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Woman with short brown hair wearing track jacket smiles toward camera
Lyn St. James, photographed by Michelle Andonian, 2008 / THF58574

Racing Career


Lyn St. James was watching from afar when Janet Guthrie was trying to break into Indy car and stock car racing. At the time, St. James was a part-time competitor chasing a Sports Car Club of America road-racing national championship in a Ford Pinto.

“I was excited and pumped about my racing, and I watched her on the television and thought, ‘God, she’s struggling and nobody wants her there,’” St. James recalled. “She didn’t smile very much, and it made me say, ‘Why would I want to do that? Why would I want to put myself in that kind of situation when I was having so much fun?’”

White and black helmet with dark visor and red trim; also contains text
This racing helmet worn by Lyn St. James is going on display in Driven to Win: Racing in America. / THF176437

In the early 1980s, Kelly Services sponsored the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) American Challenge championship and paid bonuses to female drivers. St. James parlayed an opportunity in that series, along with a chance encounter with legendary Ford executive Walter Hayes, into a highly successful relationship with Ford that produced six wins in IMSA competitions, including class victories at Daytona and Sebring, prior to shifting her focus to Indy cars. She is also the only woman to win an IMSA GT race driving solo.

Smiling woman in a jumpsuit and baseball cap, with large medal around her neck, holds a trophy in one hand and makes a thumbs-up with the other, in front of a wall with Ford and Budweiser logos, among others
Lyn St. James at IMSA, Watkins Glen, NY, 1985 / THF69459

“I wanted to test-drive one, just to experience the peak of race car performance,” she said. “I was just in heaven. I had set speed records in a stock car at Talladega, and in comparison, it felt numb. Dick Simon [IndyCar team owner] was very supportive, and that was a turning point. I wrote to 150 companies over four years seeking support. J.C. Penney was the 151st, but the first one that said yes.”

Finally, in 1992, St. James became the first woman to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 since Guthrie last had, 15 years earlier. St. James finished 11th in the race, claiming Rookie of the Year honors (the first woman to do so). In 1994, she out-qualified reigning Indy car champion Nigel Mansell at Indy; she made a total of seven Indianapolis starts, with her last in 2000. She has been inducted into the Sports Car Club of America and the Florida Sports halls of fame, and held 21 international and national closed-circuit speed records over a 20-year period.

Collage with text and photos
Lyn St. James’s Indy 500 history from 1992 to 2000. / THF284826

Mentor of Motorsports


St. James still occasionally competes in vintage races, and in addition is a speaker, author, philanthropist, and coach, but spends most of her time mentoring female drivers. Her foundation’s driver development program has graduated more than 230 participants over the last 25 years, including then-future Indy car drivers Sarah Fisher and Danica Patrick.

Woman in blue jumpsuit stands behind a table, in front of a whiteboard, at the front of a room with young women sitting in school desks
Lyn St. James at her Complete Driver Academy, which provided a comprehensive education and training program for talented women race car drivers who aspired to attain the highest levels in motorsports, in Phoenix, Arizona in 2008 (photograph by Michelle Andonian). / THF58682

“It’s sad that leaders in motorsports have not figured out that the car levels the playing field for everyone,” St. James said. “The leaders have missed an opportunity to show how female involvement in racing really represents society. Women can perform and compete on an equal level.”

Involvement with The Henry Ford and

Driven to Win


In 2008, a small crew from The Henry Ford traveled to Phoenix, Arizona, to visit a race car driver academy for women. The institution, called Complete Driver Academy, was established by Lyn St. James in 1994 to help identify potential champion female drivers and provide the tools they needed to further their careers. The Henry Ford interviewed St. James there as part of its Visionaries on Innovation collection of video interviews, which also features other racing legends such as Mario Andretti.

Clear glass or lucite trophy with diagonal stripes, and two panels with an image of a man in an old-fashioned racing helmet and goggles and an antique car, and text
Lyn St. James’ 1992 Indianapolis 500 "Rookie of the Year" trophy will be on exhibit in Driven to Win. / THF176451


In addition to documenting St. James’ oral history, The Henry Ford has many artifacts from her racing career in its collections—some of which will be on display in the new Driven to Win: Racing in America permanent exhibition in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, where St. James is a showcased driver. “Lyn has been an adviser to the exhibit going back more than ten years,” said Curator of Transportation Matt Anderson. “From the start, she has offered her help and advice, including connecting us with innovators like motorsports training expert Jim Leo of PitFit Training in Indiana.”

