January 2015

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January 2015

The Last Word:

Still Stretching, Still Writing

Fellow Joy Spanabel Emery has been involved with USITT for more than three decades and was honored with a Lifetime Membership Award for her service. She is Professor Emeritus of Theatre and Adjunct Professor, Textiles & Merchandising Department, University of Rhode Island. She was active with the Costume Society of American, including serving as President. She is also a Fellow of CSA and the New England Theatre Conference. Below, she reflects on her experiences.

Little did I know when I attended my first USITT Conference in 1977 held in Washington, D.C. that I was embarking upon an extraordinary post-graduate program in Costume Design and Technology, which incidentally was the name of the newly organized Commission with Don Stowell Jr. as Commissioner. Over the course of the next 35 plus years, the stimulating ideas and practices generated in the Institute and Commission influenced all my design work and gave me an opportunity to exercise some leadership skills.

I was able to serve as Costume Design & Technology Commissioner for six very active years that saw the development and expansion of numerous commission projects and Costume Symposiums. All were directed by gifted dedicated people from the U.S. and Canada who have became good friends. These projects are now an established part of the fabric of the Institute.

One particular project started as the Flat Pattern Exchange and developed into the Commercial Pattern Archive; it has kept me actively involved since its inception in the mid-1980s. In the early stages, the project was supported by USITT Endowment Fund Grant, USITT Kook Endowment Grant, and the Commissioners Fund. That support opened doors to other funding from organizations including the National Endowment for the Humanities.

I had the opportunity to serve as Vice President for Publications for ten years. It was a privilege to work with the fledgling newsletter and annual journal that evolved into Sightlines and quarterly TD&T. The publications awards were expanded to include the Golden Pen with opportunities to meet the distinguished authors. My education in that role included a crash course in Institute budgeting. Watching the expansion of USITT publications in the last few years has been inspiring and speaks to the vitality of the organization.

Further educational experiences USITT offered included opportunities to visit many areas of the U.S. and Canada for the Conference & Stage Expos and the Costume Symposiums. Additional travel opportunities came with USITT’s participation in the Prague Quadrennials. Visiting the international exhibition energized many design ideas and expanded international friendships.

I have stepped back from my active participation in USITT since my retirement from teaching in 2000 with the exception of the Commercial Pattern Archive. I curate the archive’s collections housed at the University of Rhode Island. The archive has three components: garment patterns, and printed matter including sewing manuals, professional journals, fashion periodicals, and pattern trade catalogs as well as personal papers and compiled research materials. Patterns produced for retail by the major companies are catalogued in the database CoPA which contains over 57,000 patterns which are cataloged with digital images of the design and pattern schematic in an extensive collection of fashion periodicals, tailoring journals, and sewing manuals. The archive constitutes a rich history of everyday dress, garment making, design, and construction from the late 18th Century to the present. It is an invaluable resource to theatre designers. It provided the resources for A History of the Paper Pattern Industry: The Home Dressmaking Fashion Revolution published by Bloomsbury in 2014.

It occurs to me that I have been stumbling along a not-so crooked path from where I started all those years ago. I am still pursuing an active fascination with costume design and learning. USITT is instrumental in paving that path.