Why will it cost $300,000 to preserve Dorothy's ruby slippers?

The Smithsonian started a Kickstarter campaign to preserve the ruby slippers Judy Garland wore in the Wizard of Oz. (Oct. 18, 2016)

The iconic ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland, who played Dorothy Gale in the film The Wizard of Oz, will likely live forever on screen. But keeping the original movie prop intact is a much harder task.

The Smithsonian Institution created a Kickstarter campaign on Monday with a goal of raising $300,000 to preserve arguably the most famous pair of shoes in the world.

Most movie props are made cheaply. The ruby slippers were made in 1939 for the MGM musical version of the Wizard of Oz and weren't made to last beyond filming, according to the Kickstarter page. 

The slippers were able to make it through eight decades, but now need some work to keep in place. Although the Smithsonian is a federally funded institution, the funds only cover core functions such as building operations and maintenance, not conservation projects.

But why will it take $300,000 to conserve a pair of shoes?

While it seems like a steep number, the process of preserving any artifact, including a movie prop, is far from simple.

Richard Barden, Manager of Preservation Services at the National Museum of American History in the Smithsonian, wanted to make clear, a preservation process is different from a restoration process.

In restoration, the goal is to bring an object back to it's original or former condition. When an object is preserved, it's current state isn't altered, rather it's decided how the object should be treated to best keep intact.

There will be no added materials or change made to the ruby slippers rather the environment around the slippers will be examined. 

"We want to slow or stop deterioration," Barden said. "We want to make sure they last another 80 years." 

Barden explained preserving the ruby slippers will require examination and research to determine what needs to be done to keep the shoes around for a longer period of time.

The ruby slippers are made of 12 different materials and the preservation team has to consider how each material reacts to the environment.

The research for keeping the ruby slippers sparkling is much more science-based than most would think.

Barden said the team has to study how each material reacts to variables such as humidity, temperature and air. Having a better understanding of each of the material helps decide what's best for the slippers as a whole. After this is determined, the team will work on building a climate-controlled case to display the slippers in the ideal environment.

Researchers have to determine every detail for building the exhibit case down to the barometric pressure and oxygen level inside the case, according to Barden.

Executing the scientific methods necessary for proper preservation requires the use of state-of-the-art technology such as digital microscopes and X-ray fluorescence, Barden said.

The $300,000 covers the extensive scientific research, materials and tools for the work, as well as the special exhibit case.

It also takes a particular type of expert to work on the conservation process of an iconic movie prop such as Dorothy's Ruby Slippers. 

"It takes understanding of science, art history and studio art," Barden said.

The Smithsonian Institute is counting on movie fans to keep the ruby slippers on display for years to come.

"I think people should give to causes they're passionate about," Barden said. "I think people are passionate about the ruby slippers."

Tom Spina is the owner of Tom Spina Designs, a New York-based company which specializes in creating custom statues, sculpture, mannequins and decor as well as in the restoration and conservation of film props.

Spina has worked with major companies such as the Walt Disney Company and Lucas Films on projects such as restoring original studio Gremlins from the iconic 1980's movies, and has even worked on the original American Werewolf in London movie prop.

He knows first-hand, how demanding a film prop project can be.

"All of this work is painstaking," Spina said.

In regards to the ruby slippers, Spina said there's likely a lot to figure out in how to best preserve them.

"A lot is really down to time," Spina said. "It's not a quick process. Talent also needs to paid for the process, it's hundreds of hours of work."

The biggest challenge with preserving a film prop is putting personal style aside and absorbing the original style of the object, according to Spina. Fans want to see what the camera showed them in their beloved films so experts work to maintain as much as the original finish as possible.

Spina said he believes the Smithsonian's Kickstarter's goal of $300,000 is likely accurate given previous Smithsonian projects, such as the Star Trek starship Enterprise studio model, required similar research and costs.

Spina said it's 'cool' of the Smithsonian to allow fans to be a part of the preservation of the ruby slippers.

"We're all movie fans," Spina said. "We're all fans of the art of movie props."

The Ruby Slipper Kickstarter project is offering rewards such as T-shirts, posters and even a rare chance to watch the ruby slippers being conserved.

Copyright 2016 KXTV


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