Petra Slinkard, Curator of Costume, Chicago History Museum.
I did a profile on Petra Slinkard last week, the interview was very long and fascinating so I wanted to explore it further I am continuing it today. Petra is devoted to her family and friends as well as being totally committed to being the”keeper” of the Costume Collection at the Chicago History Museum (CHM). It is my pleasure to continue to work with her in my position as the Historian of the Costume Council of CHM. We both feel we make a great team. Here, in Petra’s words, is the continuation of her story I know you will enjoy her journey and be ecstatic at our luck in having her as our Curator!
At sunset, Petra with her Mother, at her Mother’s wedding.
I won the Otto Thieme Memorial Internship Scholarship awarded by Costume Society of America my first year of graduate school. Yet another example of how one moment can change the direction of your life. The award enabled me to choose a Museum to work with for the summer. Due to my geographic location, I chose the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA). My summer was filled with conducting research on wedding dresses for an approaching exhibition, conducting an inventory and taking photos of the collection. It was heaven. I really enjoyed my time at the IMA and was lucky to work with Niloo Paydar (Curator of Textile and Fashion Arts) who offered a job the following summer. That summer was dedicated to preparing objects for deaccessioning. It was tedious, painstakingly precise work, but the experience paid off. I learned so much about the legal end of Museum administration than I could have ever learned in school. After that, I finished graduate school and taught as an Adjunct at IU in their Apparel Merchandising department (now SOAD – School of Art & Design). Again, another super valuable experience. I learned a lot from working with the students and honed my skills (I taught textile science).
But after seven years in Bloomington, I was ready to have another experience. So I moved to NYC on a whim and $1000 and tried out a new life. This life didn’t include anything pertaining to the arts or museums, but it was a very treasured experience for me in regard to personal growth. But, after a while, I grew antsy and started to seriously look for employment in the Museum field. I applied at the Mint Museum, the Met – if there was a position open, I applied. As luck would have it, a teaching position called me back to the Midwest (it was an interview with the Cincinnati Art Institute) and while driving to Ohio my former boss, Ms. Paydar called to offer me a position. It was only a contract position to work with LACMA’s traveling exhibition, Breaking the Mode: Contemporary Couture from the Permanent collection, but those 8 months turned into 6 years. While employed at the IMA I contributed to exhibitions on Halston, Dior, An American Legacy (posted photos previously), Body Unbound, and Gravity’s Loom, a contemporary exhibition. It was an excellent time to be at the Museum. I had a large group of supportive colleagues and the Museum was positioned to promote stimulating and engaging installations. Another aspect of my position for which I am very proud was my work as a liaison between the Museum and the fashion community. During my six years, I planned three major fashion shows featuring the work of national and international artists. It was a true labor of love and I met so many wonderfully talented people. And, the show still goes on! I truly learned so much and greatly value that experience.
When I read that the position at CHM opened, I knew I needed to apply. It would be a dream come true, to work with this collection and have the opportunity to see my own visions come to light. I was a bit shocked and quite honored to be offered the job. When I began in September 2013, I hit the ground running. There was no collection manager (thankfully we hired an exceptional talent, Jessica Pushor to start about 4 months after me (she really is my right-hand woman), and I needed to get to know the collection, propose a show
Jessica Pushor in Making Mainbocher The First American Couturier exhibit. Photo by
Nena Ivon with iPhone.
and mount an exhibition to open the following November. Let me tell you, it was a whirlwind. I was getting to know my new city, adjusting to a new work environment, meeting new people left and right and trying to absorb as much information as I possibly could about this enormous collection. The challenge was to balance planning an exhibition that honored the legacy of the Museum’s Costume Council with a greater Chicago story. My solution was to tell the story of the development of Michigan Avenue through the lens of the clothing collected post 1974 (the year the Costume Council was founded) and represent as many leaders within the organization as I possibly could. The show was small in size, but I think the stories that emerge from the display of the garments appealed to a great number of people. There are not many fashion exhibitions told from the perspective of urban planning.
