Mannequins as Muses
She and her Introduction to Creative Writing students piled into a college van last
fall, and drove to the rural Beloit home of a retired electrician who had spent his spare time amassing a collection of nearly 60 female mannequins, along with a trove of vintage clothing, jewelry, wigs, and other accessories.
The collection itself may seem peculiar enough, but the collector had accentuated
most of the mannequins by enlarging their breasts, painting them with extra lipstick and makeup, and applying fake eyelashes. Students encountered most of the mannequins dressed in formalwear and assembled in groups in the living room, great room—even the kitchen—in anticipation of being sold at auction.
Because the mannequins, along with the rest of the home’s contents and the house itself were going up for sale, the residence was open to the public for auction viewing. That’s where Clancy and the writers came in.
“When I heard that an 88-year-old electrician had died and left behind 60 very buxom mannequins, I knew there was a story,” says Clancy. “We were working on seeing the world like writers,” she explains about her class, “always mindful of small details.”
The southern plantation-style home and its unusual contents drew students in. The mannequins and their accoutrements, set against a backdrop of Victorian décor, meticulously annotated light-switch panels, and random objects, worked as a kind of muse. Students took notes and photos, asked questions, and started writing.
Although the mannequins demanded a lot of attention, a different object captured
sophomore Rosalind Vang’s curiosity. A boxed wedding gown at the auction became the subject of her essay, What Stays And What Remains: The Mystery Of The Wedding Dress, which aired on Wisconsin Life, a program on Wisconsin Public Radio. At press time, Alicia Holliday’18, also in Clancy’s class, was slated to be the second student from the class to read an essay about the mannequin house on public radio.