Gift from Avenir Foundation names Colorado State University’s clothing artifact museum, provides funds for educational programs and exhibitions

Colorado State University’s Design and Merchandising Museum, a collection of 12,000 artifacts including historic clothing, lace, shoes, textiles, accessories and chairs, is now named the Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising with a $1.25 million gift for the continued preservation of the collection.

The gift, from the Avenir Foundation, provides an endowment to support exhibitions, salary expenses, conservation, and the completion of the collection’s new home in the university’s Center for the Arts. The funds will help finish storage areas, a gallery and the conservation laboratory.

"Members of the Avenir Foundation board have a strong interest in textiles and museums," said Mary Littrell, head of the Department of Design and Merchandising in the College of Applied Human Sciences. "This truly generous donation provides the department with the opportunity to create a museum dedicated to educating students, the university community and the public about the inter-relationships among material artifacts, history and culture."

The Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising houses one of the most significant, far-ranging teaching collections in the United States. The collection is the one of a few of its kind in the region that allows hands-on access under controlled conditions.

"The gift enables the museum to continue to provide students and the public with an opportunity to study and appreciate the history of textiles and clothing, and its role in culture," said Linda Carlson, curator of the museum. "Placing an artifact – a 19th-century dance slipper or an early 20th-century Chinese robe – in the context of its time, understanding and knowing the stories behind each object adds to their value. We can appreciate the beauty or uniqueness of an artifact, but it is the stories that make them come alive."

While other design and merchandising collections at U.S. universities house historical clothing and textiles from the states, this collection is one of the few with an added emphasis also on international pieces, including an extensive collection of 500 kimono. A recent gift to the collection includes more than 300 textiles from Central and South Asia. Western artifacts include Civil War era hoop skirts and men’s jackets, elaborate fans and hats, beaded flapper dresses, hand-made lace and famous designer apparel.  Among the jewels of the collection are designer dresses from Mr. Blackwell, Arnold Scaasi, Carolina Herrera and Calvin Klein; a lace collection is valued at more than $140,000.

The museum also is beginning a collection of historical chairs with an initial grouping of 20, mostly from the 19th and 20th centuries, including a Victorian lady’s boudoir chair. Some chairs in the collection are from important designers, and the museum began the collection because chairs clearly reflect changing times, just as clothing does.

The collection recently moved from the Gifford Building, where it had been housed for more than 30 years, to the University Center for the Arts. The collection will be fully unpacked and ready for students to study next spring. The new space is unique to university collections as well, with greatly improved accessibility to university students studying the collection, a design gallery and state-of-the-art storage with museum-standard humidity, temperature and lighting control. The new space also will allow the collection to expand.

To maintain the quality of the collection as it outgrew its dated space, the college has sought private support. Student fees provided much of the funding needed for the literal brick and mortar of the renovation, supplying funds for the renovation of the museum’s new space in the University Center for the Arts, but private donations such as the Avenir Foundation gift provide for the "heart and soul" – the exhibitions, educational programming, and ongoing conservation of the artifacts.

The first exhibit in the new center, "Window to the World," will open April 9, 2009, and will feature artifacts from around the world. A special open house tour of the new facility also is planned, giving the public a rare opportunity to see behind the scenes. A hands-on workshop on the care, storage, display and preservation of family artifacts is also planned.

The Avenir Foundation gift provides funding for additional exhibits in the future, and at least two exhibits per year are planned. Workshops and lectures will be held in conjunction with each exhibit.

The museum functions with a strong corps of volunteers from the community and Colorado State. Volunteers help to ensure that the artifacts are correctly stored, and assist in conservation, cataloging and documentation of the artifacts.

Earlier this summer when the collection was moved, each object had to be wrapped in acid-free paper and placed in archival-quality boxes. The storage cabinets for each object also were moved. Dozens of large, museum-quality storage cabinets, along with more than 100 drawers, were transported out of the building and are being re-installed in the new space. Then each cabinet must be reassembled, cleaned and filled again with artifacts. Additional storage units will be purchased with the Avenir Foundation gift.

The collection is under the constant, careful watch of Carlson, curator for more than 20 years. On a rotating schedule, each folded piece is removed, re-folded in a different configuration to prevent fiber cracking along fold lines, then returned to drawers in a reverse order so that no object is consistently under the weight of other artifacts. No food or drink is allowed in the museum. Museum standards, such as wearing white cotton gloves at all times when an object is examined, are also enforced.

The Avenir Foundation in Lakewood derives its name from the French word for future and primarily supports educational, arts and cultural activities.