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Hats, Handbags, and History Event a Success

By Sarah Hulme

The room setup

Who would have imagined there were so many people in Las Vegas just waiting for an event at which to wear their hats? More than 100 people attended the Friends Hats, Handbags and History fundraising event on Saturday 23rd June at the Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas. In addition to a historical presentation, the event also featured a high tea celebration, a silent auction of some vintage handbags, donated to us by several generous individuals, and a raffle. Mary Savage, President of the Friends, opened the event, and Sarah Hulme, Friends Secretary, outlined our key achievements so far and explained how we will allocate the event's earnings. Some of those allocations include acquiring technology for the Regent Service student from UNLV to pursue a part time role at the museum in the Fall, purchasing archival hangers for Costume and Textiles Collection, and acquiring materials to support the preservation of the butterfly collection and herbarium.

Sarah introduced the museum's guest Curator of Costume and Textiles, and published author, Karan Feder, who made a fascinating presentation. In the presentation, Karan brought life to some of the wonderful old-style hats and handbags by describing their historical and societal relevance. In addition to her talk, she exhibited over 50 historic accessories from the museum's David Porcello Fashion Collection. This very special "pop-up" exhibition was on view only during this event and showcased hats and handbags from the middle of the 19th century through the 1960s.

The Friends are very grateful to Karan, as well as David Porcello and Jana Schwartz, who both volunteered many hours to prepare the exhibit.

L to R: Jana Schwartz, David Porcello, and Karan Feder

David and Jana also judged the "Best Hat of the Afternoon" competition. With so many beautiful hats to choose from, it was difficult to finally narrow down the participants to six wonderful finalists.

The finalists

The judges ultimately declared the overall winner as Karen McDonal, who wore her mother-in-law's vintage hat from the late 1930s.

Our winner! Karen McDonal.

Karen then drew our winning raffle tickets before we closed bids for the silent auction. This was our focal point for the fundraiser with nearly 30 donated hats and purses available to purchase. The bidding was fierce, with some bids remaining active until the final seconds!

Thanks to everyone who donated hats and handbags. We had so many donations that we could not auction all of the handbags at this event, However, we do already have fundraising ideas for what to do with them next!

Our volunteers made this Hats, Handbags, and History event possible. They set up the display tables, washed over 130 dishes, greeted guests, served refreshments, and cleaned up afterwards.

We raised over $1800 due to your generosity. Thank you!!!

Here are more photos for your enjoyment:

Raffle prizes
MaryAnn shows off her great look

Carol unveils her thinly-veiled style

Some handbags for auction

A Brief History of Burlesque

By Camilla Camburn

On June 21, 2018, Dustin Wax, Executive Director of the Burlesque Hall of Fame, presented an overview of the history of Burlesque in America at the Friends monthly meeting.

Dustin Wax, Executive Director of the Burlesque Hall of Fame

A burlesque is a literary, dramatic or musical work intended to cause laughter by caricaturing the manner or spirit of serious works (source: Wikipedia). Since the 17th century, retrospective parodies have been applied to Chaucer, Shakespeare, and the Greco-Roman classics.

In 1860s America, there was an increase in theaters in urban areas. In 1868, one of the first modern burlesque productions featured Lydia Thompson with her innovative dance troupe, the British Blondes. Dustin noted that this troupe "freaked the 19th century out" as the production of only women was a model of womanhood not generally accepted.

By the 20th century, burlesque became a merger of vaudeville (family-oriented) and burlesque (adult-oriented) productions. Familiar performers included Sophie Tucker as the last of the Red Hot Mamas, and baggy-pants comics Abbot and Costello. The World's Fair in 1934 featured Sally Rand with her fan dance.

World War II and Vietnam initiated the "pinup culture" with pictures of burlesque performers on fighter planes. However, Prohibition dealt a serious blow to burlesque establishments for a long while.

In the early 1960s, Lottie the Body incorporated the Motown sound into her performances. Burlesque classical and jazz works also have combined serious and comic elements.

By the late 1960s with the onset of the bikini, there was a decline in burlesque shows. Also, these performances no longer utilized live music due to economic factors. However, in the 1990s a revival of burlesque called Neo-Burlesque occurred. Today there is an increase in male performers but audiences remain primarily female.

The Burlesque Hall of Fame is the "world's premier organization dedicated to preserving the living legacy of this art form and cultural phenomenon".

The museum houses a collection of several thousand costumes, stage props, and photographs, and will have space for programs, performances, and a gift shop. Since April of this year, it is housed in its new home in the Las Vegas' art district at 1027 S Main Street, #110. You can also visit the museum on their website at

The Dirt on Dirt

By Joan Whitely

Now a geologist may say soil is just "rotten rock." Or a housekeeper may say soil is just troublesome "dirt." But soils scientist Douglas J. Merkler is avid about his discipline. He defines soil as a "useful resource" especially when still connected to the eco-system that developed it.

