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Mari Sandoz: Crafting a Nebraska Character

This paper shares insights and details of an innovative approach to inquiry and scholarly output: the student-led research and design of the museum exhibition, “Mari Sandoz: Crafting a Nebraska Character,” which ran from May 3rd to September 7th in UNL’s Department of Textiles, Merchandising & Fashion Design. The exhibition focused on Mari Sandoz’ signature style and the relationship between her fashion sense and the crafting of her public persona. Research for the exhibition was conducted by seven TMFD and Anthropology graduate students enrolled in the Spring 2018 course, “Museums: Theory and Practice” (taught by Dr. Claire Nicholas).  Students explored primary and secondary sources relating to the biographical and professional arc of Sandoz’ life, her journey from impoverished, rural Nebraska to the vibrant Greenwich Village literary scene in wartime and post-WWII New York City, and her relationship to self-presentation and long-standing interest in fashion and style. Some of these sources include excerpts of Sandoz’ letters to her family and friends, biographical studies and books, photographs of Sandoz, and material culture analysis of select clothing and accessories from the Mari Sandoz Heritage Society’s garment and accessories collection. The exhibition sought to explore how Sandoz’ careful curation of her public and professional identity (as evidenced in her correspondence, for example) carried over to the attention she gave to her appearance. The paper presents some of the findings from the students’ research on Sandoz’ style and discusses the process of developing the exhibition as it relates to material culture studies and methods more generally.

“Mari Sandoz: Crafting a Nebraska Character” was the result of the collective effort of graduate students in the Spring 2018 University of Nebraska-Lincoln course, Museums: Theory and Practice (TMFD 809) taught by Dr. Claire Nicholas. Students: Katie Francisco, Younhee Kang, Bethany Kraft, Andrea Kruse, Ryan Mathison, Amy Neumann, and Nicole Rudolph.