Update: Your support has helped to make this project a reality! Our campaign to raise support to conserve Dorothy's Ruby Slippers and our Scarecrow costume has been completed successfully. The last day to see the Ruby Slippers on display at the museum is Sunday, April 23, 2017. (See what will be in their place.) Objects from The Wizard of Oz be off display for at least a year while we complete conservation. Stay tuned for updates on when the Ruby Slippers return to exhibition!
We're somewhere over the rainbow! Because of you, we've met our goal of raising $300,000 to conserve and display Dorothy's Ruby Slippers from The Wizard of Oz. We're so thankful for your support, encouragement, and enthusiasm along the way. But Dorothy couldn't have completed her journey with the slippers alone—she needed her friends by her side. That's why we’re asking you to help us reach our stretch goal: conserving and displaying the costume Ray Bolger wore as Scarecrow in the The Wizard of Oz. With your help, we can reunite Scarecrow's costume and the Ruby Slippers when our culture exhibition opens in 2018. And, we've added exciting new rewards to encourage you on your way.
To learn more about Scarecrow's costume and why it's important to conserve and display it, I spoke with Conservator Dawn Wallace and Entertainment Curator Ryan Lintelman.
Can you tell me a little about Scarecrow's costume?
Ryan: It was worn by Ray Bolger, who was a star of vaudeville theater and known for his comic dancing. He was lean and lanky, and pioneered a style of loose-limbed "eccentric dancing" that he thought perfect for the role, so he lobbied studio chief Louis B. Mayer to play the Scarecrow. Gilbert Adrian, MGM's chief costume designer, drew inspiration from old-fashioned scarecrows—loose, rag-like cloth, old work gloves, and straw sticking out at silly angles. A burlap collar was attached to a sponge rubber mask that made it look like the Scarecrow's face was made from an old sack. Of course the costume is only part of any great performance—Bolger was perfect in the role because of his talent as an entertainer!
Why do you think it's important to put Scarecrow's costume on display in the new culture exhibition that will open in 2018?
Ryan: As entertainment curator, I'm interested in what objects like the costumes from The Wizard of Oz can tell us about our history and what it means to be American. Many of us have nostalgic memories of watching the film as children (or as adults), but the interesting thing is that the movie's popularity has endured: there's something about it that still resonates. I think that the Scarecrow embodies American self-reliance. He may think that he lacks the brains to help Dorothy on her journey, but by the end of the film, he realizes that he's had the brains all along. We can all learn something about believing in ourselves from his example.
Do you have a favorite Scarecrow quote or moment? Why do you think he's such a beloved character?
Ryan: Well, I think he's beloved because he's quietly the wisest character of the film, telling the truth in a comic way as if he were a court jester. My favorite Scarecrow line has always been, "Well, some people without brains do an awful lot of talking don't they?"
What will the conservation and display project entail for Scarecrow's costume?
Dawn: Just like the Ruby Slippers, the Scarecrow will need a full assessment to determine which materials were used to construct the costume. This will include working with scientists to identify the materials and conducting historical research. Two materials we will take a close look at are the textiles and dyes, since these materials are extremely sensitive to light and wear. We need to understand what condition they are in to determine what treatment will best conserve and preserve them. Once those issues are addressed, we can decide how best to display the costume. The Scarecrow will need an internal form to support the textiles and reduce stress so that he will remain lovably floppy but in good condition into the future.
You mentioned that textiles are very sensitive. How will that affect our ability to display Scarecrow's costume in the museum?
Dawn: Textiles, especially those that have been dyed, can be very sensitive to light and other environmental factors. They can fade, shift colors, or chemically break down depending on the fibers and dyes. Because of this, many textiles cannot be safely displayed permanently and must be exhibited for shorter periods of time. The research and conservation treatment will allow us to better preserve the Scarecrow costume by determining the appropriate length of time and display conditions. So stay tuned for updates on how long Scarecrow's costume will be on display.
Conserving the Ruby Slippers seems so different from conserving Scarecrow's costume? What are you looking forward to as part of the Scarecrow project?
Dawn: The Scarecrow costume is different from the Ruby Slippers, but it opens more opportunities to work with this amazing part of American film history. Conserving Scarecrow in addition to the Ruby Slippers gives us a chance to learn more about the techniques and materials used during the film production. This information can be used to help us preserve similar artifacts. In conservation, we are constantly building on our previous knowledge and experience and are eager to share what we learn.
At one point in the movie, Lion calls Scarecrow a "lopsided bag of hay." Will the costume still look tattered and jaunty after conservation?
Dawn: Yes, that tattered and jaunty appearance is what we love and want to preserve! The Scarecrow, just like the Ruby Slippers, will not change much visually. They won't look different to our visitors' eyes. We really want to retain their almost 80 years of history. This project is for the conservation and preservation of the costume, which means that it will be stabilized in its current state to prevent or slow any further deterioration. Once damage has occurred, it can't be reversed. For example, textiles that are subjected to light damage can't be "fixed" without replacing material—that's restoration, and that's not something we want to do. With conservation, we keep the original material and prevent future damage.
When our culture exhibition opens in 2018, we'll celebrate the 79th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz movie. Help us reunite Dorothy's Ruby Slippers with Scarecrow's costume.
Erin Blasco is an education specialist in the New Media Department. Her favorite line of the movie is also one of Scarecrow's: "With the thoughts I'd be thinkin' / I could be another Lincoln / If I only had a brain."