Few cinematic artifacts are as iconic as Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz. Never mind that the shoes described by Frank L. Baum in the source material were actually silver. So indelibly has the 1939 MGM film inscribed them in the public consciousness that we can’t think about Judy Garland’s Kansas farm girl without seeing red, in a manner of speaking. But like most movie props, those slippers weren’t built to last beyond the end of filming, let alone eight decades. Currently housed at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., where they’ve lived since an anonymous donor presented them to the Smithsonian in 1979, the slippers are looking a little peaked.
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“Nearly 80 years later, the pair worn by Judy Garland as she danced up the yellow brick road are showing their age,” the Smithsonian Institution writes on Kickstarter. “They need immediate conservation care and a new, state-of-the-art display case, in order to slow their deterioration and protect them from environmental harm.”
The Smithsonian is seeking $300,000 to preserve the footwear and keep them on display under controlled conditions of humidity, temperature, and light exposure.
The world’s largest museum and research complex is seeking $300,000 to preserve the footwear and keep them on display under controlled conditions of humidity, temperature, and light exposure.
Conservators expect the process to be a complicated affair. The shoes are made up of a host of different materials, including sequined organza, felt, leather, glass beads, and paint.
“Conservators will work with scientists to understand how those materials have changed and the consequences of their natural breakdown,” the Smithsonian explains. “Studying the effects of various light wavelengths, their response to changes in humidity and temperature, they will determine the best conditions for their preservation. Using this information, a special display case will be designed with an environment to help slow down further deterioration. This allows us to stabilize the shoes today and preserve them for another 80 years and longer.”
People who pledge as little as $1 can expect perks ranging from posters, T-shirts, decals, and tote bags by Tony Award-winning costume designer William Ivey Long to a pair of replica slippers.
Although the Smithsonian’s museums are federally funded, most of the budget goes toward operating expenses, which can top $1 billion in a single year. For everything else, it relies on corporate and private largesse.
This isn’t the first time the Smithsonian has turned to crowdfunding for help. In 2015, the National Air and Space Museum raised almost $720,000 to restore, digitize, and display the Neil Armstrong’s space suit in time for the 50th anniversary of the moon landing in 2019.