Prerecorded and posted: July 15th , 2021
Rachel Elspeth Gross
Rachel Elspeth Gross 0:01
Hey everyone. Hi, this is Rachel Elspeth. I'm here with Jonathan Joseph and Little Red Fashion. And today on I can do that we are talking with patrons Lynne cart. She is a curatorial director at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. So hi, Pedro. It's so good to have you here today. Hi, thank you. It's a pleasure to be here. We were so excited that you could make make some time for us. We try to start these off every week by sort of asking our guests, what do you do? what's a typical day for you at work? Like, and I understand this changes, there's a lot of different things, I'm sure. But if you can just kind of walk through, you know, some of the things you might do on a regular day.
Petra Slinkard 0:41
Sure. Yeah. So So my job is a little bit unique, because I'm actually wear two hats at the museum. So I am the Nancy B. Putnam, curator of fashion and textiles. And I am essentially the sort of first curator to hold that title at this institution. And so as the as my role as curator is concerned, I do a lot. My day to day is always changing. And I'm sure you've heard from a lot of people. But I do a lot of work with our collection with donors. And to sort of summarize the the overview of what we do as curators is we plan exhibitions, we do outreach to the community. So whether that's a school group, or whether that's a major donor, or working with artists. And we're also responsible for something called acquisitions, which is bringing artwork into our collection. And then the other hat that I wear is the director of curatorial affairs, which is more of a management administrative position, where I'm leading along with a few of my colleagues, a team of curators who are all experts in their own area. So some focus on contemporary art some focus on South Asian art. But we as a team come together, and we have a series of meetings and things that we have to work on together to make the museum run and to work across various departments to keep the doors open and continue to engage people.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 2:23
Busy, busy days.
Petra Slinkard 2:25
Yes, lots means lots of emails.
Jonathan Joseph 2:27
Petra Slinkard 2:28
But it's always you know, every day is different. And every day I'm learning which is something that I really cherish about this position and just this work in general.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 2:40
Love that over here.
Jonathan Joseph 2:45
Rachel Elspeth Gross 2:50
no. Are you present?
Jonathan Joseph 2:52
You know, I know. Oh, goodness.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 3:01
Let's just get one second. We'll start the question. No problem. This is why it's good. It's recording. Oh, yeah. No, the technology Gods can be cruel.
Jonathan Joseph 3:14
There we go. Jonathan, I'm
Rachel Elspeth Gross 3:17
so sorry. We lost you.
Jonathan Joseph 3:19
Okay, am I back my back now. Sometimes the internet in my building from that was built in the mid 19th century, it gets a little wonky.
Petra Slinkard 3:28
Oh, gosh, yeah.
Jonathan Joseph 3:29
Okay, so yeah, say is, it sounds like you're balancing so many different plays. From the curation side to the donor engagement side. Is there anything that you've noticed that motivates people to donate to textile collections and clothing collections? What's like an underlying common denominator for people that want to support fashion? in fashion exhibition?