Among the racing-related artifacts from St. James that will be on display in Driven to Win: her helmet, driving suit, HANS (head and neck support) device, and Rookie of the Year trophy from the 1992 Indy 500, where she became the first woman to win that title. You can also explore many more artifacts related to St. James’ career in our Digital Collections.


This post was adapted from an article by John Oreovicz that originally appeared in the January–May 2020 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

Henry Ford Museum, Driven to Win, women's history, The Henry Ford Magazine, racing, race car drivers, Indy 500, education, cars, by John Oreovicz

Woman in jumpsuit holding a helmet kneels on wood floor in a building next to low red race car with dramatic backlighting

Beth Paretta poses with the 1967 Ford Mark IV Race Car at The Henry Ford in 2018.

“When I was growing up, I had pictures of a Lamborghini Countach and Porsche 959 on my wall next to Duran Duran,” laughed Beth Paretta, the first female executive to lead a performance division for a major auto manufacturer.

After graduate school, Paretta took a job selling cars, then landed a management role with Volkswagen Credit. “That taught me the behind the scenes of the automotive business,” she shared. “It was a good opportunity to sit on all sides of the table, to figure out what the manufacturers and the dealers want, let alone the customers.”

She then spent four years as the U.S. operations manager for Aston Martin. Because the company was so small, this gave Paretta hands-on experience in every aspect of the business—a major factor why she was recruited by Ralph Gilles and the late Sergio Marchionne to lead the SRT brand when Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) spun it off as a separate “halo” division.

Running SRT brought responsibility for managing FCA’s American motorsports programs, taking Paretta’s life full circle. During her tenure, FCA drivers won multiple championships in NASCAR and International Motor Sports Association (IMSA). “Racing was a comfort for me since I was about 5 years old,” she said. “I found it weirdly soothing to watch, and I was mesmerized by it. At a basic level, I still find that. When I got involved, I loved solving business problems and figuring out how to do things better.”

Whether at VW, Aston, or FCA, Paretta often noticed something. “I spent much of my career sitting in meetings where I was the only woman at the table,” she said. “I’ll be honest, there were times at the beginning when I thought that was kind of cool. ‘Hey, look at me!’ But then I was like, ‘This isn’t cool at all. Why am I the only one here?’”

In 2015, Paretta formed Grace Autosport, using racing as a platform for encouraging young women to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers. She hopes to eventually field a car in IMSA or the Indianapolis 500 with a pioneering all-female team.

“Racing is the fuel that keeps the spotlight on what we are doing, but the important work is the education,” Paretta said. “We know we can affect a kid’s trajectory of what they want to do when they are 10-12 years old. That’s when you plant the real seed. Racing is fantastic because it demonstrates teamwork, and it’s applied STEM, or STEM in action.”


This post was adapted from an article by John Oreovicz that originally appeared in the January–May 2020 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

The Henry Ford Magazine, women's history, racing, education, cars, by John Oreovicz

Woman in racing jumpsuit holding helmet stands in race car on track with stands of people behind her
Janet Guthrie at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 1979 / detail from THF140173

After graduating from the University of Michigan, Janet Guthrie worked as an aerospace engineer while also serving as a pilot and flight instructor. But her passion was driving her Jaguar in Sports Car Club of America road races, and by the time she was 35, Guthrie was a full-time racer.

In 1976, she arrived at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) as a 38-year-old rookie with the eyes of the world upon her. Several prominent drivers publicly criticized her presence. "Most of the oval track drivers never had the experience of running with a woman driver, and they were sure they weren't going to like it," recalled Guthrie, now 81. "That got calmed down within the course of the races that I ran in 1976. But the public, I think, needed to be convinced."

When the controversial newcomer didn't find enough speed in her primary car, A.J. Foyt offered his spare Coyote, and Guthrie showed enough pace in practice to become the 500's first female qualifier. But that historic achievement would have to wait another year. "Those were the glory days of the Indy 500, with 85 cars entered, so qualifying for the first time was really a major moment of my life,” she said.

