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309 S. Valley View Blvd., LV, 89107
inside Springs Preserve

Barnes & Noble Bookfair a Success

By Joan Whitely

For the first time in December, the Friends of Nevada State Museum Las Vegas took advantage of a fund-raising program offered by Barnes & Noble stores. We held a book fair on Dec. 2 at the store on West Charleston Boulevard, and we raised approximately more than $700. We will know the final figure once we've tabulated the online book sales from around the country.

A key element in our success was arranging for the appearance of author Gregory Crouch, who wrote The Bonanza King, an entertaining biography of 19th-century millionaire John Mackay, who made his fortune in Nevada’s “silver rush” on the Comstock Lode. Crouch spoke twice to small audiences at the store that day, and also was on hand to sign copies of his book.

Author Gregory Crouch speaks about his book The Bonanza King

The amount that Barnes & Noble will donate to us is a function of how many customers either mentioned the Friends, or presented our voucher, when they paid the cashier. We tried to do a good job of making sure that, somehow, we were mentioned when they checked out!

Thank you to the Friends and the many Job for America’s Graduates (JAG) students from Western High who volunteered at the book fair. Students passed out vouchers, did complimentary gift wrap and helped us pack up at the event’s end.

JAG helpers
Some of our helpers from JAG

Folies Bergere alumni visit the museum to view archived costumes

By Joan Whitely

On December 8, Karan Feder, guest curator of costume and textiles and ever the sleuth to collect more Las Vegas stage memorabilia and, crucially, to collect information about her finds, hosted a group of Folies Bergere “alumni” on a tour of the state museum’s costume storage area.

On arriving at Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas, the crowd of 20-plus former Folies Bergere workers hugged and chatted as if they were greeting classmates at a reunion. This tour was actually very similar to a school reunion honoring several years of graduates. The Folies show had ended its run at the Tropicana Hotel in 2009, just months short of its 50th anniversary, so the crowd reflected various years of service.

Those who came that day represented different aspects of the production: stage wardrobe personnel, showgirls, acrobats, dancers, adagio (paired) dancers and nude (topless but for pasties) dancers. Among other exciting possibilities, someone among those past performers may be able to actually identify a costume worn by themselves, or other performers, in one of the show’s many iterations over the years.

Just a part of the costume collection

Initially the group went to the public gallery to see cases displaying casino stage costumes. Then they moved downstairs, where Feder catalogues and preserves clothing. The museum’s collection, by the way, goes beyond the stage to include military uniforms, gowns worn by Nevada’s first ladies and socialites, and street wear from different eras.

singer's costume
Karan posing with a singer's costume

First stop in the work area is a beaten-up cabinet. Feder opens it — with oohs and ahs of recognition from her audience – to reveal a trove of sewing notions once used to repair costumes damaged onstage. Nowadays, when Feder or her trained preservation volunteers need to mend a Folies outfit, they go to this cabinet to match threads, buttons, ribbons, rhinestones or even complex hand-made appliques sent from France with the original costumes.

The beaten-up, but treasure-filled, cabinet

“It was the best job ever. I’ll never have a job like that again,” said Nancy Kist, who worked wardrobe at the Folies from the 1970s to ‘90s. “The costumes came made. We kept them up. We helped dress them.” To speed the process, the wardrobe people “pre-set” the costumes: pieces in order, laid at set stations, so performers didn’t have to handle racks or hangers.

And changing costumes on the fly, many times per show, was even more difficult in the days preceding Velcro and magnetic fasteners. Here’s how one dancer framed the challenge: “You’re sweaty, naked, with 20 seconds to get into a skintight costume.”

Some Folies costumes were almost indecently heavy if they carried a lot of beads, brass or glass. The heaviest one Feder has weighed came in at “35 pounds, just for the dress,” she said. Weighing was essential when the museum had to calculate how strong its storage racks and shelves for costumes needed to be.

Some (very heavy) brassieres

The sexy yet elegant costuming sometimes interfered with the performance, those on hand agreed. Once, a costume had to lose most of the rhinestones on its sleeves, a visitor noted, because showgirls just could not hold up their arms long enough during a particular number.

Leslie Borges performed in the Folies for two separate stints, one lasting nine years. Her relatively short height, as compared to the conspicuously tall showgirls present, is a clue to her roles in the show – she performed as both nude dancer and acrobat.

Acrobats “had to do back handsprings in heels,” she recalled. “Sometimes you stepped on your dress to where you couldn’t come up from a back bend.”

Costumes for the acrobats

The Dec. 8 crowd – which was mostly dancers – cooed when they saw up close some stylish costumes that solo singers got to wear. These were designed fashion foremost, as singers didn’t have to move fast or furiously on stage.

Some dancer costumes

Toward the end of the tour, Feder pulled out some still-fluffy feathery stoles in various colors. They were in great shape considering that most shows had at most just one dark day a week.

The costumes, in fact, had “a much longer lifespan than the dancers,” Feder remarked as guests were recognizing various items – such as basic hat forms – that were remade over the years when directors replaced numbers in the show.

Most on the Dec. 8 tour seemed pleased that the museum’s costumes are tangible evidence of their contributions to an iconic facet of Las Vegas history.

“People call us now from all around the world to study the costumes,” Feder concluded. “It’s a really significant collection.”

Former NSMLV Director Provides Clarification Concerning Rafael Rivera in Newsletter Article

By Joan Whitely

David Millman, prior director of the Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas, wrote to the Friends in response to our December newsletter to say that academic research proves that, contrary to the information relayed in our December newsletter, Rafael Rivera actually could not have been the first non-native to discover the Las Vegas Springs.

Commonly-cited information sources vary in the extent of their claims about Rivera, Millman says.

At the time the City of Las Vegas dedicated its Rafael Rivera Community Center several decades ago, it described Rivera as the person who discovered the springs while serving in a scouting party under explorer Antonio Armijo in 1830.

Also, according to Wikipedia (which spells the scout’s first name as Raphael), "The inexperienced Rivera left the main party and ventured into unexplored area. Within two weeks, he discovered the Las Vegas Springs."

Rafael Rivera
Rafael Rivera
Photo courtesy of the Public Art Archive.

And, according to Nevada’s State Historic Preservation Office, its Rivera historical marker “commemorates the valor and service of pioneer scout Rafael Rivera, the first Caucasian of record to view and traverse Las Vegas valley.” The office did revise its language about Rivera, reducing his claim to fame, almost a decade ago.

However, the exaggeration of Rivera’s accomplishments has “taken root and resists dislodging,” Millman acknowledges. The retired museum director, whose master’s degree is in Latin American history, speaks Spanish and also has extensively traveled in, and taught about, Latin American history.

While pointing out that the December newsletter repeated this inaccurate Rivera information, Millman also credited the Friends for an “excellent” newsletter and its “good work” supporting the museum.

All events held at the museum and are free with paid admission or membership. No registration required unless otherwise noted. Friends general meetings are the 3rd Thurs. of month. The museum is at 309 S. Valley View Blvd., inside Springs Preserve, LV 89107
Thu Jan 17 2019 6 pm Annual Business Meeting The Friends of NSMLV annual business meeting will be held in the Special Events room. By-law changes and the annual report will be discussed. Help us celebrate our successes and honor volunteers and donors. Friends event
Thu Feb 21 6 pm General Meeting Ottavio Gesmundo, a Las Vegas author, will discuss his book The Grand Gypsy: A Memoir. Friends event

To see the complete schedule for the year, please go to our Events page.

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