Originals verse Repros

The recent discussion of buckles on the SA led me to want a buckle. Than want of a buckle has led me to revisit the original verses reproduction debate.

I am one who has long since adamantly apposed the use of original/extant garments. Simply handling many garments can cause irreparable damage. It is impossible to wear any piece of clothing, whether a petticoat or shawl, without causing wear and damage.

 I’m also not fond of the use of original housewares in most event situations. Originals are ideal for stagnant museum displays or in-situ museum displays. In each of these situations the items have been placed there for an extended period of time by curatorial staff trained in their care. In most cases, visitors are not invited to handle the items. (Some specially designed exhibits provide for controlled handling with appropriate protection for the collection.) At most LH events items are brought in for a day, two day or week long display or interactive interpretation. The best case scenario will see each piece unpacked from mobile storage, handled gently, displayed, not touched through-out the event, then repacked and stored at the end of the event. While this can seem harmless, when this is multiplied by several events throughout the year and unpredictable weather conditions are considered, none of us can guarantee the safety of any item.

At the same time, I want visitors to be able to handle items in order to satisfy several learning styles. Many reproductions can be used to replace originals such as pottery, clothing or a quilt. But, so much more can be learned from the original in many cases. There are also items which do not have any or adequate reproductions available. In such cases, where is the line for using the original for hands-on education verses a hands-off display verses not using the item at all?

Of course I’m missing several aspects of this discussion this morning. There is the ‘abundance verses rare’ perspective as well as the ‘balanced representation verses over representation’ perspective. I’ve also heard a ‘level of risk’ perspective in respect to how easily damaged a material can be.

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