White or cream-colored glove with signature in blue ink in center of palm, mounted under glass in a black frame with a plaque containing text underneath
The autographed racing glove worn by Janet Guthrie in 1977, when she became the first woman to compete in the Indianapolis 500, will be on display in the Driven to Win: Racing in America exhibition in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. / THF166385

Guthrie's car broke early in the 1977 race, but more importantly, Indy's gender barrier had been broken. She returned to IMS a year later and drove to a ninth-place finish despite concealing a broken wrist. In all, Guthrie drove in 11 Indy car races between 1976 and 1979, earning a career best fifth-place finish at the Milwaukee Mile in her final open-wheel start. She also competed in 33 NASCAR Cup Series races in the same period, earning five top 10 finishes.

Besides being the first female to qualify and compete in both the Indy 500 and Daytona 500, Guthrie was inducted into the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame in 1980, the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2006, the Sports Car Club of America Hall of Fame in 2018, and the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2019.

In retrospect, Guthrie did much of the heavy lifting for the female drivers who followed her into the American motorsports arena. Respect for her achievements, from both a sporting and sociological standpoint, only increases with the passing of time. "The 'first woman' thing was more of a responsibility than anything," Guthrie said. "I think I took the heat, and then the drivers discovered that I was competitive, I was courteous and that I was getting the most out of my equipment."

Guthrie is convinced that a female circuit racer will one day demonstrate the kind of championship-winning success women have achieved in NHRA drag racing. "There's a lot of talent at the lower levels, and it all depends on who gets the chance," she said. "I'm sure that eventually we will see a woman win the Indianapolis 500, and similarly with the Daytona 500."


This post was adapted from an article by John Oreovicz that originally appeared in the January–May 2020 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

Henry Ford Museum, women's history, The Henry Ford Magazine, racing, race car drivers, Indy 500, Driven to Win, cars, by John Oreovicz

Man, woman, and two young girls sit and stand on a log in front of netting attached to a playground structure
Meera, Sri, Maya, and Sonia. Photo by EE Berger.

Four-year The Henry Ford members Meera Meerkov and Sri Maddipati and their young daughters appreciate the hands-on nature and historical authenticity of trains, tractors and centuries-old buildings brought to life.

When Meera Meerkov and Sri Maddipati and their eldest daughter Maya moved back to metro Detroit in 2015, a good friend brought them to Greenfield Village. The bond was immediate. For little Maya, it was the beginning of a long-term adoration of a train ride and a carousel—one she later passed on to her younger sister Sonia. For the adults, it was an initial astonishment and then an enduring appreciation for attractions built around actual historical structures within Greenfield Village. Amazement over a collection of presidential vehicles in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, added Meera, has also bloomed. And the girls can’t ever miss a bit of playtime at the water tower, in the boiler tunnel or on the 1931 Model AA truck in the village’s historically themed playscape.

Their must-dos:


Their favorite member perk: 

We love being able to stop in for a quick visit and keep up with new exhibits. There is always so much to do and see in both Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village.


What’s your spark? Let us know what inspires you on your next visit and what takes you forward from your membership. Email us at membership@thehenryford.org. Take it forward as a member—enjoy benefits like free parking, discounts on events and tours, exclusive member previews, and more.

This post was adapted from a page in the January-June 2021 issue of THF Magazine.

Greenfield Village, Henry Ford Museum, The Henry Ford Magazine

The Henry Ford acquires a poster portfolio as a way to document one of the largest protest movements in U.S. history

GIF with multiple images of posters with a few large bold words each
About half of the Signal-Return solidarity posters acquired by The Henry Ford.

Justice Can’t Wait,” “Make Good Trouble,” “No Justice No Peace.” These are just a few of the messages that appear in a collection of letterpress posters recently acquired from Signal-Return printshop by The Henry Ford. In the history of well-designed posters, brevity of words and a strong visual impact work together to communicate messages at a glance. Boldly capitalized, imprinted in flat black ink on brown or white chipboard by the embossing strike of a printing press—these posters are meant to generate a feeling of urgency.

