Lucarelli receives grant to inventory School of Theatre’s Fashion Archive

Nurse uniform from circa 1910 being photographed in a photo studio

Carolyn Lucarelli, manager of the Center for Virtual/Material Studies (CVMS) in the College of Arts and Architecture, has received the 2022 Visual Resources Association (VRA) Project Grant. She will use the $3,000 grant to create a digital inventory of the Fashion Archive in collaboration with co-principal investigator Charlene Gross, assistant professor of costume design in the Penn State School of Theatre.

The Fashion Archive was established by Suzanne Elder in 2012 with a College of Arts and Architecture Innovations and Initiatives Grant. With approximately 3,000 items, the archive features an array of clothing and other ephemera of fashion, including fashion magazines, pattern books, personal photos and correspondences, and advertisements from as early as the 1850s to the present. This hands-on collection is used by students, faculty, and staff to study the historical significance, cultural heritage, and technical specifications for designing and producing historically accurate costumes.

During the fall 2022 semester, with funding from the grant, an undergraduate student will assign identification numbers using the CostumeCore standard while photographing and documenting each item.

“The Fashion Archive provides students access to extant garments that best exemplify the silhouette, fabric, and details of given periods. It has been used frequently by classes at both the graduate and undergraduate level in costume design and technology,” said Gross. “This archive has the potential to serve as a rich resource not only for the entire Penn State community, but also scholars, artists, designers, and other interested researchers. It remains underutilized because of its limited access. The collection is currently open to in-person appointments only, and it lacks any form of publicly accessible database.”

Lucarelli agrees the project will allow more people to take advantage of a valuable yet under-used resource.

We are excited about the potential of this project to increase awareness of the Fashion Archive and to offer community and scholarly access to this valuable hidden resource." -Carolyn Lucarelli

A complete digital inventory that follows museum standards is an important step in the plan for the Fashion Archive. In addition to the inventory, the team is currently working to create digital showcases of the items. A selection of the archive’s linen garments, dating from the 1890s to the 1960s, will be part of a virtual exhibition that includes 360-degree and still photography, in-depth metadata, and information on the materials used in constructing the garments. This will serve as a test for the long-term goal of creating an open-access collection catalog of the entire Fashion Archive, which would also offer patterns of select garments available as downloadable PDFs to reproduce them.

This project is part of a larger research initiative of the CVMS focusing on “Fabrication: Virtual and Material Approaches to Global Textiles.” In addition to Lucarelli and Gross, the project team includes Catherine Adams, CVMS digital support specialist; Sarah K. Rich, CVMS director and associate professor of art history; and Cody Goddard, multimedia specialist, Office of Digital Learning in the College of Arts and Architecture.

“We are so pleased that Carolyn’s grant will promote the work of the CVMS and its partnerships with fascinating collections like the Fashion Archive,” said Rich.

For more on the VRA, visit its website.

Image, by Cody Goddard: Linen nurse uniform (1910-1930) on turntable for 360-degree photography in Goddard’s studio.