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The Life of Blanche Payne

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Life of Blanche Payne

Historical Background of the Former Yugoslavia

Regional Costume in the Former Yugoslavia

About the Project & Acknowledgements

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Guide to the Blanche Payne Papers, 1930- 1981

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Henry Art Gallery Digital Interactive Galleries (DIG)

Master's Thesis

Bride of Kumanovo, Macedonia, circa 1930-1937
Bride of Kumanovo, Macedonia, circa 1930-1937

Blanche Payne was born in 1897 in Thayer, Kansas. She earned a bachelor’s degree in home economics from Kansas State Teacher’s College in 1916 and a Master of Arts degree in clothing from Columbia University in 1924. Payne taught high school English and home economics classes in Kiowa, Kansas and Lewiston, Idaho, before serving as a student nurse at Camp Lewis, Washington in 1918. In 1919 she joined the faculty at Arizona State Teachers College, where she taught textiles and clothing. From 1924 to 1926 she taught clothing at high schools in New York City, studied draping with the French designer, Madame Geo, and started her own design business. Payne joined the University of Washington faculty in 1927, where she taught costume and apparel design in the School of Home Economics. In 1929, she took a leave of absence to study flat pattern at the Mitchell School of Design in New York City, then extender her leave until 1930 to travel through Central Europe and the Balkans surveying folk costume in the former Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece, Albania, and the former Yugoslavia. Payne resumed her duties at the UW in 1931, but returned to Yugoslavia in 1936 to 1937 for additional study.

Her research focused on the regions of South Serbia (Macedonia today), Croatia, Bosnia, North Serbia and Dalmatia. In addition to studying museum collections, Payne travelled through the country, visiting remote villages, markets, and festivals, and studying and photographing peasant costumes. She also augmented her studies by drafting patterns from the clothing she encountered. Her Yugoslavian research failed to result in a full-length publication due to the prohibitive costs of publishing and the destruction of some of her color plates during World War II. However, in 1965 Payne published a textbook entitled History of Costume, which described the evolution of fashion from 3000 B.C. to 1900 A.D. The book contains detailed descriptions of historical and cultural fashions together with renditions of small-scale garment patterns that she meticulously drafted from various museum collections. In researching her book, she spent two years avidly collecting illustrations. Considered a foremost resource in the study of costume history, the text reflects her teaching philosophy that the study of original artifacts is of essential importance in the understanding of good design.

In addition to her intensive research on clothing and historic costume, Payne supervised work on the Textile and Costume Study Collection housed in the Drama Department. As part of her studies of non-Western folk dress and embroidery technique, she collected original ethnic costumes, textiles and embroidery samples. She used her Balkan research as a valuable source for studying ethnic dress in its original context and to provide her students with primary source material for the study of modern costume construction and fine craftsmanship.

During the 1960s, Blanche Payne consulted for the Brooklyn Museum, which included a research trip to Europe to find costumes from the house of Worth for an exhibition. Payne retired from the University of Washington in 1966 and died in 1972.

About the Project

In the summer of 2008, Museology graduate Erin Whitney briefly volunteered at the Henry Art Gallery, helping to handle and photograph costumes and textiles for its Digital Interactive Galleries project. At this time she had also been working with Nicolette Bromberg, the Visual Materials Curator in the Special Collections Division of University of Washington Libraries, processing and preserving photograph collections. She was searching for a potential topic for a thesis project in the Museology Graduate Program at the University of Washington, and initially wanted to work with costume collections. Judy Sourakli, the Curator of Collections at the Henry Art Gallery, suggested taking a look at the Blanche Payne collections, which dealt with both costumes and visual materials. Collections consisting of different material types are sometimes fractionalized, generally for reasons of preservation or collection scope. The issues of preservation versus access and intellectual preservation versus physical preservation are exemplified in the Blanche Payne Regional Costume Photograph and Drawing Collection. After Blanche Payne‘s death, the Henry Art Gallery received her personal costume collections, and the University of Washington Libraries’ Special Collections Division received the materials that contributed to her manuscript.

Man's shoe (Opanak)
Man's Shoe (Opanak)
Henry Art Gallery collection

The Blanche Payne Regional Costume Photograph and Drawing Collection contains around 3,000 objects (including 1,660 photographs) depicting regional costume, the majority of which are from the former Yugoslavia. The Henry Art Gallery retains the costumes that Payne collected, and has made many of them available online through the collections search and Digital Interactive Galleries (DIG) project .

This project then ultimately sought to preserve, make accessible, and connect through digitization the Blanche Payne Regional Costume Photograph and Drawing Collection held at the University of Washington Libraries’ Special Collections, with its associated costume materials held at the Henry Art Gallery, in order to provide a context for understanding the collection as a whole. Processing the materials allowed them to be preserved, while intellectually arranging and integrating materials that had been held in different accessions in Special Collections provided access to the collection for researchers, educators, and students at the University of Washington. Putting the collections and finding aids online provided access to distance researchers.

Using a modified form of the Photo Processing Checklist utilized in Special Collections, a processing plan was created for the Blanche Payne Regional Costume Photograph and Drawing Collection, which included the following steps: gathering materials which would be included in the collection, preservation, arrangement and description, numbering, processing negatives, selecting images for digitization, and creating a finding aid. As part of processing the collection, tasks were completed such as rehousing the objects into archival sleeves and correctly sized acid-free and lignin-free boxes, creating a more intuitive intellectual arrangement for the collection, and creating a finding aid, which can be accessed through the UW Special Collections site (see link in sidebar). These tasks were completed as part of Erin Whitney’s thesis project in the Museology Graduate Program at the University of Washington.

Making a digital connection between the Blanche Payne Yugoslav and Regional Costume Photograph and Drawing Collection finding aid and the Henry Art Gallery‘s collections required two optional steps: digitizing images for inclusion in the finding aid and creating a virtual link between materials. In many cases there are costumes in the collection of the Henry Art Gallery from the same locality as the archival materials, and some of Payne’s photographs can be linked to actual costumes. The ultimate goal of the project was to put images in a CONTENTdm database through Digital Initiatives at the University of Washington Libraries, with links to relevant costume catalog records in the Henry Art Gallery’s online collections in the metadata. Finally, there will be links on both the Libraries’ and the Henry’s websites which will point researchers to the corresponding information at both institutions.

With the help of Diana Ryesky, a costume historian who has worked extensively with the Payne materials, Erin selected around 1,200 images representative of the different types of regional costume from the former Yugoslavia. With a grant written by Nicolette Bromberg, funds were made available to hire a Digital Initiatives student to scan the images and to hire MLIS student Jack Falk to link these images in the finding aid and to create metadata for the CONTENTdm database records.


Thanks to everyone who helped make this project possible, most notably: Erin Whitney (Museology Class of 2009), Nicolette Bromberg, Wilson O’Donnell, Judy Sourakli, Diana Ryesky, Ann Lally, Anne Graham, Kris Kinsey, Kate Leonard, Judith Johnson, Jack Falk, Marina Mikhalchenko Dunaravich, Sarah Julsonnet, and Michael Biggins.

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