In early June 2020, Detroit’s nonprofit letterpress organization Signal-Return responded to the civil unrest sparked by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others by producing free protest posters. The project was undertaken in solidarity with the principles behind the Black Lives Matter movement, with the intent that the posters would be carried by supporters in protests.

GIF with multiple images of posters with a few large bold words each
The remainder of the Signal-Return solidarity posters acquired by The Henry Ford.

Using social media to spread the word about their project, Signal-Return offered to create small batches of custom posters for the metro Detroit community, free of charge. As stated in their announcement, “The printing press has been, since its invention, a powerful tool of protest and an agent of change. Let us provide posters to aid in this effort.” Each recipient was asked to submit a concise five-word message through an online form. A few days later, the posters were ready for pickup “social distance style” across the roped-off front entry of the printshop. Many of these posters were visible throughout Detroit in the summer of 2020 at protests and taped to store windows, streetlight poles and freeway overpasses.

Storefront in brick building with posters hanging in windows and a table with bins of posters in front
Signal-Return Letterpress Shop, Detroit, Michigan, June 2020 / THF610910

By September 2020, Signal-Return’s director, Lynne Avadenka, counted a total of 168 individual requests. Some requests repeated popular protest language of the day, while others were entirely unique and personal. Thanks to Signal-Return’s donation, The Henry Ford has acquired a portfolio of 44 examples as a way to document one of the largest protest movements in the history of the United States. The method by which they were acquired—called “rapid response collecting” by museum professionals—allows museums to collect stories of current events and major moments in history as they unfold.


Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communications and Information Technology at The Henry Ford. This story was originally published in the January–May 2021 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine, available on Issuu.

The Henry Ford Magazine, Michigan, Detroit, communication, posters, by Kristen Gallerneaux, African American history, printing

Page with images of people and text

We are happy to announce that we have just published the January–May 2021 digital-only issue of The Henry Ford Magazine: The Connecting with Community Issue. The entire magazine is embedded below, or if the embed doesn’t work for you, it’s available on the digital magazine platform Issuu.

We’ve also provided an annotated contents list below to help you jump straight to the articles you might be most interested in.

Enjoy!

Continue Reading

by Ellice Engdahl, The Henry Ford Magazine

You’re in a nightclub. The cavernous space is packed with bodies moving in time to the pulsing, morphing rhythms of electronic music. On a small stage, a shadowy figure hunches over a laptop, typing furiously. Projected computer code scrolls down a wall, The Matrix-style, a digital flurry of numbers, words and brackets as synth sounds build and music loops modulate.

This scene could almost be a slick DJ club set, but there are no knobs, decks or instruments in sight. Yet the code is real, and it’s all live. 

This is the world of live-coding music, an art form in which performers create music by programming computers on the fly, in front of an audience, writing and revising instructions that trigger and manipulate sounds, rhythms and effects in real time.

THE MATH OF MUSIC
When it comes to expressing musical ideas, computer programming might seem an unlikely outlet. But computer science is grounded in math, and music, with all of its messy, imprecise human expression, is largely built on mathematical relationships — harmonic structure, rhythmic patterns, and at its most fundamental, the unique combinations of sine waves that make up the sounds all around you, from birdsong to the roar of a jet engine. 

We’ve been exploring parallels between music and math since the days of Pythagoras. Today, musicians and composers are able to use computers as tools to interpret and express these values and relationships.

“It’s clearer through coding that music can be expressed as essentially patterns of numbers that are processed and transformed in various ways — and that we can add expressivity by changing the sounds we are using and shaping the structure of our sounds,” said Shelly Knotts, a composer, experimental artist and live coder in the United Kingdom.

As a live coder learns to anticipate these mathematical relationships, his or her ears learn to “hear” the relationships, much like in traditional music theory training. Live coders often write code that they can hear in their heads — which, at a fundamental level, relates to Beethoven’s ability to continue composing even after he had completely lost his hearing.

BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS

Live-coding languages and styles vary. Most performers create music entirely on the fly, constructing ideas from scratch; a few mix in precoded elements, DJ-style. But they all embrace the movement’s overarching philosophy that live coding should be inclusive and accessible to everyone. 

