The Unknown Skills of a Curator

Dozer Mannequin

WWII mannequin, Elmer,  working the dozer in the WWII Pacific Roads exhibit (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

When you hear the title museum curator, many thoughts may come to mind of the duties and qualities possessed by these museum professionals; preserves and interprets history, handles donations, designs exhibits, and lives a life similar to Indiana Jones or Lara Croft.  Although most of these are true (unfortunately not so much the life of Indiana Jones), did you know that many curators in small to medium sized museums install their own exhibits with the help of other staff members? We do not sit behind a desk all day. We can be found behind the scenes in our storage facilities or on the exhibit floor cleaning objects, mounting label copy, measuring pathways for accessibility, choosing colors, moving cases, and installing objects up until the moment new exhibits open and thereafter! Our work never ceases.

One of the many unknown skills museum curators possess is the ability to work with museum mannequins. This may not sound challenging, but the length of time it takes to undress mannequins, clean historical clothing, redress new mannequins, and pose them is daunting. Some of the tasks include; attaching their arms and legs, dressing the mannequins, stuffing their shirts to give them muscles and definition, and even giving a few haircuts! The hardest part of working with mannequins is posing them to become a part of the exhibit. The process of making a mannequin look natural in their pose is time consuming. Although some mannequins are considered flexible, it usually takes two to three staff members or volunteers to pose a mannequin into a position and then it takes a lot of small movements and different angles to make them look natural in their pose. Other mannequins which are meant to stand must be mounted on platforms with belts around their waists and then attached to the wall behind them so they do not fall over and hurt other artifacts or museum visitors.  

Working with mannequins is fun and entertaining, but also a lot of hard work. Who would have thought I would need to know how to tie a necktie or give haircuts as a curator? Unfortunately, these are not skills usually taught in a master’s program for museum studies,  but these are all great skills I am happy to have! So the next time you visit the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum and notice the posed mannequins around the museum, you now know how much time, effort, and care goes into creating a museum exhibit for our patrons to enjoy.

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