Gangsters & Gunslingers: Sneak Peek
March 15, 2013 - Esther Harper
With the start of the new season fast approaching Curatorial Assistant, Esther Harper, offers a quick preview of what’s in store for visitors this year.
After well over five months of steady work, the Collections team is entering the home stretch, with less than seven days to go until the press preview of Gangsters & Gunslingers: the Good, the Bad & the Memorabilia. Over the past few weeks as we’ve been able to move away from our desks and get down to the fun task of transforming the empty gallery into this year’s exhibition, I’ve been taking pictures to give you a sneak peek of what you can expect.
A few of the objects needed a little TLC from our favourite conservators Valentine and Claire Gould before being able to go on display. Doc Holiday’s medicine bag needed a few minor repairs where, for example, the leather had split and a good clean to remove dust and surface residue.
Some of the surgical instruments that belonged to doctors and pathologists who worked in boomtowns like Tombstone, Arizona act as nausea-inducing reminders that people paid for Wild West shoot-outs with their lives. A hand-written note on top of the still-wrapped instruments tells those of us who have to unpack them to mind our fingers!
Arranging objects in display cases is probably the closest I’ll ever get to my alternate universe dream career as a theatrical set designer. Loan objects from the California Historical Society and the American Museum’s own collection add further interest to David Gainsborough Roberts’ eclectic assortment of historical documents, and help to set the scene for the dodgy goings-on in Wild West towns.
Famous outlaw Bonnie Parker wrote both her own poetry and various traditional poems down in this bank book. We can’t let you physically flip through the pages because it would cause far too much damage to this precious object. Instead, the magic of technology lets us digitise the pages, and allows you to virtually thumb through and read her poems.
Confession: If you say the word ‘Prohibition’ to me, the first thing I think of is Boardwalk Empire, and not the factual history books I’ve read. The same can most definitely be said for ‘Wild West’. The classy bling on the left belonged to actress Mae West, while the hat on the right adorned the head of silver screen cowboy John Wayne.
One of the key narratives of Gangsters & Gunslingers is all about popular culture turning fiction into perceived fact. In the absence of parking an actual cinema in the gallery, we’ve settled for wallpapering reproduction movie posters on the wall, and screening historical newsreel footage from our friends at British Pathé. Actor Douglas Fairbanks’ saddle (pictured on the right) is quite possibly my favourite object on display in this exhibition. It is so incredibly gorgeous.
I’m afraid that’s all I have time for at the moment. As this blogging venture continues on our newly redesigned website, I hope to be able to introduce you to a few more of the weird and wonderful objects from our permanent collection, as well as give you a little glimpse of what we get up to behind the scenes at the museum.
We all look forward to welcoming you at the American Museum on March 23rd, or on March 22nd if you’re attending our special members’ preview. Please feel free to wear your Stetson or Fedora for the occasion.
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