For most live coders, exposing their code is part of the performance and serves to demystify their process, forging a connection with the artist through his or her “instrument,” explained Sam Aaron, a British researcher, software architect, educator and live coder. “Why is it important for a guitarist to let you see his or her guitar? People have all held guitars; most of us are not very good at it, so when you see someone who’s good at it, you can appreciate the virtuosity.”

There’s no denying that projecting computer code adds a compelling visual element to a performance, but if you’re not paying attention to the language itself, you’re missing the point. “It’s like saying Jimi Hendrix made amazing music, but he had a fabulous wooden necklace,” added Aaron.

Live coding challenges preconceived ideas about the programmer’s experience by bringing a traditionally solitary process into a participatory realm. “It’s like writing, really; you don’t generally write in a social way,” said British musician and researcher Alex McLean, member of the live-coding band Slub and cofounder of TOPLAP, an organization formed in 2004 to bring live-coding communities together. “I think live coding is not necessarily showing programmers as something different, but rather a different way of interacting with the computer; it’s very different, working alone on a piece of text and having people in front of you, listening intently,” added McLean, who is also credited with co-inventing the algorave, a rave-like club event based around live coding.

Since its inception about 15 years ago, live-coding culture has been rooted largely in Europe and the U.K., but the movement is slowly building international interest through festivals and other live events, long-distance collaborations over video and social media, and creative partnerships with more mainstream artists. But the most powerful force for longevity is education, and right now, it’s Aaron holding the key.

CRACKING THE CODE
“I want to make sure the leap from code to music is as small as possible and as clear and simple to as many people as possible,” said Aaron, a passionate advocate for unearthing the creative potential of programming languages. He spends his days as a researcher at the University of Cambridge in England and his nights performing live coding. 

In 2012, Aaron created Sonic Pi, a simple yet powerful open-source programming environment designed to enable users at any level to learn programming by creating music and vice versa. Sonic Pi is used all over the world; it runs on any computer platform including Raspberry Pi, the $40 credit card-sized computer designed for DIY projects and for promoting computer science in schools and developing countries. 

“Music really helps by wrapping the math concepts and computer science concepts into something that has direct meaning to kids, which is making music,” Aaron said. “And making the kind of music, hopefully, that they listen to on the radio or stream.” 

The case for building these new learning paths to computer science is strong. Understanding basic programming improves logical thinking and provides a fundamental understanding of technology we use every day.

“Teaching people what coding is — how precise a language has to be for a computer to understand it — gives people an appreciation of an execution of semantics in a program, affordances of a system, interaction with a system,” said Aaron. “People are telling kids to learn how to program because they can become professional programmers. It’s like saying we should all do sports in school so we can become professional athletes. You don’t teach math because you’re training the future mathematicians. There’s a level of math that’s useful to all of our lives."

Sarah Jones is a writer for The Henry Ford Magazine. This story originally ran in the March-May 2017 issue.

The Henry Ford Magazine

Glass Gallery x2

February 15, 2017 Archive Insight
glassgallery
With the Davidson-Gerson Modern Glass Gallery opening in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation last fall, Greenfield Village is the site for the next chapter in this exhibit's story.

The Davidson-Gerson Modern Glass Gallery is in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. It opened in October 2016. The Davidson Gerson Gallery of Glass is in Greenfield Village’s Liberty Craftworks District. Its grand opening is set for spring 2017.

Both galleries provide an in-depth look at the American glass story. The museum gallery focuses specifically on the studio glass movement of the 1960s, while the village gallery, supported by the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs, surveys the history of American glass, ranging from 18th-century colonial glass through 20th-century mainstream glass as well as studio glass.

Charles Sable, curator of decorative arts, was tasked with updating and reinterpreting The Henry Ford’s American glass collection. He envisioned creating an all-new gallery adjacent to the museum’s Glass Shop in the Liberty Craftworks District of Greenfield Village — a place to exhibit portions of the institution’s 10,000 glass artifacts currently in storage. His vision intersected with that of collectors Bruce and Ann Bachmann, who were seeking to donate their 300-piece studio glass collection.

