Category Archives: Museums

Fashion Queens – Southeastern Region Symposium in Charlotte, NC

I joined the Costume Society of America way back in 2005, and for a person like me who loves all aspects of fashion and social history, it has been a super learning experience. Once a year there’s an organization-wide symposium where members present their research, and on a smaller scale, there are yearly regional meetings as well.

I like the large symposiums, but I love the regional ones. There’s an intimate atmosphere where even if you do not know  a single person when you arrive, when you leave you have lots of new friends and contacts.

So I was pretty excited to learn that the Southeastern Region was holding this fall’s symposium in Charlotte, only about two and a half hours from me. The theme was Fashion Queens, which gives a nod to Charlotte, the Queen City, and Queen Charlotte for whom the city was named.

I know that sitting in a room with a bunch of history fanatics is not everyone’s cup of tea, to to me it’s an exciting opportunity to learn from the best.  The images above are from the research of Linda Baumgarten on designs of eighteenth century quilted petticoats. Linda is a Curator Emerita at Colonial Williamsburg. She’s the author of  books on the subject, including my favorite, What Clothes Reveal.

For attendees not familiar with quilting terminology, Linda provided clear photos to make her study easier to understand.

The presentation above was really interesting. Dr. Dina Smith of VA Tech studied “the design process of reenactors who create Regency gowns.” To do this she conducted interviews with reenactors attending the Jane Austin Festival in Louisville, Kentucky.

One of my favorite presentations was about the pearl button industry of Muscatine, Iowa. This research was conducted by Jade Papa of Thomas Jefferson University.  Anyone who studies clothing that predates the emergence of plastics has seen lots of  mother of pearl buttons, but do you know where they were made? Well, neither did I until I was enlightened by Jade.

Mussel and clam shells were harvested from the Mississippi River at Muscatine starting in 1891. By the 1920s the seven button companies in Muscatine were producing 37% of the world’s pearl buttons. Above you can see how discs were stamped out from the shells. This was just the beginning of the process, as each disc was handled thirty times before it became a button.

The beginning of the end of the Muscatine button industry came in the 1930s when the Great Depression hit. At the same time plastics were being made into buttons cheaper and easier. And the shells had been over-harvested which led to several species becoming extinct or endangered.  I hope Jade writes a book.

Jean Druesedow, who recently retired as director of the Kent State University Museum, talked about how Kent acquired the clothing of actress Katherine Hepburn. This was really interesting, partly because I have seen the exhibition using Hepburn’s clothing twice. Jean talked about the relationships that Katherine Hepburn developed with the designers of her screen and stage clothing.

After the presentations there’s the chance for the audience to ask questions. What really made this particular symposium so special was the exchange of ideas between professionals like Baumgarten and Druesedow, plus experienced conservators like Colleen Callahan and Margaret Ordonez. And just so you will not think the attendees were just the elders of the profession, there were quite a few college students and masters candidates who attended, and some who even presented. It was a great mix of ideas and experiences.

Another favorite part of CSA symposia are the trips to local museums. In this case we went to the Mint Museum. I’ve visited the Mint numerous times, but there’s always something new to see. Above you have part of a special exhibition from Studio Drift. The piece is Fragile Future 3.5, and it’s made of dandelion fluff attached to tiny lights. There’s a complete circuit of the metal parts.

And here’s my irregularly scheduled reminder that a museum does not have to have actually clothing on display for visitors to see fashion. So much of what we know about fashion history is learned from period art, like this 1857 painting by James Goodlyn Clonney, Offering Baby a Rose.

I would usually be more interested in the mother’s dress, or the hound observer, but in this case, it’s the father’s robe or banyan that caught my eye.

A big thanks to the Department of Theatre at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and especially to Aly Amidei, for hosting the symposium.

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Folk Art Center of the Southern Highlands Craft Guild

Just off the Blue Ridge Parkway as one is traveling south into Asheville, is the Folk Art Center. It’s mainly a crafts store that sells the products of craftspeople who are members of the Southern Highlands Craft Guild, which has been around, officially, since 1930. It was born from the Crafts Revival Movement, which was the rural twin of the Settlement House movement made famous by Jane Addams in Chicago.