Petra Slinkard 3:53
Oh, that's a great question. Um, I would say it's twofold. I think for people who come to the museum with an object, I would say the biggest driver is emotional connection. And it represents an aspect of our collective history. As a community as a as a town as as an American. It sometimes represents an individual's history. So whether that's a family member or a person who themselves was active in design or in the industry. And I think for people who step forward to help support exhibitions, and help support just the museum in general. I think it has a lot to do with the educational component. So feeling like you can come into this building. And you know, for, for instance, for us, anyone who lives or works in Salem is free and welcome to come at any time. You know, certainly we have memberships where, you know, there are various entry points for people. But I think having a place where you can go and have sort of a solo quiet experience where you can reflect, and take a break, or when you can invite people in, if you're visiting, you know, if you have visitors from out of town and you want to sort of show, show them show off, you know, what the best of your town is, or, you know, want to engage people in a different way. So I think that there are different ways in which people enjoy museum visits. And those different types of engagement is what motivates people to want to support museums, because, you know, we are nonprofits, and so we are, you know, dependent on the support of our, our community and of our key donors. But, you know, we also are beholden and rightfully so to our public at large. And, and I think that that's the part that's really very important, because we want to engage as many people as we possibly can. And we want to try to share as many different stories as we can.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 6:17
Yeah, I was reading a lot of these interviews that you've done over the past, you know, few years in the position, and one of the things I keep seeing over and over which we love over here, Little Red Fashion, is just the idea that you want to ask difficult questions, and maybe not always answer them, but get your audience to ask them about themselves, and to really be considered about the ways that whose culture you're portraying, and what lightness, portraying it, and trying to make the world kind of smaller, right, rather than bigger, make things more inclusive and make things happen patterns between all the various cultures, I think that being a good custodian of history kind of means. You have that hindsight, 2020 past view, but you also can appreciate the past and finding a balance with these harmful emulsification. Challenging, enormous.
Petra Slinkard 7:11
Well, thank you. Yeah, I appreciate that. I mean, it's an evolving practice. And, you know, it takes, um, I think, particularly as the museum industry is evolving, um, you know, there are lots of conversations that are happening, and they're really important conversations. And I think when Museum Studies began, and, you know, the, the role of a curator really started to evolve. It was much more of, as you sort of said, like that, that custodian, ship. And now, I think it's, it's less about necessarily just sort of being the gatekeeper. But it's really about providing those points of contact. And, you know, we, as individuals cannot have all of the knowledge. And so it's dependent on us to be proactive, to go out into our communities to work with artists to work with cultures and indigenous communities, and, you know, whose work we're representing within our building, because that's not my lived experience. And, you know, while I have the opportunity to, you know, put put it on a mannequin, for instance, if it's an ensemble, I want to be sure I'm doing that with respect and with care, and correctly. And you know, I may not always have that information. So it's, it's my job to go out and try to, you know, to seek out that that input in that collaboration.
Jonathan Joseph 8:51
I love that it's so true. I mean, that's a big part of what we do here, too. For like our later stage titles that involve different cultures, I come from a Persian background, but I am not a Muslim. So when we think about a little red hijab that we're working on, right, for example, although I come from a Persian background, and you know, we are going to be working with a large number of people who are hijabbis, who do wear the niqab who are Muslim, because you have to go through that lens of appreciation instead of appropriation. And I think the Peabody has done a really great job of navigating this, this sort of sea change within the museum world in recent years, in terms of that context, and in terms of really doing a great job of lensing. And making sure that the lens through which collections are presented and items are presented is really giving do the respect that's necessary to responsibly tell these stories and share these narratives, which I think is so so so important, and part of why we were so excited to interview you because fashion is for everyone. And everyone needs a seat at the table to have those conversations.
Petra Slinkard 9:56
Thank you. Yeah, you know, it's it's, it's um, So happy to hear you say that, and I really appreciate that feedback. Um, you know, for instance, we had and I know, Rachel knows this, we did an exhibition in partnership with the kunstmuseum, who I know that you were just in touch with. And that was an exhibition that focused on women, fashion designers who really revolutionize the industry. And one of the pieces that we acquired for our collection is for Keating. And it is an ensemble that I think when people immediately saw it, they just went directly to religious affiliation. And yes, that was part of the motivation of the design and the concept and the innovation. But what people didn't realize is that, you know, if you had struggled with skin cancer, or if you were just interested in more modest dress, you know, then that is an ensemble for you, too. And I think, what you're just saying, you know, breaking down those immediate assumptions and presumptions about people and culture is really, you know, part of our main job.