Studying soil is a big-picture science that combines elements of geology, hydrology, biology, and botany, he told his museum audience on June 2 in a talk he titled, "The Dirt on Dirt."

Douglas Merkler dishes the dirt on dirt

Though Merkler is not an archaeologist, he spoke at Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas on June 2 as part of the 2018 Southern Nevada Archaeology Speakers Series. "For archaeologists, the artifacts they recover provide important clues to what happened at that site,"" he said. "But the soil layers also provide clues" that archaeologists can use.

"It'd be nice if we were all working off the same book," he said, referring to superficial or inaccurate soil descriptions he has occasionally encountered in archaeology reports.

Merkler is adamant that when archaeologists do better soil analysis at their study sites, they will obtain useful information on past bio-diversity and water action - and thus identify additional factors that historically affected human society and economic wealth at, and around, the site they are studying.

A native Nevadan, Merkler worked in soils for many years for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Since his recent retirement, he resides in Boulder City and teaches the methods of scientific study at Nevada State College.

He also readily makes himself available for consulting informally with local archaeologists. "Let"s meet for a cup of coffee,"" he told a woman at the June 2 talk at Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas who wanted to discuss a soils-related question that was getting too specific for most of the audience.

Geology is concerned with the zone of earth that goes a "half mile down," he said to start off. Whereas, earthen soils scientists generally study go down to only about six feet. Though it is shallow, that zone of soil is critical for life. "Without soil, there is no life, but without life, there is no soil," he said.

Yes, soil incubates and feeds seeds, which grow into plants that are food for insects, birds, tortoises, grazing animals. And yet, soil cannot easily release its wealth of "vitamins" to plants if not for microbial life to break down materials into soil, animals such as kangaroo rats to aerate the soil, and birds to move seeds to new locations.

Southern Nevada is, according to Merkler, a "wonderful playground" for soils scientists because it ranges from the arid, low-elevation Mojave Desert to the "alpine islands" at the top of the higher peaks in the Spring and Sheep mountains that ring the Las Vegas valley.

Meet Nevada's State Fossil

By Mary Savage

Paige dePolo, Visting Researcher at Nevada State Museum Las Vegas, gave an engaging talk about Nevada's state fossil on June 30. Our state fossil is an ichthyosaur, which is a marine reptile that lived in the oceans that covered Nevada about 215 million years ago. The state fossil is a specific type of ichthyosaur named Shonisaurus popularis. Shonisaurus is named after the Shoshone Mountains near the site where the first fossil was found, and popularis comes from the support provided by Nevada citizens to excavate the site.

Paige dePolo, Visiting Researcher at NSMLV

dePolo explained ichthyosaurs evolved from land reptiles that returned to the sea, similar to the evolution of dolphins and whales. Ichthyosaurs were top predators who "probably ate everthing", said dePolo.

The holotype ichthyosaur fossil is in the museum's collection. A holotype is a valuable original speciman that is the first known of its kind anywhere in the world. dePolo explained that researchers from all over the globe compare their fossils with those at NSMLV.

dePolo came to the museum to sort through dozens of boxes and plaster jackets containing ichthyosaur parts of varying sizes so they could be properly documented. She spent six months working with the fossils and was able to match the collection with original field notes from the time the specimens were excavated in Berlin, Nevada, a well-preserved ghost town in Nye County. One of the most exciting finds was confirmation that there is a baby ichthyosaur in the collection.

dePolo explained the fossil beds in Berlin are unusual because they contain only adult and baby ichthyosaur remains - no fossils of juveniles have been found. This supports the suggestion that the shallow seas near present-day Berlin may have been a birthing area for ichthyosaurs. Nevada's ichthyosaurs include some of the largest species, being comparable in size to a school bus.

At the conclusion of the talk, dePolo urged the audience to go to Berlin-Ichthyosaur State park if they got the chance, but suggested calling ahead to make sure a ranger was available to show the fossils.

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
Sat July 7 1-5 pm Mining Education Room Family Summer Program
Sat July 14 1-5 pm Sports in Nevada Education Room Family Summer Program
Thurs Jul 19 6-7 pm Endangered NV Landmarks Shae Smith Cox, deputy director of Preserve Nevada Friends General Meeting
Sat July 21 1-5 pm Pioneer Education Room Family Summer Program
Sat July 28 1-5 pm Desert Seasons Education Room Family Summer Program
Sat July 28 7-8:30 pm Dino Discovery Family Night *REGISTRATION REQUIRED* Special Events Room Friends of NSMLV Event
Sat August 4 1-5 pm Bug Detectives Education Room Family Summer Program
Thurs Aug 16 6-7 pm Those Dam Women - the Women that Helped Build the Hoover Dam Dennis McBride, Director NSMLV Friends General Meeting
Sat Aug 25 2-4 pm Preserving Archaeology through Photography Samantha Rubinson, State Historic Preservation Office Southern NV Archaeology Speaker Series

To see the complete schedule for the year, and to register for the Dino Discovery Night, please go to our Events page.

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