Part of the Chicago Styled: Fashioning the Magnificent Mile
exhibition, highlighting some of the pieces in the exhibition purchased at Saks Fifth Avenue, Chicago. Nena’s Bonnie Cashin’s aqua ensemble to the left. Photo taken by Nena Ivon with iPhone.
The next exhibition (which opened in October 2016) was proposed in early 2015. Due to gallery size and the Museum’s exhibition history, I thought we should showcase the work of Mainbocher. It was a challenge though. We were all concerned about centering an exhibition on an individual who one, very few people knew, and two, whose name was difficult to know how to pronounce right off the bat. However, once the show came together (which took a tremendous amount of work and the dedication of a very talented team of Museum staffers and volunteers) I am proud to say, it seemed like the right choice. I am so pleased by how many people comment that they knew nothing of Mainbocher before visiting the Museum and in addition, how fascinated they are by his story. Which we owe all to him! He did live a fascinating life. That, and the fact that this exceptionally talented, successful, and highly influential man was born and raised in Chicago and never actively sought to distance himself from the city. This aspect of his story made it all that much more special for the Chicago History Museum to be able to share his story.
Both above photos from the Making Mainbocher The First American Couturier
exhibition taken by Nena Ivon with iPhone.
I love what I do and am proud to work with this phenomenal collection. Almost weekly we host a range of visitors to the Museum, either to tour exhibitions or costume storage.
In storage looking at a Charles Frederick Worth ensemble with the winners of the 2015 Driehaus Design Initiative.
Petra and Ishan Johnson, CHM Auxiliary Groups Coordinator, with Chicago rapper, Boy Illinois, one of the winners of the first Costume Council Best Dressed Men’s Fashion Award in 2016.
Design students and scholars from all over the world access the collection, which in turn further promotes Chicago’s rich history and fashion scholarship. Professionals also seek out the collection from time to time. We have hosted Hamish Bowles, Bob Mackie, Andrew Gn, Brandon Maxwell, Hal Rubenstein and Maria Guilia Maramotti, Director of US Retail and Global Brand Ambassador for MaxMara just to name a few. We also frequently lend our pieces to exhibitions across the globe, from the V&A to the de Young to St. Louis. This is another way in which we can share the collection. It is a tremendous amount of work, but that is just it, I never wake in the morning and truly feel like “I’m going to work”. Who could ask for more?
Petra’s Shared Links
School of Art and Design, IU
Costume Society of America
Textile and Fashion Arts collection at IMA
First IMA fashion show (this was a zero budget show which saw over 1000 people attend. We had to do an impromptu second performance to allow for all the guests to see.
Pattern (Indianapolis based fashion collective with whom I was, and am still active)
Chicago History Costume Collection
Costume Council of the Chicago History Museum
Chicago Styled: Fashioning the Magnificent Mile
Making Mainbocher | The First American Couturier
Vogue Article on MB
All photos courtesy of Petra Slinkard unless otherwise noted.
Petra’s Corn Fritters
3 ears fresh corn
150 grams all-purpose flour
1 half green pepper, thinly sliced
1 half red pepper, thinly sliced
2 stalks scallion, thinly sliced
10 shallots, minced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground pepper
1 tablespoon of yellow curry sauce (Trader Joe’s has a good one)
A dash of hot sauce (chef’s choice)
300 ml water
enough oil for deep frying
Stand each ear of corn up in a bowl and use a knife to scrape off the kernels. Throw away the cobs.
Add the rest of the ingredients except the oil and mix well into a thick batter.
Heat oil to 170 Celcius (340 Fahrenheit) for deep frying.
Using a laddle, drop spoonful of batter into the hot oil and fry until batter turns golden brown, about 2-3 minutes each side. Drain and cool on a wiring rack. Repeat until all batter has been used up. Serve hot with a side of black beans and rice, or jasmine rice, a dollop of sour cream, dot of hot sauce and garnish with cilantro or chives.
These also keep very well and are good cold, as an on the go snack cold