The Six Weeks to Showtime

by Anne Motto, Curator of Collections
May 2, 2022

Ever wondered what goes into the installation of an exhibit? As MCHS prepared for our current exhibit,¬†From the Waist Up: Bodices, Vest & Jackets, 1840-1920, Acorn Hall’s exhibit galleries transformed over a whirlwind 6 weeks from a sea of boxes to an array of fitted and accessorized mannequins ready for their time to shine! In the honor of the formal opening this Mother’s Day (bring Mom!), here’s a quick peek of how it all came together.

Special thanks to MCHS Volunteer Paula Scerbo for all her assistance.


In the months leading up to the exhibit, over 100 bodices were earmarked for potential inclusion and sized to a mannequin.

Installation began with final sizings and bodice selections. All the planning in the world won’t ward off at least a few last minute surprises!

Each mannequin was fitted to the garment (not the other way around). As every bodice was custom sewn to fit a specific person, they all had their own sizing quirks that needed to be addressed. Sometimes that was just giving the mannequin arms, and sometimes that was building a whole new (tiny) adult woman from an infant mannequin. Nothing some MacGyvering won’t fix! (We like to call it “museum magic.”)

Places everyone! Pairing the right bodices together can really help them sing, such as how the blue 1860s bodice really helps to make the blue in the 1880s plaid pop.

Thirteen brand new custom stands built by Facilities Manager Gary Rintz made their debut in this exhibit. With their assitance, we are able to display not only 50 garments, but also 190 accessories from hats to parasols to bangle bracelets.

To look their best and help give them the proper shape, some ladies needed some “mini skirts” sewn by Collections Assistant Noel Grabow. One man’s vest even needed a pair of faux pants.

With garments ready, it was time for the accessories! Almost every hat, purse, parasol, fan, brooch, necklace, and glove in MCHS’s collection will be included in one of the exhibit’s two phases. (Phase 2 coming this Fall!)

Last garment adjustments. Complete ensembles from the 1850s and 1910s were chosen for inclusion to help illustrate what many of the bodices would have looked like with their skirts. Hoops, by the way, are very challenging to get right. Pardon me, madam.

Meanwhile, MCHS Research Assistant Erin Feith ensured every bodice was looking its very best.

MCHS Volunteer Nancy Cooper loaned her expertise and antique jewelry to give the exhibit sparkle.

Lights, labels, action! With the addition of artwork as a final touch, exhibit labels, and lighting adjustments, the exhibit was complete. Phew!