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Creating Fashion & Function: North Dakota Style

Posted 2/18/21 (Thu)

By David L. Newell, Exhibitions Manager


Exhibit logo, graphic design by New Media Specialist Andrew Kerr.


Exciting things are happening in the Governors Gallery. We are currently finishing the installation of Fashion & Function: North Dakota Style—and it’s even better than I imagined. I have carried this vision in my head for 1 1/2 years, so it is especially satisfying to see it take shape as a fully realized, dimensional exhibition!

The concept for Fashion & Function has been with me since I started working at the State Historical Society of North Dakota in October 2019. It has been my primary assignment, and it is what kept me occupied throughout the extended work-from-home period, which lasted from March through June 2020.

During that period, I composed the initial draft of the gallery interpretation and developed the preliminary gallery floor plan based on research and discussions that had occurred over the previous winter months. Thoughts about the exhibition filled my every waking moment—at least from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

To draft the floor plan, I first had to learn how to use SketchUp. There was a lot of trial and error—and online tutorials—involved, but I picked up just enough to make myself dangerous. The floor plan began to take shape. It has undergone several revisions since we reconvened as a team in late June 2020, but the basic components still exist as I always envisioned them.


Isometric rendering of the Governors Gallery for Fashion & Function: North Dakota Style by David L. Newell.


The gallery space has always existed as a 3D collage in my mind. I wanted to layer the various components in the space without being overly tied to a chronological timeline. Fashion & Function is a series of thematic sections, each exploring the history of North Dakota through the everyday clothing of its inhabitants. Each section is a stand-alone vignette, yet still plays into the overall aesthetic experience of the gallery.

Key to developing the gallery space was the incorporation of components that we already owned, as well as the addition of some new elements to further expand their applications. A temporary wall system was purchased for the State Historical Society’s previous exhibition, The Horse in North Dakota. The wall system was originally designed for use in trade shows but was cleverly adapted for graphic elements and backdrops in that exhibit.

Along with the walls to create defined areas, I wanted to elevate Fashion & Functions interpretive spaces on low platforms and to maintain an open appearance, even in shallow spaces. As fate would have it, the day after I saw this inspiring photo for a fashion campaign using stacked, crate-like elements, our super-inventive Chief Preparator Bryan Turnbow showed me an Italian-made connector system that when used in conjunction with flat sheets of wood could create multilevel structures. Bryan’s system would work perfectly to fabricate a wide variety of platforms, risers, and pedestals. Plus, these elements had the added benefit of being completely recyclable for future applications. With this magic solution, the whole project took off.


Modular construction system applied to platforms and risers in The Wedding March vignette.


We are fortunate to have a highly inventive group of young designers working as part of our new media team. They created the exhibit’s vibrant graphic appearance. They took my ideas as a starting point and ran with them, pushing my vision far beyond anything I originally imagined.

Andrew Kerr—who splits his time between graphics design and exhibition preparation—was responsible for Fashion & Function’s evocative logo and its accompanying bubblegum color palette. He created unique color combinations for each vignette section. He also created the layout of the interpretive reader rails that front each vignette.

DeAnne Billings, a new media specialist, developed the bold backdrops that we are using with the trade show wall system. LaRae Monroe, also a new media specialist, has formatted the video components used in the gallery, and she created the delightful opening animated segments based on Andrew’s logo design. The designers have all pooled their talents to produce this beautiful complete package.


Proof for Supplying the State with Style panel. Design by New Media Specialist DeAnne Billings.


I am also eternally grateful to our crack team of editors for making me appear a better writer than I am. And our wonderful team of curators and collections administrators have worked miracles readying the army of mannequins and dress forms, not to mention the more than 400 artifacts that make up the exhibition.

Kimberly Jondahl, director of the agency’s Audience Engagement and Museum team, has said that you can’t help but smile in the gallery. That is certainly my wish. I want gallery visitors to have an enjoyable experience, and to come away with a lasting impression of a unique and perhaps overlooked component of North Dakota’s history. I anxiously await visitors’ reactions. It’s almost showtime!


Previous Articles:

Colorful Exhibit Features Stunning Backdrops and Clothing
Powwow Panache
An Inside Look, Literally
Not So White Wedding Dress
A 1930s Timeless Dress Still Stuns Today
The Nitty-gritty of Nostalgia
Dressing the Mannequin
Once a Bennie, Always a Bennie
Upcoming Fashion & Function Exhibit Highlights Objects from the Jewish Faith
Hats and Hunting: Fashion and Feathers in Our Museum Collection
Western Symbols Tell Stories of Cattle Culture
Red Berry Woman, Red Berry Style
Spooktacular Fashion: Four Vintage Halloween Masks
Wouldn't It Be Wunnerful, Wunnerful
An Army of Aluminum Mannequins Takes Shape
Miss America’s Gown & Wonder Woman Boots Have Arrived!
Fashion & Function: North Dakota Style


If you have items or clothing to be considered as donations to the State Historical Society, go to online donation form, or for more information, contact Melissa at or Elise at