I’ve written quite a bit about the Crafts Revival Movement, and I’ll link to some of those articles at the end of this post. For the most part, it was driven by a desire of middle class and wealthy women to help women in poverty through the production of traditional crafts.  Remarkably, some of the efforts of these women still survive, as in the case of the Southern Highlands Craft Guild.

And while I find some of the ideas of one hundred years ago to be more than a bit patronizing toward the people of Appalachia, the efforts were sincere, and did actually lead to women in the Southern Mountains being able to make and market crafts, and thus to bring in badly needed cash to their families. It also helped establish a strong renewal of craft traditions in the Appalachians.

The Southern Highlands Craft Guild is also in possession of a nice collection of crafts and other artifacts from the early days of the Guild. Upstairs at the Folk Arts Center is a small, but interesting museum of some of the items in the collection.

Besides textiles, there are baskets and other woven items, like the late 1930s or early 40s tilt hat seen above. It was made by Alice Pratt of Asheville from braided cornhusks, lined in silk.

This 1930s handbag was also made from cornhusks, backed with burlap. The maker was Isadora Williams of Knoxville, Tennessee.

This is the coverlet that pretty much started the crafts revival. In 1894 it was given to a missionary, Frances Goodrich, who was working in the area north and west of Asheville and she was so taken with it that she thought it might be a way for the local women to make money. Unfortunately the coverlet was around forty years old at the time of the gift, and most women, even deep in the Appalachian Mountains had given up weaving due to the availability of cheap mass-produced textiles.

But Goodrich was persistent, and soon old disassembled looms were located and reassembled. Women who had given up the labor of weaving returned to the loom as Goodrich and others started co-ops in which to sell the coverlets and other crafts.

There are other coverlets on display, like these three from North Carolina, Kentucky, and South Carolina.

Here is a very rare survivor, a dress made for handwoven linsey-woolsey. The museum was a bit short on details, but dated the dress to around 1900. There are a few mended spots, but otherwise the dress seems to be in wonderful condition.

People who follow me on Instagram have already seen this piece, but it is just too special not to share here as well. This is a “cow blanket” though that is most likely a misnomer. It was made by Kate “Granny” Clayton Donaldson. Donaldson lived in Marble, NC, and sometime in the 1920s or early 30s she started crocheting figures and animals from her homespun and dyed wool. The story is a bit sketchy, but through an association with the nearby John C. Campbell Folk School (founded by another woman, Olive Dame Campbell} she began attaching the figures to pieces of fabric to make a decorative blanket or hanging.

Quite a few of Kate Donaldson’s blankets survive. They are in the collections of art and folk museums, and occasionally one comes up for sale.

A personal note – my father was born in Marble in 1927. It’s very likely that his family knew Kate, as Marble is a tiny place, where everybody knows everybody else.

Biltmore Industries

Fireside Industries, Berea

Penland School of Crafts

Crossnore Weavers

 

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Homespun Museum at Grovewood Village

I recently found myself with a free afternoon and a desire to see something interesting. Sometimes we forget to be a tourist in our own towns, so I decided to take in an old favorite, the Homespun Museum, which is tucked behind the Grove Park Inn in Asheville. I’ve written about the museum before, here, and here. 

The Homespun Museum is not actually about homespun fabric. It is built around the artifacts left from Biltmore Industries, which closed in 1981. Biltmore Industries was established in 1905, and for a while was a school of handicraft. The products were sold to the increasing numbers of tourists who visited Asheville. By the 1920s Biltmore Industries had moved from Biltmore Village to the grounds of the famous Grove Park Inn. The focus was on making woolen textiles, though woodcrafters were still employed to build looms and furniture and such for the enterprise.

The woolen fabric production was called Biltmore Homespun, even though the yarn was not handspun at all.  The business was much too large to produce cloth from yarn spun on old fashioned spinning wheels, though Biltmore Industries did give the impression through store displays that spinning wheels were employed.

The yarn was, however, woven by hand on people-powered looms. The looms were based on ones brought back from an information-gathering trip to Sweden. Many of the looms still exist, and one is set up in the museum.