Jonathan Joseph 11:05
Yeah, absolutely. And I just gonna piggyback that question really quick, because I know, as you're talking, it occurs to me, I would love to know, your thoughts on the role of technology as we move forward to being able to leverage things like augmented reality, like we're doing with our books, and things with VR, for example, to enhance that storytelling capacity, and what role do you think not necessarily specifically for the Peabody? Because I'm not sure, really go into that. But, you know, do you think curators have to integrate those things to be able to tell multiple viewpoints of a narrative through a single, you know, user experience?
Petra Slinkard 11:45
That's a great question. And I think that's where we're headed. For sure. I think some museums are much further along than others. You know, I just sort of to start at the basics, you know, even social media as a form of technology that is a connector by nature, has been huge for our industry. I mean, I wouldn't be connected to Rachel had it not be for, you know, for Instagram. Um, I think that the way in which people are using these platforms for storytelling, is really incredible, and the connections that are able to be made, you know, I wouldn't necessarily know that, you know, person X was a model for this designer back in 1965. It wasn't for this platform, or that we're gonna stumble upon me, and I stumbled upon them. But I think to dig into your question a little bit further. You know, we're having a conversation, the where we're located in three different locations, and we're able to share this conversation out. And you know, again, what comes of that conversation, what what builds on the information that we're putting forward, is, I think, really going to expand the way that scholarship evolves. And, you know, there's a lot of misinformation out there, too, of course, we have to be careful about that. But I think that, as far as being able to connect and share, and particularly for collections that are smaller across the country, this has been a really great platform for people to know that, you know, associated with a small university in the middle of you know, Wyoming, here is a fantastic collection that you wouldn't know anything about. And that is, you know, that's, that's adding to the conversation. But it's also providing opportunities for people to learn about designers that they wouldn't have known about before. So I'm looking forward to it. But
Jonathan Joseph 13:48
So are we, because we want to jam pack our augmented reality. I mean, we have a museum page, the last page is a little red dress, dresses on it's Clint in the museum. And so we're sourcing lovely format, video and fun things to plug into that. So when kids are interacting with it, they can really expand their horizons organically. And then the coolest part is, of course, being able to update that over time. It used to be you bought a book, the book is the book the book as a static resource. Now through AR, we can update it all the time. If museums want to rotate exhibitions through AR AR, that can be done. Technology is really fun that way. I'm excited to see where it goes. I'm glad that the museum community is really embracing it, I see so many different initiatives to integrate AR and VR. And as you said, even just social media as communication platform. So I love that.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 14:37
Things are definitely already already shifting, um, would you say that there is a particular characteristic that you have, or one maybe one that you've cultivated, that has allowed you to, you know, kind of make your dream career stuff happen in front of you?
Petra Slinkard 14:53
Oh, that's a good question too. Well I guess my personal motto is, if there's a will, there's a way. So that tends to be how I move myself forward, how I move my own practice forward. I like to think creatively about solutions to problems. But you know, mostly, as I said before, it's really about the learning, you know, I think I have a genuine kind of insatiable curiosity.
Jonathan Joseph 15:35
You are in good company.
Petra Slinkard 15:37
that keeps, that keeps me focused, you know, in all directions, really. And, you know, when I started this career, I sort of stumbled into it in a way, you know, I wasn't entirely sure what it was that I was going to do, I was interested in fashion, I was interested in design, I was raised by entrepreneurs, but I sort of had this sense that I would go into business. But I definitely feel like there is a business sensibility to the way that I approach my work, which is a little bit different than I think some of my peers. And I've leaned into that, because I feel like what I learned, as far as, you know, retail psychology, or thinking about merchandising, or, you know, all the things that sort of a more focused, um, you know, fashion retail background afforded me I feel really helped, you know, lend a different perspective to the work that I do in museums. Because ultimately, you know, we have a client, we have a customer, we have a visitor, we have a guest. And, you know, it is our job to, to provide a service and to engage and activate and inspire. And, you know, so so that's sort of, and I see that division between the way that designers and houses are presenting their collections, I mean, just think about how fashion shows have evolved over the years, you know, from last year even? Yes, right. Talking about technology, and the use of technology. And so, you know, as those lines are blurring, I think it's kind of fascinating, you know, just sort of see how people are engaging one another and, and borrowing, you know, from one another's industries.
