they will find The History Makers, which has built the nation’s largest African American video oral history collection.

> Learn more about Chicago’s gay and lesbian rights movements

Managing Collections Storage

August 12th, 2016by Guest Blogger Filed under: Collections, Stories

Senior collection manager Britta Keller Arendt explains how the collections staff keeps track of our artifacts.

One question that Museum staff are frequently asked is “How many artifacts do you have in there?”, which is quickly followed by “How do you keep track of them all?”

Senior collection manager Britta Keller Arendt and collections technician Serena B. Washington demonstrate proper handling of heavy artifacts to collections interns. All photographs by CHM staff.

The answers to these questions are complex and vary with each institution, but here at the Chicago History Museum, we have a dedicated team of collections professionals who work tirelessly to preserve the physical and intellectual integrity of the artifacts both on exhibit and in our storage facilities. Museums don’t have the space or resources to display every single artifact, so managing storage facilities is imperative to preserving collections. CHM is fortunate to be able to store a variety of artifacts—such as costumes, paintings, and decorative and industrial arts—on-site as well as at two off-site locations.

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I Got Rhythm: Art and Jazz since 1920

June 7th, 2016by Gary Johnson Filed under: Stories

In his Author! Author! blog series, Museum president Gary T. Johnson highlights works that draw on our collection.

I Got Rhythm

Ulrike Groos and Sven Beckstette. I Got Rhythm: Art and Jazz since 1920 / Kunst und Jazz Seit 1920. Stuttgart, Prestel (2015).

Ulrike Groos is the director of the Kunstmuseum in Stuttgart, Germany, and this is the catalogue from the museum’s exhibition “that exemplifies the close connection between jazz and the fine arts.” The timing of the exhibition has a Chicago connection: “100 years ago, on July 11, 1915, a daily newspaper in Chicago published an article in which the term ‘jazz’ appeared probably for the first time in connection with the Afro‐American music style of the same name.”

Women Who Changed the World

May 23rd, 2016by Gary Johnson Filed under: Stories

In his Author! Author! blog series, Museum president Gary T. Johnson highlights works that draw on our collection.

Laurie Calkhoven. Women Who Changed the World: 50 Amazing Americans. New York: Scholastic (2015).

This is a book for children that, not surprisingly these days, includes an edition on Kindle. Among the fifty women is Chicago’s Jane Addams.