The looms were very large, as you can see, and a special long and narrow loom building was built to accomodate what was eventually forty looms. At peak production, Biltmore Homespun produced 950  yards of cloth a day. It was marketed in magazine ads across the country, and in the museum you can see letters by celebrities like Eleanor Roosevelt praising their purchases.

It’s interesting that so much from Biltmore Industries still exists, When the business closed in 1981, much of the inventory of wool was given to former employees and local crafters, but the machinery, furnishings, displays, and ephemera was just left in the old buildings.

The table above is a cutting table used to cut the yardage. There was a shop in one of the buildings where visitors could shop for the fabric and other items.

There were quite a few of these samples on display, along with many larger samples, and garments made up from the cloth. The man in the photo is Harry Blomberg, who bought the business in the 1950s. His family still owns the property.

I’m telling you, my fingers were itching to feel these samples.

This visit was made even better because the owners have opened up the old dye shed, which has much of the machinery set up with notes about how each was used. Until seeing all these machines and reading about how each was used, I had no idea this was such a huge operation. These barrels are the dye vats where wool that had been cleaned was dyed.

After the dyed wool was dried and mixed, it was sent through a huge carding machine. It in no way resembles the hand cards (they look like brushes on a paddle) used by families who spun their own fiber.

Carded wool, ready for the spinner.

The fiber was then ready to spin into yarn. Above is the spinning machine, a mule spinner. The machine has moveable parts (see the little wheels) that pull out the wool, seen on the left, twisting it and winding the finished yarn on the right. For some reason they used red wool on the bobbins to show the finished product, but the unspun wool is white!

1068 bobbins were needed to set up the loom for weaving. The bobbins on these racks were ready for the warp roller.

After the yarns were organized on the roller, the roller was placed on the loom where each yarn was attached by hand.

This vintage photo shows the looms in the weaving shed. Today the shed contains Harry Blomberg’s antique car collection.

The woven wool was then washed in the machines above using Ivory Soap and pure mountain spring water. The moisture was extracted, and the cloth dried out-of-doors. It was then shaved to smooth it, and was carefully inspected for flaws. A group of women workers repaired any flaws with needle and yarn.

I’m still amazed by all the stuff that remains at Biltmore Industries. Bags and bags of wooden spools…

machines that still contain bits of fleece…

and fabric still on the machines. It’s like a moment in time, frozen.

The tour through the dye house is open April through November, and the museum is open April through December.

 

 

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Moravian Galleries at MESDA

I love a good treasure hunt, and that’s why I head to my local Goodwill bins dig a couple of times a month. And while I always hope to find a clothing treasure, my first stop is always the books bins. Almost every visit turns up at lest one clothing or textile related book. And usually the find is some old out of print book from the past; something I’d probably never know of otherwise.

A recent find was Needlepoint in America by Hope Hanley. A quick look at the photos guaranteed that there would be plenty of information about clothing and accessories, so I bought it and read it. I can remember trying needlepoint in the 1970s during the “colonial” crafts revival craze. By that time most needlepoint came in the form of kits and pre-worked designs. But if you look back to early American needlepoint, you see a freshness and creativity not seen in a kit.

I enjoyed the book because I learned so much. I had heard the term “Berlin work” but until reading this book did not realize it meant the work was made according to a pattern, the first of which where manufactured in Berlin around 1806.

I recently revisited the wonderful Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, or MESDA, in Winston-Salem, NC. I wanted to see needlework, and my husband wanted to see flintlock rifles. We were both pleased with the visit. We did a self-guided tour (more on that later) with the aim of concentrating on items actually made in Salem, NC by the original settlers, Moravians who migrated from their towns in Pennsylvania.

For the interior of North Carolina, the Moravian settlements are quite early, dating to 1753. They were meticulous recordkeepers, so much is known about their lives. From the time Salem was established in 1772, it was a crafts village and marketplace. Workers there were renowned for pottery, silversmithing, and gunsmithing. The arts were acknowledged and encouraged, with there being a town band, and an artist’s studio. Girls were well educated in both academics and needlework.  And because the houses and properties tended to remain in Moravian hands, much of their crafts heritage has survived.