Jonathan Joseph 17:31
Absolutely. And, you know, the rise on the retail side, in experiential retail and expansion as experience for the consumer. There's just this feedback loop that's gonna keep growing, I think, between the retail space and museum space, because ultimately, you have that underlying common denominator of deeper engagement with the garment. Yeah, end of the day.
Petra Slinkard 17:51
Yeah, the story telling.
Jonathan Joseph 17:53
Rachel Elspeth Gross 17:55
And stories are so important. you both know and hopefully our audiences notice stories are a big thing for me, I always love what's happening behind the scenes, what motivated someone to do something, you know, what makes somebody want to work? That's, that's a big question. For me, I find it fascinating. Um, did you know when you were a kid that you wanted to do music, you wanted to do fashion? You were sure a future in places, but was there like a goal? I guess when did you decide you wanted to do what you're doing now, that's a better way to
Petra Slinkard 18:27
I didn't know, I didn't know it was an option. I think like a lot of people, I had no idea this profession existed. You know, I was fortunate to have my, my family bounced back and forth between the Netherlands and the United States. So, you know, I had the gift of travel, which really opened my eyes. And as a result of that, you know, I, I was a tourist and in various cities, and that was extremely impactful for me. Um, you know, I grew up in northern Indiana, and a relatively small town. But so I had this kind of high bred upbringing. But I didn't know that, you know, that. I didn't fully understand what it took to make museums run. So to me, I think like a lot of people you just think oh, well, these doors are open and like look at all this miraculous stuff that just appeared like, you know, I didn't take the time to understand what what went in what was involved in it. And I initially when I was a child, I wanted to be a lawyer or a detective. And so in a way I and there's this really great book, if you haven't read it, I'd recommend it to your to your readers, but it's called the dress detective.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 19:46
It's a great guy.
Petra Slinkard 19:48
I love that they use that word to describe the process because it really is about following clues. And you know, sort of going down one angle and sussing that out. And maybe, you know, pivoting and taking a different turn. And it wasn't really until maybe my sophomore year of my undergraduate work that I finally sort of realized, okay, I knew I wanted to do something with clothing, I knew I wanted to do something I had become more invested in art history. And that was really what lit the spark for me was that in my art history classes, we were so focused on technique, and the history of particular movements and styles. And that, you know, was interesting, and it really resonated with me. But I was mostly interested in, you know, what are the stories behind the person who, you know, is depicted in this painting? You know, what is it about their clothing, or their mannerisms that are being depicted, that, you know, shares, you know, this was a method of communication. And so that's really what piqued my interest is, I thought, well, if, if we could, in some way or another, we're, you know, strict fashion history courses that sort of broke that down, but I wasn't seeing the overlap. And that was what motivated me. And of course, it existed, but I just didn't know then, you know, to the degree that I know now. But that was really the primary motivator. So as a kid, I didn't really know I cut up close, you know, that I got from my mom and my sisters, I have two older sisters and I, my mother said, I have only girl cousins, my brother is the exception to all 10 of us. So you know, he was lucky and unlucky at the same time. But I was fascinated with watching people get ready, you know, I'd sit I'd sit in the bathroom, and I watched my older sisters put on makeup, and I'd watch my mom get ready to go out. And my grandmother's both had really strong aesthetics. And they were all very different from one another. And I think that that is really what sort of planted a seed for me it was these, you know, these these feet strong female role models I had in my personal life. And they helped me understand that passion was that form of communication?
