Doing Digital Humanities

When I initially proposed my idea for what would become “Designs by Mannix,” I felt vastly underqualified to do it, but I knew Gordon’s drawings would probably remain unseen otherwise. I was not an artist, art student, or an art history major. How would I know what constituted an A-line skirt? Could I describe Gordon’s drawings the way that they deserved to be described? In fact, the descriptions turned out the be one of the easier parts.

As I worked on the project, I struggled with what kind of information I should add beyond the drawings themselves: should I include thoughts that some of these female designs appeared to resemble Katharine Hepburn? Should I point out which ones were my favorite? Should I shamelessly ask for someone to commission a physical design of these styles? I tried to remain neutral, but when I received feedback, I discovered that my opinion had to matter, since Gordon’s–apart from the notes he made on some of his drawings–was lost. I had to explain what these drawings meant to me, to give others a reason why I cared so much for them. I also endeavored to study the drawings more, as I was missing essential details like dates.

In the end, it was a lot of tedious work: lots of filling out forms in Dublin Core in Omeka, lots of zooming in on Gordon’s handwriting to determine whether that was an “r” or an “n.” I regretted that I couldn’t take better photos with measurements and lighting without shadows, but I can just be grateful that I had brought my nice camera to take these photos initially. Admittedly, I left out some wonderful works of art because the writing was indecipherable or I couldn’t fathom how to describe it. Time constraints also prevented me from uploading every piece of artwork of which I had a photo. However, this project doesn’t have to be over forever. I can always add to it!

Just as when I first saw Gordon’s art, I was drawn to Gordon’s fashion sketches. Rereading his biography, one of the reasons why I loved them so much became apparent: they featured styles from all around the world. Fashion was a positive outcome Gordon envisioned for the war. He wanted a postwar world in which we all borrowed from the best of one another’s cultures to create multicultural pieces of art. Even 70+ years later, that message isn’t exactly embraced by a lot of the United States population, and I marvel at Gordon’s ability to see the best in diversity, even when he lived in a world torn apart by war.

I wanted to share Gordon’s talent, and I hope I did. However, it appears that we can learn from Gordon. His fashion sketches were not just art: they were an expression of what he wanted the world to be like. I hope one day we can get to that world that Gordon predicted.