And here is where my recent reading of Needlepoint in America came in handy. The dog and cat drawings are a pattern to make needlework slippers, much like the ones seen above. The exhibit notes described the pattern as “Berlin Work Shoe Pattern, P. Trube, Berlin, Germany, 1820-1840. It was exciting to actually see a Berlin work pattern, just like I’d just been reading about! This one is on loan from the collection of Salem College, the school Moravians established for girls.

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This needlepoint pocket book dates to 182o through 1840.

This Berlin work picture is attributed to Moravian Louisa Lauretta Vogler, circa 1835.

It wasn’t all needlepoint. This embroidered linen pocket was made in Salem around 1780. The maker was probably Martha Elizabeth Spach.

This is a little silk sewing bag with a fish-shaped pincushion attached. It was made in Salem circa 1800-1820.

This tiny sewing box has all the original pieces. Unfortunately, the maker is unknown.

Not all samplers have mottoes and alphabets. Maria Steiner practiced her stitches on this piece of linen in 1808.

Each of the ovals is different.

This creation is a mix of embroidery and painting. Made in Salem between 1825 and 1835, the unknown maker used a variety of materials to construct her picture, including silk thread, chenille, silk fabric scraps, and ribbon.

This rare Southern bandbox came from a Salem milliner’s shop. that of Sarah A. Fulkerson, mid nineteenth century.

This is a needle case, made in Salem in 1838.

Made by tin and silversmith John Vogler, these are silver cape clasps made between 1815 and 1830. Vogler was a prolific craftsman and he lived to be 98.

The early Moravians were pacifists who refused to participate in the Revolutionary War. By the time of the Civil War eighty years later, their stance had softened, with many young men from Salem joining the fight. It appears that many in Salem were against secession, but once the fight started the town provided Confederate soldiers, their brass band, and fabric for Confederate uniforms from a Moravian owned mill.

All this makes the little hand-stitched flag a bit odd. It was made by Emma Miller in Salem in 1865. At the time of the war Moravians as a group were suspected of being Union sympathizers due to their close relationship to the church in Pennsylvania. There’s little evidence supporting the claim, but still, the flag exists.

Here’s Emma with her husband. Maybe she was trying to make something concrete to show her loyalty once it was obvious the war was lost.

The Moravians also had a pottery business, and they made both items that were similar to those of other potters in the region, and pottery that was reminiscent of their Central European heritage. I thought these animal jars were particularly charming.

Salem had a homegrown artist in town, Christian Daniel Welfare. In 1824 he traveled to Philadelphia to study with Thomas Sully, and then returned to Salem the next year, when he painted this self portrait. I loved how the museum put a door frame around the portrait, which seems to invite the viewer into the artist’s studio. Do you think he could have been influenced by Charles Willson Peale’s painting of his sons, which Welfare could have seen in Philadelphia?

Many Salem residents had their portraits painted by Welfare. This is Elizabeth Hege Ruez and her son Zacharias, circa 1825.

And this a a quite sour looking Christina Hege, 1928. She was artist Welfare’s sister-in-law. Note that Christina is dressed in the style of the 1820s.

You can see a marked contrast between the clothing of Elizabeth and Christina and the woman in this portrait, Anna Maria Benzien. This portrait of the Moravian sister was made in London around 1754 before she and her husband went to America. She is wearing the proper dress for a Moravian woman at the time. By 1825 the old rules of dress of the sect were giving way to fashion.

If you are ever in the Winston-Salem area, MESDA should be high on your list of places to visit. Tim and I took the self-guided tour, which gets you into only a small part of the general galleries plus the Moravian galleries. Spend the extra money and take the guided tour, which I have taken in the past. You see so much more.

 

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Currently Reading – Mary Quant

This new book, Mary Quant, is the catalog (of sorts) of an exhibition currently showing at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.  The exhibition and book have been a long time in coming. I’m not going to fight the old did-she-or-did-she-not invent the mini skirt, but I am going to say that Quant’s work influenced how we all dressed in the Sixties and beyond.

Before this book, the best account of Quant’s life was her autobiography with was published at the height of her career in 1966. And while the book is fantastic, it was a bit of a letdown to a person like me who tends to dwell on details. The lack of dates in the book was extremely annoying.

