UA students put America's literal baggage on display at exhibition
Drawing from the over 12,000 bags of the Lee L. Forman Collection of Bags, “Cultural Carry-On: America’s Literal Baggage” showcases human experience and culture in the 20th and 21st centuries — from travel to politics to trash — through the canvas of bags. The exhibit is on display in the Institute for Human Science and Culture’s Metzger Galleries at the Cummings Center for the History of Psychology.
Since 2005, loyal DVD Netflix member Joanna Wilson has saved more than 1,500 red envelope flaps, which Alyssa Hertz transformed into a dress inspired by one wore by actress Rosemary Clooney in the movie “White Christmas.”
Produced by a cohort of UA students in the Museums and Archives Studies certificate program for Fall 2019-Spring 2020, “Cultural Carry-On: America’s Literal Baggage” is the result of their inspiration from the Forman Collection, a most unusual and unique collection of bags begun by Lee L. Forman who started saving the new paper Bloomingdale's shopping bags in the 1970s.
“Students were asked to select items of personal interest from the Forman Collection and then were challenged to find and write a narrative that bridges those selections,” explained Dr. Jodi Kearns, director of the Institute for Human Science and Culture. “With themes on politics, music, food, sports and more, the exhibition culminates students’ understanding of teaching and learning with museum objects and archival documents.”
Because the museum was closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, these students had to browse the online database that catalogues the Lee Forman collection. (Did we mention there were 12,000 pieces?) Students then virtually modeled mini-exhibits, or sections, based on what pieces and themes they felt drawn to.
“We weren’t able to see the gallery space in person, but were given pictures, a floor map and a chart of the area so we could organize the pieces to scale,” said Christopher Ha ‘21, who designed a music-themed section, inspired in part because he minored in Dance. He made decisions to edit the individual images of his chosen items so they would fit together and appear in his document the way he hoped they someday would on the gallery wall.
Finally, in 2021, the dreams of the 2019-20 cohort started to become a reality. Kristie Zachar ‘21, a member of the cohort who designed the exhibition installed the creative work of her class for her capstone project, earning the Museums and Archives Studies certificate. Zachar was familiar with sorting and archiving the collection in her role as a student assistant at the Cummings Center and had been tasked with bringing out the selected items and arranging them cohesively in the exhibit space.
“Developing a cohesive exhibition is both the goal and the challenge,” said Fran Ugalde, curator and instructor at the Institute for Human Science and Culture. “In this case, the concept of ‘bags’ is so broad that it ties all the different themes together. No matter which direction one walks through this exhibition, the thematic sections flow into one another because of that commonality. The result are displays that range from politics and pop culture to cartoon characters to items one might find in a coming-of-age girl’s bedroom, all under the ‘bag’ umbrella.”
“One of the most unique items in this broad Collection is a Conan O’Brien paper bag that celebrities were invited to sit on and then sign a certificate of authenticity,” said Kearns. “Howard Forman had bought it at an online auction, which raised money for autism research. We did our own version of this on opening night – from Howard Forman to UA President Gary Miller.”
The majority of the 200 items on display come from the Forman Collection, except for a few loaned pieces, which include the Netflix dress. The eye-catching piece was created by Alyssa Hertz, a fashion design major at Kent State University, with Netflix DVD envelope bags collected by Akron author Joanna Wilson. It became a natural addition to the exhibition “because the nature of the envelope is that it is, in essence, a bag,” explained Ugalde.
Howard Forman giving his remarks, next to a portrait of his late wife, Lee L. Forman, which is painted on a bag. Forman stated that he appreciates the educational value the Collection provides to the Akron community.
The cohort of UA students who created displays as part of the Museums and Archives Studies certificate program are: James Brenner, history major; Christopher Ha ‘21; Janos Jalics ‘20; James Latham, anthropology major; Analicia Heisler Miller, art history major; Nicole Orchosky ‘20; Allison Prendergast ’20; Lisa Van Gaasbeek; Abigail Williamson ‘20; and Kristie Zachar ’21.
Located at The University of Akron (UA), the exhibit runs through May 2022. Gallery hours and admission, ticket prices, information about parking and accessibility, and visitor protocols can be found on the Cummings Center website. Gallery admission is free for UA students, staff, and faculty with valid University ID, and for guests with a military or veteran ID card.
Don’t miss this amazing exhibit to see where these students’ imaginations will carry you.
Media inquiries: Lisa Craig, 330-972-7429 or firstname.lastname@example.org