Revealing rarely seen robes

There’s a lot going on behind the scenes just now at Perth Museum and Art Gallery and with the collections review project drawing to a close, it’s the perfect time to look back and enjoy some of the triumphs of the project, such as the installation of the Dress to Impress exhibition.

Chinese parade armour on display in the exhibition, Dress to Impress, at Perth Museum and Art Gallery.

A collections review is a huge undertaking with many intended outcomes. One of the amazing things about the review at Perth was that, although we had always intended to put on displays based on the findings of the review, we could have no idea at the time the project began that we would end up working in partnership with National Museums Scotland as part of their Ancient Egypt and East Asia National Programme. It was really exciting for us to be approached and asked if we would like to be involved in revealing the stories behind our East Asian collection, it dovetailed with our review outcome of sharing our findings and allowed us to work with other museums in the process.

National Museums Scotland Curator Dr Rosina Buckland identifying a Japanese war fan as part of the East Asian collections review at Perth Museum and Art Gallery.

We invited specialists from National Museums Scotland to Perth to check out our collection, locate some interesting and beautiful objects and determine if there were any conservation concerns. The team from National Museums Scotland came to Perth at the end of 2017 and had a look through some of the Asian artefacts held in our fine art and costume collections. They were very impressed that in the collection we have two rare Korean robes. One of these is called a jebok and would be worn as part of Confucian rituals. There is only one other jebok known in a UK collection. It was so important that there was no question about it going on display, after a little bit of conservation it is now one of the star attractions in Dress to Impress.

The two rare Korean robes identified as part of the collections review. The blue robe on the right is a jebok and is on display in Dress to Impress.

Of course we did some detective work of our own. We found out information about the donors and researching their lives was a lot of fun. We pulled together object lists and started writing the bare bones of labels and taking pictures of all the objects we wanted to put on display. At the same time as all the exhibition activity was going there was also the review to consider, so all the information we were gathering went straight on to our database as well, so that future curators have everything they need in one place.

One of the interesting things about the exhibition was that we were planning to have some of our Ainu robes on open display. There was a lot of discussion about the hows and wherefores and the impressive finished result is what you see today in the gallery with the robes displays on T-bars in front of a mirror to really show them off.

Two Ainu robes from Perth’s collection on open display as part of the exhibition.

Working with National Museums Scotland was great as we were able to take advantage of interesting training opportunities and we are displaying some amazing objects from their collection as spotlight loans in the collection, such as the Korean hat to compliment the robes and the breath-taking Chinese Kingfisher Headdress. The launch of the Community Robe was a chance for us all to get together (outside of a meeting room) and really enjoy the exhibition we created.

Dress to Impress is open until 27 October 2018. The exhibition is a part of the Ancient Egypt and East Asia National Programme, a partnership between National Museums Scotland and museum partners from across Scotland.

The display is supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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