But curator and author Jenny Lister and her collaborators on this book have definitely filled in those gaps. It was greatly enhanced by an appeal on the museum’s social media sites to get women to share their Mary Quant stories from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Some of the stories and the garments connected to them actually ended up in the exhibition and the book.

Besides showing many of the garments shown in the exhibition, we also get to see photos from the Quant archive of the clothes as worn by models. This Ginger Group dress probably dates from 1966.

Here’s the same dress in a different colorway. The V&A acquired this dress for the exhibition. I know this because they got it, and another one, from my friends at Style and Salvage.

Because the curator had access to the Mary Quant archive, we are treated to the supporting material of many of the designs featured.

This dress, “Stampede”, is quite early, 1962. Skirts were getting shorter, but the mini was still a couple of years in the future.

In 1963 Quant released her Ginger Group line. It was less expensive than the clothes she made for her own Bazaar boutiques, and was wholesaled to stores. The Quant girls in the ad were designed by Maureen Roffey.

The dresses in the whimsical advertising were actual clothes included in the line. Do you recognize the famous face on the left?

And here are the design details for the dress on the right in the ad. It dates to 1965.

With the exception of the three Bazaar boutiques which were all closed by 1969, Mary Quant was a wholesaler. She maintained a design and sewing workroom to make samples, but her clothes were made by other firms. She (or actually Archie McNair, her partner along with her husband Alexander Plunkett Green) made lots of deals to sell her designs. In the US, JC Penney made and sold Quant designs, as well as Puritan. Starting in 1964 Butterick patterns released Quant designs as part of their Young Designer line.

Often the clothes designed for one line ended up in some of the other collaborations. Some of the Butterick patterns are very similar to the JC Penney clothes. The early Butterick design above was also produced as a completed garment.

To a collector and complete label fanatic, this chart is incredibly helpful. The Quant labels have been confusing people (me) for years, but the V&A staff was able to match extant garments with dated material with the archive to come up with this lovely timeline. Because of this I was able to correct some errors in the VFG Label Resource, and to more correctly date the three Quant garments in my own collection.

People interested in the history and culture of the Sixties will want to read this one, as well as those of us who grew up in the Age of Quant. The only beef I have with the book is that as a catalog of the exhibition, it is not complete. I’ve seen so many Instagram photos of the exhibition that I know that much more was included than what we are shown in the book. I wish they had at least included a listing with thumbnail photos of the entire exhibition.

There’s still plenty of time to catch Mary Quant at the Victoria and Albert. It’s on until February 16, 2020.

 

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Kimono Refashioned at the Cincinnati Art Museum

The main reason for our recent trip to Cincinnati was to view the current fashion exhibition there, Kimono Refashioned: Japan’s Impact on International Fashion. The second I read that many of the garments in this exhibition were from the collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute, I knew this was an exhibition I simply could not miss.

From the first exhibit (above) to the last, this was a feast for the eye and the mind. At the end of the exhibition the museum had set up ipads for visitors to give feedback. One of the questions was, “Did you learn anything from this exhibition?” I actually saw and learned so much that I had no idea on how to respond.

The garment in the foreground was refashioned from a small sleeved kimono called a kosode. The bodice and overskirt were made by court dressers Misses Turner around 1876.

The exhibition included many diagrams to help visitors visualize the concepts presented. Here you get a good picture of how a kimono could be disassembled and cut into pieces to make a fashionable Western dress.

The garment in the background of the top photo is kimono styled in the manner of Western dress with a wide belt instead of an obi. The big difference between the remodeled dress and the original kimono is a matter of shape. In the Western dress the body conforms to the garment; in kimono the garment conforms to the body. In other words kimono is flat, whereas an 1870s dress is three dimensional.

But there’s more to refashioning the idea of kimono than merely cutting one apart to make a Western style dress. In the late nineteenth century Japonism was a very popular area of collecting. Many artists and fashion designers were collectors of Japanese prints and clothing. One collector was the designer of this dress, Jacques Doucet. Dating from the late 1890s, the dress has a typical silhouette of the day, but the applied iris ornamentation was inspired by Japan. There is even a relatively unadored area around the waist, as if the dress might have an obi.

