- By The Museum at FIT
- In Expedition Research Fashion History Publication
- Tagged with Arctic Club of America Buzz Aldrin Don Walsh Egyptology Jacques Piccard James Bishop Ford Kon-Tiki Expedition Lacey Flint Mariana Trench Matthew Henson Michael Collins Neil Armstrong North Pole Peary Arctic Club Robert Peary Sir Edmund Hillary Tenzing Norgay The Explorers Club Thor Heyerdahl William R. Leigh
- On 8 Nov | '2017
Lacey Flint is The Explorers Club Archivist and Curator of Research Collections. Her support of Expedition: Fashion from the Extreme provided a truly unique partnership between two seemingly disparate institutions. She authored the essay, “The Explorers Club: A Brief History,” in the exhibition book, and here, she shares a bit about The Explorers Club’s incredible collections.
In early June of 2015, I received an email, quite out of the blue, from Patricia Mears. The brief missive served two as an introduction to both Patricia and a project she had tentatively entitled Expedition: Fashion from the Extreme. She inquired about visiting The Explorers Club and discussing the scope of the work and the possibility of our potential collaboration. I remember being a bit skeptical of both The Club’s involvement and my own. I wasn’t entirely sure what relevant resources our Collection could provide a project such as this. And thinking of explorers, past and present, in all of their gear as having influenced runway couture? Not possible. Patricia must have never seen early diving helmets or glacier goggles.
On a personal level, I know next to nothing about fashion (often overwhelmingly evident, but never more so than on any cold winter’s day when I try to convince myself that no one will notice I’m attempting to pass off fleece leggings as stockings) or its history. At the time of Patricia’s email, I was only a little more than a year into my tenure at The Club, after finishing my graduate work in Museum Studies at The University of Leicester. We can all thank my year in UK climes for the fleece legging trick.
However, after meeting with Patricia and discussing the project’s thesis, I was absolutely convinced that, yes, my explorers and their gear had indeed influenced fashion. The winter parkas we all have tucked away in our closets were undeniably inspired by polar and mountaineering treks. And what about moon boots and neoprene dresses? All of it could be traced back to various scientific expeditions. The vision and scope of the project was unchartered territory, much like the work and discoveries of Club Members past and present. I enthusiastically agreed to come on board and provide any resources I could. This brought on the next challenge: I was tasked with detailing the history of exploration.What is exploration but curiosity in action? Humans have always been exploring. Thousands of years of nomadic life, diaspora, conquest, trade route discoveries, colonizing, re-colonizing, mapping – and that’s just scratching the surface of geographic exploration. Add to that technology, ethnology, all branches of field science – the list goes on. My assignment then became narrowing the scope of exploration to something manageable and meaningful. I decided to focus on the history of scientific exploration as told through The Explorers Club’s “Famous Firsts.”
Since its inception, members of The Club have dedicated themselves to our mission, which at its most basic level is to explore land, sea, air, and space. Hallmarks of pioneering 20th century exploration have come to be recognized as The Club’s “Famous Firsts.” Robert Peary, the Club’s third President, and Matthew Henson “discovered” the North Pole in 1909. The discovery of the South Pole by Member Roald Amundsen followed soon after in 1911. Club Members Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first to summit Mt. Everest in 1953, and the lowest point on Earth, Mariana Trench, was attained by our Honorary President Don Walsh and Club Fellow Jacques Piccard in 1960. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins reached the moon in 1969 carrying The Explorers Club Flag.
To help bring these expeditions to life and weave the narrative of the evolution of field science, I turned to our Research Collections. The Explorers Club Research Collections contain approximately 14,000 volumes (1400 of which comprise the Rare Book Collection), 550 linear feet of archives and manuscripts, 1,000 artifacts, 3,500 maps, and 500 films and videos housed throughout Club Headquarters. It is a Collection as eclectic and unique as The Club’s members and their various expedition efforts.
The formation of The Club’s Library was due in large part to the support of philanthropist James Bishop Ford. Treasures include: Napoleon’s Description de l’Egypte (1801-1819), a monumental publication of the country’s flora, fauna, monuments and architecture considered to be the foundation of modern Egyptology; a 16th-century edition of Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations, deemed the most important collection of English travel writing ever published; and a copy of Bradford’s 1873 Arctic Regions, which is a landmark in the history of Arctic exploration.
The Club’s art and artifact collection includes a wide range of items: paintings, sculptures, framed photographs, and other artwork; retired expedition flags, Club memorabilia; tools and equipment; taxidermy; and ethnographic items. Notable items abound, including the iconic 30-inch globe used by Thor Heyerdahl to plan the 1947 Kon-Tiki Expedition, William R. Leigh African landscapes that form the models for the backgrounds of the dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History, and a 1909 Peary North Pole Sledge.The Archives includes the records of enduring value to The Club, such as founding documents and minutes, deceased member records, flag expedition records, event programs, and publications. Notable materials include one of twelve extant sets of photographs taken during the Nares Expedition (1875-6), the records of both the Arctic Club of America and the Peary Arctic Club, African dispatches from Henry Morton Stanley, and more than 700 lantern slides.
I have the distinct privilege of preserving and sharing these Collections. The professional position of Archivist and Curator was created in 2003. Up until that time, The Club’s 99 years of collecting history was stewarded by members and part-time, volunteer librarians. My three predecessors set about the herculean task of creating a functioning Research Collection. Today, we are looking to forge new frontiers in terms of sharing these resources. It is the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge that distinguishes the scientific explorer from the adventurer. The Club’s mission and enduring legacy is to foster that boundless spirit of exploration and build upon the foundation of those early, pioneering, scientific explorers.
Expedition: Fashion from the Extreme runs through January 6, 2018 at The Museum at FIT in NYC.