That old frame backpack or homemade down vest you can’t bear to put in the rummage sale? Rachel Gross wants to hear about it.
In fact, any item of outdoor gear with a history can join the show at Gross’s “pop-up museum” display Saturday at Imagine Nation Brewery. The University of Montana Davidson Honors College professor investigates how recreation equipment recalls much more than epic tales of adventure and disaster. It also reveals trends in technology, marketing and even how we relate to family members.
“Remember those Frostline kits from the '70s for making down vests and booties?” Gross asked. “It may be ‘your vest,’ but it’s also something you asked your mom or your sister to spend 10 hours to sew for you. It’s a way of thinking about where things are made and gender relationships and the values we attach to outdoor experiences.”
Gross has been studying outdoor gear through old catalogs, guidebooks, and other archives. The pop-up museum concept allows her and her UM students to add a personal vantage to the project. Participant Ann O’Connor’s several-decade-long collection of long underwear provides an example.
“The feel of the material has gotten much more comfortable against the skin,” O’Connor said, sorting through the pile of woolen, cotton, and synthetic shirts. “Older stuff had threading that dug into your skin or was itchy.”
Nevertheless, some older stuff makes comebacks. O’Connor displayed a Pearl Izumi biking “woolie” jersey from 1975 with pouches in the back for water bottles.
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“Now it’s really cool to wear these again, but they cost $80,” she said. “It’s fun to have the original before it was cool. Now it’s a fashion thing.”
Fashion things also have a way of backfiring. Gross said she had one display of old cotton ski outfits, only to be reminded of the new winter safety warning “cotton kills” when it gets wet. She has outdoor gear catalogs selling lederhosen and feathered hiking caps from a time when “Sound of Music” ruled the trail dress code.
Gross doesn’t plan on keeping any of the items brought to Saturday’s gathering, but she and her students do want to arrange future interviews with the owners. Significant items could become part of a Historical Museum at Fort Missoula display Gross hopes to put together in 2018.
“So many people here love the outdoors and have collections of gear,” Gross said. “The goal is to get people talking together and sharing stories. Thinking carefully about the things you have in your closet is always valuable.”
The free gathering takes place from 4 to 8 p.m.on Saturday at Imagine Nation Brewing Co, 1151 W. Broadway. More information is available on the internet.