The Wardrobes of Aurora: Dressing for Birth, Death, and Everything in Between

2019, Aurora Museum & Archives, Culture, Exhibition, History
About This Project

Date: March 7, 2019 – September 2019

Partner: Aurora Museum & Archives

Location: 22 Church Street, Aurora

Project Members: Carolyn Ben, Rachel Dice, Jessica Ho, and Rong Zou


Located in the historic Church Street School house, the Aurora Museum and Archives contain many treasures from the town’s past, including a unique collection of textiles donated by local families and their descendants and relatives. However, many of these beautiful pieces have stayed in the archives since their arrival. Our exhibition The Wardrobes of Aurora: Dressing for Birth, Death, and Everything in Between puts on display a selection of textiles that are connected to social rituals such as christening, wedding, and mourning. They reflect the contemporary fashion of the wearer’s time, yet contain meanings that extend beyond the mere style. They signified class, gender identities, and distinctive social rules associated with special occasions. Thus, through the analysis and interpretation of each piece, we are able to place individuals and families firmly in the history and geography of Aurora. Local communities, our expected audience, will be able to make connections to the experience of the past and develop an awareness and a deeper understanding of the social process through which traditions are formulated and altered.


Timeline :

The Aurora Museum & Archives has been looking for an opportunity to showcase the richness of its textile collection and make it accessible to the current local community. An initial proposal containing selected pieces to be on display was created by the museum staff, with the help of our group member Rachel Dice, who was the summer intern at the museum and later pitched the project to the exhibition class. After we have teamed up, an official meeting was arranged with Shawna and Michelle to discuss the exhibition objectives, the expected timelines and confirm the financial and administrative resources that are available. Because of her prior experience and acquaintance with the museum, Rachel was assigned to be the main contact person for the project.


The research and planning process began in October, 2017, which is guided by the proposed list of clothing and objects that are centered around warfare and ceremonies, such as christening, wedding, and funeral. Thus the exhibition’s themes are inherently embedded in the composition of the collection. Based on the amount of information that connects each piece with an individual or a family and their physical condition, the object list was revised. Starting in the mid December, the project team began to produce didactics, including one introductory panel, four section panels on the themes of christening, wedding, war, and mourning. There are also extended text panels to tell family stories and tombstone labels to accompany auxiliary objects. While at the same time, we have made an initial contact with graphic designers to communicate our expectations on the aesthetics of exhibition design. By the end of the January, 2018, all written panels are approved and sent out for printing. The cleaning and installation started in the mid February and took place over three weeks.


On the evening of March 7 2019, an opening reception was hosted at the Brevick Hall, across the exhibition room, and approximately 30 people joined us to unveil the exhibition. A special guest, Mary Beth Hess, the museum’s friend and donor, paid a visit to see her mother’s wedding dress that is on display. After the opening remark, the project team presented an informal curator’s tour to share some behind-the-scene stories and explain decisions made with regards to the exhibition design and curatorial intentions.



We are very proud of the exhibition we created, and we hope the town of Aurora enjoys visiting it as much as we enjoyed making it. We would like to thank Shawna White and Michelle Johnson at the Aurora Museum & Archives for guiding us through the journey and trusting us so completely. We would like to thank Erika Baird, Executive Director and Curator at the Aurora Historical Society, for kindly loaning the military dress coat, sword, and flag on the exhibit. We would like to thank Shawn and Paola from Boulevard Design to make the exhibit visually pleasing. Lastly, we would like to thank our professor Matt Brower and our colleague at the ISchool for their guidance and support.