Help bring Ruby Slippers, Scarecrow back together

Last Monday, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise $300,000 for the conservation and display of the Ruby Slippers famously worn by Judy Garland as Dorothy in the 1939 film classic The Wizard of Oz. The Smithsonian’s budget is sufficient to keep the Ruby Slippers relatively stable in their current condition, but they turned to Kickstarter for the money to conserve the shoes and create a custom state-of-the-art display case with light, temperature and humidity controls that will ensure the long-term preservation of one of the museum’s most iconic film artifacts.

Costume designer Adrian made several pairs of Ruby Slippers for the movie. This pair was worn when Dorothy danced down the Yellow Brick Road, and their condition attests to their hard use. In 1939 (and for decades afterwards), costumes were made to last for the duration of shooting. Materials were chosen to look good at low cost. Adrian took commercial shoes, spray-painted them red and attached a red net with red sequins and beads. The red color of the sequins is a coating of cellulose nitrate lacquer. In the 77 years since the shoes were made, the color has faded given the slippers a muted, dingy look. The nitrocellulose coating is cracked and flaking. Threads stitching the sequins to the net are breaking. The red paint on the soles is cracking and the sole is coming apart from the top of the shoe. (See this interview with the conservator of the Ruby Slippers for more details about their complex conservation needs.)

The money raised would go to repairing what could be repaired (without ruining the original evidence of use because that is an important part of their history), but also towards researching how best to approach the conservation of materials like the sequin coating about which we know very little. That is essential to ensuring that the new display case is properly set to keep the Ruby Slippers in ideal conservation conditions.

The response was to the campaign was huge and immediate. The goal was met and exceeded within a week, thanks to donations from more than 5,000 people from 41 countries on every inhabited continent. With another 21 days to go, the Smithsonian has added a stretch goal of $85,000 for the conservation and display of the patchwork Scarecrow costume worn by Ray Bolger in the movie.

The Scarecrow will need a full conservation assessment to determine which materials were used to construct the costume. This will include working with scientists to identify the materials and conducting historical research. We will take a close look at the textiles and dyes that are extremely sensitive to light and wear. We need to understand what condition they are in to determine what treatment will best conserve and preserve them. Once those issues are addressed, we can decide how best to display the costume. The Scarecrow costume will need an internal structure to support the textiles and reduce stress so that he will remain in good condition far into the future.

As the Scarecrow is less glamorous than the Ruby Slippers, so far only $17,000 of the $85,000 has been raised, but we all know that if he didn’t get restuffed and spruced up so he could join the Ruby Slippers in a new exhibition gallery in 2018, Dorothy would miss him most of all.


8 thoughts on “Help bring Ruby Slippers, Scarecrow back together

  1. I am pleased to learn the Smithsonian is taking a better look at the Wizard of Oz apparel. The last time I saw the shoes, the display case looked like a class project by Junior High students. These iconic shoes deserve a far more clever ‘n creative display; and or course, foremost should be their preservation.

    Somewhere amongst my books is an edition about a young man hired to do preparation work for the gigantic sell-off of the MGM movie props and costumes. One of his tasks was to list the contents of a ratty-looking storage bldg at the back of the old MGM lot. The job entailed investigating the contents and it’s condition. The young man climbed a rickety ladder to a loft within the dirty, forlorn building. He had no idea what in the structure. When his flashlight snapped on, there in the glare of illumination across the room, on a crowded rack, was the small sized, colorful applique, felt jacket of a Munchkin.

    It may not have been King Tut’s Tomb, but this movieland explorer had stumbled upon tangible pieces of ‘childhood fantasy’ from long ago.

    Sadly, the book – as I remember — detailed how many historic items had rotted, were broken due to sloppy storage, were never located, etc… Not all employed to search and list the movie materials were honest. (The book revealed that following their employment, several meager homes were discovered to have Tiffany lamps, unique paintings, ornate furnishing, grand costumes, etc…all just happened to be identical to items in scenes from old films! Hummm… Cough-cough…)

  2. What kind of nerds get excited over Judy G. and any scarecrows that she met during a film production ? What’s so special about the film ? Is it the Technicolor that the National Museum of American History takes interest in ? Its plot appears to be particularly:

    Dorothy lives with her dog Toto on the farm of her Aunt. Dorothy’s dog gets in trouble with a mean neighbor, Miss Almira Gulch, when Toto bites her. Miss Gulch arrives with permission from the sheriff to have Toto euthanized. Dorothy decides to run away.

    She begins dreaming that the house is picked up and sent spinning in the air by a twister. It crashes in Munchkinland in the Land of Oz, where witches in red slippers and scarecrows come into play. Finally, she awakes at home, and they all lived happily thereafter. :confused:

  3. “Surrender Dorothy,” written in smoke from a swooping, looping witch broom. My favorite aerial archetype.

    Betcha the Cowardly Lion will need a flea and tick bath soon.

  4. 300000 dollars to preserve the shoes that never even planned to stay alive after film’s production! What an absurd. It is very similar to the idea of trying to find the way of staying young forever beating the natural aging process, which is part of life. It is time for Smithsonian to realize the fact that some things were just not Meade to live forever. At the end, why they think that shoes are so significant? What about preserving the actors that have passed away, making them like mummies to display? The acting was as important as shoes.

  5. Agree. It just seems such enormous amount of funds to raise for something that never meant to last. I see now that for some film enthusiasts the value in those shoes is more historical than monetary. So, I guess I was too critical naming the saving operation of those little red shoes as absurd. My apologies.

  6. Alexis —
    You are only partly correct in the outline of the screenplay. Dorothy is actually hurt in a real tornado when the window frame blows into her bedroom and strikes her head. In her unconscious state, she imagines her travel to OZ.
    The farm was also owned by Uncle Charlie Gale, wed to Aunty Em (Emily Gale.)

    There is also a long discussed theory by fans of this book (‘n movie), that the story-line was actually political, highly symbolic and based on the concerns of the era when author Baum created it.

    The shoes were origionally SILVER not RED. (They were altered because the scarlet hue photographed better.) The political aspect stressed the action of the special shoes marching over a Yellow Brick Road / symbolizing the then au’ currant question of ‘Silver over Gold’ (the ‘yellow’ or gold brick.) The Scarecrow represented ‘Education’; The Tinman was ‘Industry’; and the Lion was ‘Warfare’. There may have been a few more aspects but they were lost-on-me when my eyes-crossed and I fell from my chair – HA! Scramble this together and you come up with an idea produced by someone who had too much time on their hands…

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