WASHINGTON — Dorothy’s ruby red slippers from “The Wizard of Oz” are one of the most popular attractions at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, but they’re nearly 80 years old and showing their age.
That prompted the museum to launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise money from the public for a conservation program for the slippers with a goal to raise $300,000.
“The Smithsonian is a federal trust, so we get a generous appropriation every year to keep the lights on and pay the salaries here. But for exhibitions and projects like this, we require outside funding,” curator Ryan Lintelman told WTOP.
“So since these slippers belong to the American people, we’re asking them to help us make sure that they’ll last for generations to come,” he said.
Donations for these sorts of projects often come from large benefactors, but the Smithsonian formed a partnership with Kickstarter last year as a way to let small donors show their support.
The first campaign last year for the Air and Space Museum raised more than $700,000 for restoration and conservation of Neil Armstrong’s Apollo spacesuit. That conservation program is currently underway.
Dorothy’s slippers were anonymously donated to the National Museum of American History in 1979 and have been on continuous display ever since.
The fact that the slippers have survived this long is a bit of luck.
“The ruby slippers were made just to last through the filming of ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ and after 80 years, we all start to show our age,” Lintelman said. “They’ve suffered from exposure to light and changes in humidity and temperature and just old age. There are some threads fraying, sequins are starting to fall off,” he said.
Once the project starts, conservators will conduct a survey to determine how long they’ll need to be off display, and then clean, repair and stabilize them. They will also build a state-of-the-art case to protect them from any further damage.
The Smithsonian’s version of the slippers aren’t the only ones in existence: They were commercially available shoes that were dyed red and a mesh with sequins was applied to them. There were several different pairs made. The slippers at this museum are the only pair that remain in public hands and that are on view for the public to see.
The ruby slippers will go on permanent display as part of an exhibition the museum is doing in 2018 about American popular culture.
The slippers will remain on public display until after the presidential inauguration. The museum has set up a special area so visitors can take selfies with the slippers. The Kickstarter campaign runs through Nov. 16.
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