Rachel Elspeth Gross 22:12
Jonathan Joseph 22:13
Right. That's why we talk a lot of the time about like, early fashion memory, right? Like, what's the what's that early fashion memory have that like really sort of grabbed you. And in some way, maybe, in retrospect, gave you the bug as I call it for us. You know, for me, I always think back to and I've mentioned this on some interviews before, like, you know, my mother battled cancer, all of my life. And she had this one pair of vintage Dior sunglasses with like, gradient, purple lenses. And like when she was feeling like some kind of way, I'm scared, before going into radiation, or chemo or an infusion, or this, she would like put them on it was like regain phase. She was like, okay, like, I'm ready to go, I'm gonna go sit there, and I would sit with her, like, she got her treatments, and like color and read and do different things. But I just always remember her putting them on and having that moment of like, okay, I was scared. And now I feel like I have my armor on and I'm ready to go. Go forward to that. So I always remember those moments. So when I think of early fashion memories, I think of things like that, or going and getting socks for my leg braces for my AFOs. And that because I am old enough that we did not have all the cool options that kids today have with being able to like put Marvel characters all over their iPhones and stuff. But I think a lot of fashion folks have that sort of early, faster memory that later they're like, you know what, actually, that's a thing. We recently hired illustrator on silver, and he was like, Oh, my green pants. I had these green pants that I was just as a kid obsessed with. And now I've been doodling little things to do a story about Sylvan in his magic green pan.
Petra Slinkard 23:47
that's wonderful. Yeah, you know, what you're talking about is really powerful. I mean, I think that that concept of armor and you know, getting yourself ready, and that that level of transformation. I think we see it, you know, frequently in, um, well, I mean, we could go down a whole rabbit hole about the use of masks and ceremonial garb and you know, all of the different affiliations. Um, but I mean, you're talking about a faster memory. I was just in in Boston, at Quincy Market. And I was sitting in there with some friends and some family and remembering the last time I was there that really had an impact on me and I bought, it was on a US history trip. I was in high school, I was about 16. We were towards the end of our trip. It was about two weeks across the country on a school bus where we were camping at various and I knew that I was sort of running out of money a little bit because you know, you had budgeted like what you had what you could take with you on the trip. But there was a limited at Quincy Market and limited still was a little bit out of my range, like for that moment, but it was I said it was towards the end of the trip and I saw a pink cardigan sweater, with pearl with Shell buttons. And I bought it. And I swear I wore that sweater till I was at least like 2930 years old. And you know, and I was having this recollections sitting there in this market. And I was sharing that recollection, you know, with the people that I was with. And they were like, oh, would you still have it? And I said, Well, no, sadly I outgrew it, but, you know, a the fact that it lasted that long and be that it was such a visceral recollection.
Jonathan Joseph 25:34
Petra Slinkard 25:35
All right. So I guess itis it Sylvan?
Jonathan Joseph 25:43
Petra Slinkard 25:43
Well I have my pink sweater.
Jonathan Joseph 25:47
I can't think of Paris without the first time. It's Paris. I got these vintage Farah, like burgundy bell bottoms. Awesome. And I thought I was the coolest thing since Betty White. And I cannot think of parents without thinking of those pants because I was traipsing about like, it was like the holiday season. So it's very seasonal to those are fun like that. I think that's why they're so powerful. I think that's why especially for me why we started little I started Little Red Fashion, because it's such a powerful way to teach kids about the world around them, and give them a chance to navigate their own self expression at the same time.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 26:25
So before we wrap up your Petra, Petra, excuse me, I'm sorry.
Petra Slinkard 26:30
That's okay. It happens all the time. And I'm sure lots of way to pronounce my name. So please don't apologize.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 26:37
It's important to try. That's a lot of faith and tenacity. So Paige, I have one question we always like to ask is, if you were going to dress in front of a couple little kids, are you were in front of some adults really wanted to help children? Um, do you have any advice on how to help a kid prepare for a creative career? someone knows they want to do anything? What's a good place to start for some advice that you got that resonated?