This evening coat from around 1910 more clearly shows the influence of kimono in the  loose shape and the motif of the brocade.

This loose fitting evening coat is from Chanel, and was made around 1927. The gold chrysanthemum motif is woven into the silk fabric.

The sleeve cuffs are padded, much in the manner of padded hems commonly seen in kimono.

This dress from Lucile dates to around 1910. The influence of kimono is clearly seen in the wide sash that imitates the obi, the loose fit, the dolman sleeves, and the wrap front.

Sorry about the sorry quality, but I did want to show off the front, if for no other reason than to point out what a great job was done by the exhibition designers in making a plan that allows the visitor to see both the front and the back of the garments. This is so important if one is to get a good understanding of how a garment works.

The back of an evening coat from the House of Worth…

and the front, circa 1910. The wrap front and the dip in the back of the neck are both borrowed from kimono.

And here is the front of this amazing coat from French couturier Georges Doeuillet.

Motif and shape tell us this circa 1913 coat from Amy Linker was heavily influenced by kimono. In fact, this style coat was referred to as a manteau Japonaise  in French fashion publications.

Scattered throughout the exhibition were actual kimono, like this early twentieth century example.

The evening coat is attributed to Liberty & Company, and the dress beneath is a Fortuny Delphos gown. The ideas adapted from kimono went perfectly with other garments associated with the dress reform movement.

Does it get any better than this?

This dress is a 1920s Paul Poiret. It is a one-piece dress that was constructed to look like a haori worn over a kimono, with the sash serving as an obi.

This Vionnet dress brings us back to the idea of flat garments. The 1924 dress uses an adapted T motif, which is patched together from pieces of gold and silver lamé.

Also from Vionnet is this wedding dress from 1922. It’s not quite as obvious, but this dress is also made almost entirely from square and rectangular pieces.

Another great feature of this exhibition was the use of paintings that showed the influence of Japonism on Western culture. This 1890 work, Girl in a Japanese Costume is by American artist William Merritt Chase and was on loan from the Brooklyn Museum.

And I’ll end this tour with a look at another kimono from Cincinnati Art Museum’s collection. The exhibition pointed out that the origins of the kimono have been traced back to the Han Dynasty in China. So you see, borrowing good ideas from other cultures is nothing new. I’ll revisit this idea next week.

I am only covering one half of the exhibition because photos were not allowed in the second half which featured more modern garments. I will just say that the more I see the work of Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo, the more I understand and love it.

Most of the garments were from the Kyoto collection, with other coming from Cincinnati. The show was a collaboration between those two museums, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, and the Newark Museum. It will be on display through September 15. I highly recommend it.

 

 

 

 

 

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Vintage Miscellany – August 25, 2019

1932. It’s almost chilly here in the Western North Carolina mountains so maybe fall really is on the way. Here’s my dream hiking ensemble: snappy pullover sweater, rolled cuff trousers, high laced boots, and a hat that’s part tam, part beret with hair neatly tucked away inside. Was she posing, or simply caught in a pensive moment?

And now for some news…

When I first started writing this blog around fifteen years ago, most museums I visited did not allow visitors to take photos, so I carried a sketchbook to record the highlights of fashion exhibitions. Today, most museums do allow photos, due mainly, I’d think, to social media. When people started documenting every small detail of their lives on Facebook and Twitter (and later Instagram) museums very quickly realized that every post on these sites was free advertising.

There are still plenty of people who object to the practice, saying that the photo has become more important than the experience. To some degree I agree with that thought. We’ve all seen people rushing through a museum or historic site, camera in hand, ready to get that perfect Instagram shot.

I try to use a strategy when visiting an exhibition that I want to photograph for this blog. Ideally, I view the entire exhibition, reading the show notes and absorbing the message the curator is trying to put out there. Only after looking and thinking and studying, I go back and take photos of what best tells the story.

This strategy works best where an exhibition is located all in one area of the site or museum. Often, in house museums like the Biltmore Estate, it’s just not reasonable to take the photos separately from the first viewing. Things are just too scattered about. But I do find I learn more and see more when I have the opportunity to look at an object twice.

 

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