FIT’s Special Collections unit in the Gladys Marcus Library gets a $4 million upgrade

FIT’s Special Collections and College Archives, a unit of the Gladys Marcus Library, has a brand-new home. Karen Trivette, head of the unit, says the roughly $4 million renovation and expansion—from 3,500 to 6,100 square feet—is a “phenomenal demonstration of respect for the intrinsic, informational, and historic value of the materials.” Visitors now pass through a welcoming entryway with climate-controlled, LED-lit display cases and into a wood-accented reading room with improved lighting and space for approximately 40 visitors, twice its previous capacity. The unit hosts symposia for archivists, so the facility is outfitted for multimedia presentations. “Everything is state of the art,” Trivette says. Climate-controlled storage with sliding steel shelves accommodates 20 percent more materials. With additional staff, the collection is now operating seven days and three nights a week. The new space will open in April.
Trivette says the collection competes in importance with comparable archives at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. Treasures include original fashion sketches and illustrations, rare and fragile photographs, and periodicals, many dating from before the Civil War. The J.B. Martin papers comprise 15,000 textile/surface designs from the venerable velvet manufacturer. (The Museum at FIT houses some of the corresponding fabrics.) Recent acquisitions include designer Marc Bohan’s sketches for Dior, purchased with a $30,000 grant from the Buddy Taub Foundation. Legendary publicist Eleanor Lambert (1903-2003) donated her papers, as did Ruth Finley, age 91, founder of the influential Fashion Calendar.
This fertile ground for researchers has already borne fruit. In 2015, April Calahan, Fashion and Textile Studies: History, Theory, Museum Practice ’09, Special Collections associate, published a book drawn entirely from materials in the collection.
Trivette says the renovation, funded by federal, state, and city resources, raises the college profile in the scholarly community: “I see this as a step toward realizing FIT’s strategic goal of becoming known for research and innovation.” Just as important, the project makes a vital resource more available for the joy of intellectual epiphany. “Through this access,” she says, “we’re providing endless points of discovery.”

Featured Photo: Trivette, head of Special Collections and FIT Archives, in the climate-controlled area that will house textile/surface designs from woven-velvet manufacturer J.B. Martin, among other materials. (Credit: Joe Carrotta, Photography ’16.)