Petra Slinkard 27:07
Um, that's a great question. I would say, Well, one thing if I was speaking to a parent, and I have to say I don't have children. So you know, it's an easy place for me to maybe say this from, um, but I have so enjoyed watching my peers, with children, enable empower their children to wear whatever it is that they want to wear, you know, regardless of gender, regardless of you know, just because I think that to foster creativity, you have to allow for and make room for exploration. And that sense of discovery. And, you know, I think that, you know, as far as like what activities to be involved in, you know, I was fortunate because my family really valued the arts. So, you know, I took, I took dance lessons, I took piano lessons I played in the school band, my parents took me to clubs, you know, to jazz clubs, like, the those were really impactful experiences for me. And, you know, those are, that was what was important to my family, but I think whatever is important to your family, whatever, whatever, you see a spark being lit for your child. You know, I'm trying to find a way and I realized that some of those lessons are expensive, you know, sometimes they're out of reach, because of maybe I don't know, what you have available in your community. But again, going back to technology, you know, there's so much available on YouTube, there's so much available through this platform. Um, you know, that I think that there are ways you know, and to kind of lean back on the museum's, you know, if you have a museum in your community, you know, what are what are they doing? I mean, we host a create night. That is an all ages event. But I guess I wouldn't say it's any one thing, I think it's really about trying to do as many different possible things as you can, which is ambitious. And I understand that, you know, time money, resources, sleep, it's all they're all factors. But, you know, being able to just to draw to create, you know, I think just not putting limits on is really very important, you know, as far as like, not limiting someone's creativity and their opportunity for self expression. Because we all evolve you know, I mean, if I wouldn't clearly still be dressing the way that I did when I was 16.
Jonathan Joseph 29:42
I mean, oh, speaking fashion memories. There are some some outfits I wish I could forget.
Petra Slinkard 29:48
Right? You learned from those experience?
Jonathan Joseph 29:51
Oh, yeah. I'll never wear patchwork denim jeans like the ones I wore this horrible day in high school.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 29:57
No, we lucked out. There's no Instagram or Facebook. When we were in high school,
Jonathan Joseph 30:01
that's true. Oh, wow. But no, that's like the looking glass version of what we do on the creative side where, you know, I always be my top, just the summary of my mission is to create the tools that I didn't have when I was nine, and really into all this stuff, where it's sometimes as simple as inspiring kids to play dress up and giving them some historical reference points or a little prompt that says, you know, here are five pattern types of fabric, like mix them in an outfit, or it doesn't have to be this big, crazy thing. Yes, there's a, we can incorporate technology and all these other things. But creative play is just that it's play.
Petra Slinkard 30:43
That's a great way to put it.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 30:46
Well, thank you so much. We really appreciate you making the time to speak with us.
Petra Slinkard 30:53
Oh, you're very welcome. I'm so happy to meet both of you. Rachel, thank you for the invitation. I look forward to continuing to learn about what you both are doing. Moving forward. And yeah, let's stay in touch.
Jonathan Joseph 31:08
Definitely. I'll have to make a drive up. I'm in Connecticut so, I'm not too far away.
Petra Slinkard 31:13
Oh, yeah, please do let me know when you come. We have an ongoing fleet of exhibitions. We are also have a full time gallery that is dedicated to fashion design that features our own collection. So and then our next fashion exhibition will be june of 2022. And we're working with the our colleagues at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the de Young in San Francisco to host Patrick Kelly.
Jonathan Joseph 31:45
Oh thats exciting. Yeah. Well, I'll have to pop by.
Petra Slinkard 31:50
please, please do.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 31:52
Alright, if y'all would just stay on. I'm going to say bye to everybody. But I just wanted after. so wonderful to have everyone with us today. I'm Rachel Elspeth Gross, Jonathan Joseph, and we've had the lovely patriots line card here today, and we'll see y'all next time. Thank you.
Jonathan Joseph 32:06
Petra Slinkard 32:07