According to Sable, the studio glass movement, which began in the early 1960s, is recognized as a turning point in the history of glass, as artists explored the qualities of the medium in a studio environment. Their goal was to create fine art. Evolving over a 20-year period, the movement matured in the 1980s with artists producing a myriad of unique works.

While other museums were interested in the Bachmann collection, it was The Henry Ford that garnered the collectors’ full attention and eventually their generous donation. “The Bachmanns had very specific criteria for their collection,” said Sable. “They were looking for an institution that was in an urban area, preferably in the Midwest where they live, had a large visitation, and was capable of exhibiting and maintaining the collection.

“As Bruce told me, it was a good marriage. He felt his collection would live here in perpetuity,” added Sable. 

The story of the studio glass movement is now on permanent exhibition in the DavidsonGerson Modern Glass Gallery, which is located in the museum space that once showcased The Henry Ford’s silver and pewter collections. “Our exhibit is a deep dive into how studio glass unfolded,” said Sable. “It’s the story of the combination of science and art that created a new and innovative chapter in the history of glass.” 

The exhibition also looks at the impact of studio glass on everyday life and includes a section on mass-produced glass influenced by studio glass and sold today by retailers such as Crate and Barrel, Pier 1 Imports and others. 

Once the new Davidson-Gerson Gallery of Glass in Greenfield Village opens this spring, thousands of visitors will have an added opportunity to see larger-scale studio glass pieces from the Bachmann collection as well as the evolution of American glass. 

DID YOU KNOW?
The Bachmann studio glass collection includes representation of every artist of importance in the movement, including Harvey Littleton, Dominick Labino, Dale Chihuly, Lino Tagliapietra, Laura Donefer and Toots Zynsky.

The gallery is a careful redesign of the McDonald & Sons Machine Shop in the Liberty Craftworks District.

BY THE NUMBERS

180: The number of glass artifacts on display in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation’s Davidson-Gerson Modern Glass Gallery.
155: The number of artists represented in the Bachmann studio glass collection.
300: The number of studio glass pieces in the Bachmann collection

philanthropy, art, Decorative Arts, Greenfield Village, Henry Ford Museum, glass, The Henry Ford Magazine

THF49061
Dress, circa 1835, once owned by author and illustrator Tasha Tudor. THF49064

Way back when, making clothing was a household enterprise. Many families raised the raw materials and did much of the labor-intensive spinning, weaving and hand-sewing to produce the clothing they needed. Textiles were precious, and most people had only a few garments. Today, clothing is a massive commercial operation — it’s all about us going off-site or online and searching out ready-to-wear from hundreds of factory-made items hanging on hundreds of racks or presented as seemingly endless choices on websites. Here are some of the tools of the garment trade that got us from in-house to in-store, all part of The Henry Ford Archive of American Innovation.

THE WALKING WHEEL
In the 1760s, rural families would spin wool (from sheep raised on-site) on a walking wheel inside the home, creating yarn eventually woven into cloth for making their own clothing.
Where can you see one? Walking Wheel, Daggett Farmhouse, Greenfield Village

THF49064

ROLLER PRINTING

The process of printing designs on textiles, shown above, using a cylinder made these fabrics much more affordable and fueled demand. By the 1830s, New England textile factories were producing a staggering 120 million yards of cotton prints each year.

THF154874
Howe Sewing Machine, 1854-1857. THF154874

THE SEWING MACHINE
Sewing machines began to transform the process of sewing clothing during the late 1840s. While it might take 14 hours to sew a man’s dress shirt by hand, it would only take an hour by sewing machine.

THF123321
R.S. Bailey’s New Combination System for Ladies and Children’s Waists, Basques, Sacques and Patterns, patented 1888.  THF123321


THE DRESS PATTERN
Commercial dress patterns made planning and cutting out a garment much easier. These patterns gave people a guide to making the correct cuts, sized from small child to adult. 

THE POWER LOOM
The power loom industrialized textile weaving during the early Industrial Revolution, automating the process of weaving and dramatically reducing the need for the skilled human hand. It took decades and a cast of innovators to perfect this technology.

