Blogs, and the digital world in general, are concerned, mostly, with the ‘here and now’ or the ‘what ifs’ of the future. The Net is about immediacy, the present and, also, the possibilities of tomorrow. It is slightly incongruous, and perhaps somewhat remiss on my part, then, to delve backwards. But! Go back, I will…just this once.
This blog entry is about playing catch up and reporting news from the past. Am I ‘shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted’? I hope not. Well, not entirely. There are a couple of highlights from last year, back in 2014, that are worth recording and relate fairly squarely to the premise of my blog: that is, to communicate about my research travels and archive visits, particularly to, and in, the States. I was lucky enough to make three trips to the US last year:
1. The first, as regular followers of The Style Stakes will know only too well, was my 3-month long fellowship at the Bard Graduate Center, NYC. And I recorded those adventures in detail in my several blog entries below. An overview of my research project at the Bard is here.
2. Only a couple of months later, in March 2014, I found myself on another Trans-Atlantic flight, this time headed to Washington DC, and, to my ultimate destination of Middleburg, Virginia. I was thrilled to have accepted an invitation back to my old ‘stamping ground’ of the National Sporting Library and Museum (NSL&M). The museum was hosting a symposium on side-saddle riding to accompany the ‘Riding Aside By the Book’ exhibition. I gave a lecture (titled, ‘Mad Caps and Mannequins: Equestrian Fashion in the NSL&M Collection’) in the splendid surroundings of the Founder’s Room, bedecked (the room, not I) with equestrian treasures, paraphernalia and artworks. Whilst there, it was also very satisfying to be able to present the NSL&M with a freshly-published book from Routledge that featured a chapter (‘A Dashing, Positively Smashing Spectacle’) I’d written on some of the glorious holdings in their collection. The NSL&M have been very supportive of my work ever since I was a Daniels Fellow with them in 2011. The staff are enthusiastic, knowledgeable, generous and wonderfully hospitable, and I enjoyed the opportunity to spend time with them again. Along with the symposium, I was able to squirrel a couple of days in their archives during my trip and I seized the opportunity to do more work with the specialist collections on riding, horses and sport. And, while I was in ‘the stacks’ (the book storage area) I couldn’t help but take a few precious moments to revisit some of the holdings that, years ago, kick-started my writing on spectator dress and side saddle attire. There’s a good deal of ‘pilgrimage’ in archive work. For example, I couldn’t help but check up on Lucy Linn’s riding scrapbook from the late 1930s and 1940s (and the photographs therein were as captivating as ever, depicting her thundering, side-saddle, over the jumps in full formal ‘turn-out’ complete with top hat). It seems that old friends come in many guises in a museum collection, be they human, artefact or text.
3. Another Stateside expedition came along in October of last year (yes, ‘the Fall’, to use the vernacular). I was asked by Bucknell University and the Samek Art Gallery in Pennsylvania to deliver a public lecture as part of the programming for their Country Living exhibition. I spoke about rural dress, made reference to some of my past projects that have looked at the branding of rural identity, and gave a response to the excellent exhibition. Andy Warhol lived in Pennsylvania, so the gallery is fortunate enough to have some stellar bequests, and Warhols were mixed, cheek-by-jowl, with rusting barn stars, seed sacks and RedWing boots to challenge visions, and versions, of country life (and the exhibition catalogue is accessible here). As well as working with the gallery, I was also able to go along to a couple of undergraduate classes and I lectured to costume design and to geography students during my visit. It was Hallowe’en and autumn leaves, pumpkin displays and mellow sunshine formed a picturesque backdrop to my travels. Suffice to say, my experience was well worth the eight hour coach trip, replete with tyre blowout and missed connections, into deepest Pennsylvanian countryside. After all, being an academic, as with most things in life, is as much about the journey as the destination, is it not?