Barbie® exhibit has viewers thinking inside the box at Wayland museum

PLAINVIEW, TX — Thinking outside the box was not an option during the creation of the latest exhibit at Wayland Baptist University’s trio of museums collectively known as The Mabee.

“We wanted to think inside the box,” Kaylyn Bean, Director of Museums, said of Barbie®: Empowering Dreams, Inspiring Change, an exhibit nestled along the foyer of the Museum of the Llano Estacado and in display cases in the foyer of the Jimmy Dean Museum. The exhibit, which runs through April 26, includes more than 110 Barbie® branded dolls, including boyfriend Ken and other friends and family members. March is Women’s History Month, a great time to experience the Barbie® exhibit along with the third museum at The Mabee — the Flying Queens Museum.

Bean, along with Kasey Porr, Museum Curator and Collections Specialist, came up with the idea of making the display cases look like Barbie® boxes.

“We studied Barbie® boxes and tried to emulate them,” Bean explained. “Each box has a slogan, the brand, and the Mattel logo. We also wanted to make sure it was very pink because pink is Barbie’s signature.”

Porr said the exhibit grew out of a discussion she and Bean had with Dr. Rebecca Crowe, a professor of History and Dean of the School Behavioral Sciences.

“She started talking to us about doing Barbie® for Women’s History Month,” Porr said. “We started exploring that idea, and one of the questions we asked was, ‘What does Barbie® mean?’” The discussion grew from there and eventually included Christine Lockridge, Project Coordinator for Wayland’s Virtual Center for Veteran Student Services. She’s a Barbie® collector that is scheduled to be a featured speaker at a Barbie® forum on April 2 that is part of the exhibit. Also, the Barbie® Movie will be shown Monday, March 25. Those coming to the movie are encouraged to dress like their favorite Barbie®.

“We sat down as a group and explored the idea of what is Barbie®?” Porr said. “Who is she, and what does she mean to everyone? That’s kind of where the concept came from — that she can be anyone. She represents a lot of different people and has tried over the years to bring Barbie® to so many different types of people in different ways. You’ve got Mystical Barbie® and Mermaid Barbie®. You’ve got generational Barbie® dolls that give ohmage to what life used to be like. You have the original Barbie®. You have Bob Mackie Barbie® dolls that go all out to look beautiful. Then, you have the Fashionista Barbie® dolls that are like everyday women. People can see themselves in them.”

“We wanted to really explore that side of Barbie® and talk about how she has reached out to people and connected and why she has connected for so long,” Porr said. “Almost every generation has a story. They have Barbie® dolls or their grandma played with Barbie® dolls. That was kind of the inspiration behind it all.”

The thinking inside the box begins with a Barbie® box photobooth at the Llano Estacado entrance to the exhibit. “Anyone can be Barbie®, so they can come take pictures with photo props,” Bean explained. “They can step into her box.”

There is also a Barbie® silhouette community art project in the Llano Estacado Museum foyer. Anyone can write on it about what Barbie® represents to them. The completed silhouette will be spotlighted in The Mabee’s WayCon exhibit later in the year.

The first stop in the Jimmy Dean Museum foyer is an oral history video project featuring exhibit lenders.

“They tell us what Barbie® meant to them growing up and what she means now,” Bean said “Are they still collecting? Are they still playing. It’s just different perspectives. It’s what she means to them and what she represents. It’s how they see her — as a toy and more than that as an ideal or representation.”

The centerpiece of the display is the “Then and Now” box, featuring an original 1959 Barbie® accompanied by a 35th anniversary and 50th anniversary Barbie® dolls, plus an original case. All three dolls are wearing the classic zebra swimsuit material.

“You can see how she has developed over time with different types of manufacturing of plastic, but also beauty standards,” the museum director said. “It shows how molds developed over time. They make them cheaper now, but they also make them a bit more hardier and more for play.”

Another “box” features the Barbie® dolls of those interviewed for the oral history video.

“We have some from Dr. Crow and the outfits her mother made for them,” Bean said. “There are some from a woman who is mostly into the Wizard of Oz, so you can see the crossover. They are all Barbie® of some sort. It shows their interests. Is it because they grew up playing with Barbie® or is it because of a fandom that they are into?”

The Dolls of the World Series Princess Barbie® Collection dolls are found in another “box” display. There are quite a few dolls from different countries wearing traditional outfits.

Still another “box” shows the enduring appeal of Barbie®.

“We also have her family members,” Bean explained. “Obviously, Barbie® started it all, but as it became popular, they added more members. We have Kelly, Becky, Drew, Ken, and Kevin. Then we have more modern Kens. We even have Ken with his little man bun.”

The Barbie® as a Woman of Society box captures the doll with her friends and family as well as her house, car, and dream jobs.

“You have different types of jobs, like ballerina, flower shop, astronaut, or nurse. She has had more than 200 careers or professions,” the museum director said. “She started as a fashion designer, but people like to say Barbie® can be or do anything because normally she went there first. She was an astronaut before we even got to the moon. Barbie® went there first, and it was definitely before women were in those fields.”

The Barbie® representations “box” shows that Barbie® is more representational of all women now.

“So, here we have different body shapes, ethnicity, nationalities, abilities. We have one with a prosthetic leg. We have taller, shorter, plus size, or curvy,” Bean said.

What the museum director calls “weird Barbie® dolls” are also on display. “The person who loaned this one to us said her sister took a bite out of her face,” the museum director explained. “These are weird because they have been played with so hard and so rough. They get markings, haircuts and all these things little kids will do.”

Collectors are featured in still another Barbie® “box.”

“Those are the ones who were played with super hard,” Bean said, pointing to the case where weird Barbie® dolls are displayed. “But these are the ones that were never taken outside of the box. They were meant to be collected and looked at.”

Barbie® and Snoopy® is the only doll on loan from a man. Wonder Woman® Barbie®, Disney Barbie® and annually issued holiday Barbie® dolls also are in the collector’s box.

“We tried to be respectful of the Barbie® brand but also poke fun too at the consumerism of it all,” Bean said.

“We want visitors to take time to really explore the Barbie® dolls,” Porr said. “Think about yourself and Barbie® and your thoughts and views. The exhibit is laid out like a research paper — who, what, when, where, and why, but ask questions of yourself as you go through. What does Barbie® mean to me? Why do I connect to Barbie®? Everyone has that story. When you say Barbie® you have that image. Why is that the Barbie® that I picture? Are there Barbie® dolls like me? Are there Barbie® dolls that have careers like me? Put yourself in the head space of the exhibit and answer those questions in your light and share the answers around you. Would it be different if you were a child now?