This story originally ran in the June-December issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

The Henry Ford Magazine

A Wardrobe Workshop

September 2, 2016 Think THF
presenter2-680x1024

Greenfield Village and you can’t help but notice the clothing. From the colonialera linen garments worn by the Daggett Farmhouse staff as they go about their daily chores to the 1920s flapperstyle dresses donned by the village singers, or even the protective clothing worn by the pottery shop staff in the Liberty Craftworks district — all outfits in Greenfield Village are designed to add to the guest experience. In many cases, these tangible elements help accurately showcase the time period being interpreted. 

“Clothing is such a big part of history,” said Tracy Donohue, general manager of The Henry Ford’s Clothing Studio, which creates most of The Henry Ford’s reproduction apparel and textiles for daily programs as well as seasonal events. “It’s a huge part of how we live even today. The period clothing we provide helps bring to life the stories we tell in the village and enhances the experience for our visitors.”

The Clothing Studio is tucked away on the second floor of Lovett Hall. It provides clothing for nearly 800 people a year in accurate period garments, costumes and uniforms, and covers more than 250 years of fashion — from 1760 to the present day — making the studio one of the premier museum period clothing and costume shops in the country. 

The scope and flow of work in the studio is immense, from outfitting staff and presenters for the everyday to clothing hundreds for extra seasonal programs such as Historic Base Ball, Hallowe’en and Holiday Nights. Work on the April opening of Greenfield Village, for example, begins before the Holiday Nights program ends in December, with the sewing of hundreds of stock garments and accessories in preparation for hundreds of fitting sessions for new and current employees.

THF-Presenter-at-Greenfield-Village5

“When it comes to historic clothing, our goal is to create garments accurate to the period — what our research indicates people in that time and place wore,” said Donohue. “For our group, planning for Hallowe’en is an especially fun challenge. We have more creative license with costumes for this event than we typically do with our daily period clothing.” 

For Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village, the studio staff researches new characters and can work on the design and development for more elaborate wearables for months. In addition to new costume creation, each year existing outfits are refreshed and/or reinvented. Last year, for example, the studio added the Queen of Hearts, Opera Clown and a number of other new characters to the Hallowe’en catalog. Plus, they freshened the look of the beloved dancing skeletons and the popular pirates.

Historic clothing, period photographs, prints, trade catalogs and magazines from the Archive of American Innovation provide a wealth of on-site resources to explore the styles, clothing construction and fabrics worn by people decades or centuries ago. Each year, Jeanine Head Miller, curator of domestic life, and Fran Faile, textile conservator, host the studio’s talented staff for a field trip to the collections storage area for an up-close look at original clothing from a variety of time periods. 

“Getting the details right really matters,” Miller said. “Clothing is part of the powerful immersive experience we provide in Greenfield Village. Having people in accurate period clothing in the homes and the buildings helps our visitors understand and immerse themselves in the past, and think about how it connects to their own lives today.” 

Did You Know?
The Clothing Studio has a comprehensive computerized inventory management system, which tracks close to 50,000 items.

During each night of Hallowe’en, Clothing Studio staff are on call, checking on costumed presenters throughout the evening to ensure they look their best.

What They're Wearing Under There
At Greenfield Village, costume accuracy goes well beyond what’s on the surface. Depending on the time period they’re interpreting, women may also wear chemises, corsets and stays.

“Our presenters have a lot of pride in wearing the clothing and wearing it correctly,” said Donohue.

While the undergarments function in the service of historic accuracy, corsets also provide back support and chemises help absorb sweat. Natural fibers in cotton fabrics breathe, so they’re often cooler to wear than modern-day synthetic fabrics. And when the weather runs to extreme cold conditions, layers of period-appropriate outerwear help keep village staff warm. The staff at the Clothing Studio also sometimes turns to a few of today’s tricks to keep staff comfortable. Wind- and water-resistant performance fabrications are often built into Hallowe’en costumes to offer a level of protection from outdoor elements.

“It can be 100 degrees in the summer and 10 degrees on a cold Holiday Night,” Donohue said. “Our staff is out in the elements, and they still have to look amazing. We care about the look and overall visual appearance of the outfit, of course, but we also care about the person wearing it.” 

From The Henry Ford Magazine. This story originally ran in the June-December 2016 issue.

The Henry Ford Magazine