My name is Alden O’Brien, and I’ve been a curator of costume for nearly thirty years at the DAR Museum in Washington, DC (USA). I’ve been curator of the quilts since about 2003, and of the needlework since about 2017.

My undergraduate degree was in Art History, but I took a lot of English and history classes as well. I also spent a lot of time onstage and in the costume shop of the theater department, assisting the costume designer, so I am aware of the different approach to costume when it is costume (dressup) and not dress (what we wear on an everyday basis).

My Master’s is in Museum Studies: Costume and Textiles (Curatorial) from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. I worked at the National Museum of American History (Smithsonian) for a few years before coming to the DAR. (I was a very lowly peon, but worked with some amazing people–especially the costume historians, back when I was a summer intern in the Costume Division as it was then called, in 1984 and 1988.)

My main love, and specialty, is historic clothing. Looking in detail at the construction of a garment; tracing the evolution of a type of garment; dating portraits and photos with the clues in the clothing (my favorite parlor trick); and analyzing the costumes in period films will be the topics of many of my posts.

Note: I am not a costume designer or a costumer, so for blogs on the inspiration behind, and construction and wearing of period style clothes, you’ll have to go elsewhere. (When I figure out this blog formatting thing, I’ll post some recommendations.) I am a historian approaching clothing from a hands-on examination of construction and materials, but then going to images and documents of the period to flesh out a garment’s story.

And while we’re here,

What’s a Curio? It’s an object of interest, a novelty or curiosity, often decorative. Sort of by extension it can be a shortened term for curio cabinets, pieces of furniture popular in the Victorian era for holding people’s collections of curios. I like the earlier versions of such cabinets, though. Here’s one from the Rijksmuseum. They allow the public to use its images, so I’ll be using their collection a lot:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is kunstkabinet-1.jpg
Kunstkabinet or Curio Cabinet, anonymous, c. 1690-1710. Rijksmuseum.

Renaissance and early modern collectors sometimes had entire rooms called “wunderkammer,” or wonder-rooms, filled with natural history specimens and objets d’art.

The Kunstkammer of Manfredo Settala in Milan by Cesare Fiori, c. 1666. Rijksmuseum.

Wunderkammer and kunstkabinet being not only obscure terms, but rather long for an URL, I chose to go with curio for my blog title. (Perhaps it should be Curator’s Curio Cabinet, but that’s a bit much for an URL, too.) It was really Sarah Walsh who came up with the name Curator’s Curio, however, so my hat is off to her for her imagination, and I’m grateful she offered to help me find a title. (Sarah is a historian, historic costumer, and living history interpreter who portrays Abigail Adams; check out her Instagram handle, founding.mother, and her facebook page of the same name.)

Now, I hope you’ll explore my online “cabinet” of costumes and whatever other curios I decide to discuss along the way. And please don’t mention that the second definition of curio in Merriam-Webster is “an unusual or bizarre person.” I’m not THAT eccentric.

Watercolor of English men and women receiving a tour of a country house, early 1820s (detail).

3 thoughts on “Introducing Myself: Who is this Curator and what is a Curio?

  1. Dear Alden,

    Deirdre Le Faye sent me a link to your excellent piece on Jane Austen’s Sampler (not our Jane). I would like to reproduce it in this year’s Jane Austen Society Annual Report. Would you be happy to agree to that? Please contact me via the email below.

    Very best wishes,

    Hazel Jones (Editor)

    Like

  2. Hello, I’m glad to have found your blog and love what I’ve seen of your work. I like your scholarly but not intimidating writing style.

    I’m glad to know you are at the DAR museum- it’s on my list of places to see and your blog certainly is making me want to plan a visit when it’s safe again even more than before.

    Like

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