New York-They are just a pair of shoes, but what a pair of shoes.
Possibly the most famous footwear in America, a pair of Dorothy’s ruby red slippers worn by Judy Garland in the 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz” are showing their age.
So the Smithsonian Institution, home to the slippers for nearly 40 years, is raising money to save them at an eye-catching cost of $300,000.
The money is being raised through a Kickstarter campaign, the online technique the Smithsonian has begun to use to expand its private fund-raising for objects that capture the public interest.
Last year, in its first such online campaign, the institution attracted $719,779 from 9,477 individual donors to enable its National Air and Space Museum to conserve, digitize and display the spacesuit worn by Neil Armstrong during the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969 and Alan Shepard’s spacesuit from the first American manned spaceflight in 1961.
In this case, the money will be used to study and repair the shoes’ materials, and build a special temperature-controlled display case.
The slippers were commercially manufactured shoes bought by MGM Studios. They were dyed red, and the studio’s designers added a red netting covered with sequins. Now, in their eighth decade, they are fragile, the paint on their arches is cracked and flaking, and they are deteriorating, the Smithsonian said.
Richard Barden, who is leading the conservation effort, said the shoes are complex artifacts that contain at least 12 materials, from steel to cotton.
“We have to consider how each of the materials reacts to the environment,” he said, and the answers will determine how he and his colleagues conserve and display the ruby slippers in the future.
“We take each material individually and do research to work out what the best environment is,” he said. “Do we need to put these in an oxygen free case, for example?”
He said two conservators and five scientists within the Smithsonian, as well as outside consultants, would work on the slippers for as long as nine months to a year. Other independent designers would construct the display case.
“Once the project starts, we will be able to determine how long the project will really take,” he said.
The slippers were given to the museum in 1979 by an anonymous donor, and in the years since, they have been on almost continuous display. (They were once lent to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London for a few weeks for a Hollywood costume exhibition.) And they have become one of the most asked-about objects in the National Museum of American History, the museum said.
At least seven and possibly as many as 10 pairs of ruby slippers were made for the movie. One pair was stolen.
Another was sold recently at auction and will be featured at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, scheduled to open in Los Angeles, said Melinda Machado, a spokeswoman for the Museum of American History.
The ruby slippers in the museum’s possession are actually a mismatched pair, Ms. Machado said. She explained that the museum was confident Ms. Garland had actually worn them in the movie, because after they were taken off view recently for a closer inspection, one shoe was found to have “#1 Judy Garland” written inside at the heel end and the other “#6 Judy Garland.” Her feet were small — the shoes are size 5, though one is slightly wider than the other.
They also have an added layer of red felt on the sole that was meant to muffle the sound of her dancing on the yellow brick road, she said.
The National Museum of American History is in the middle of a six-year, $150 million renovation campaign, paid for with federal and private funds. One result is the planned 2018 opening of a new exhibition on popular culture called “On With the Show.” The intention is to feature the ruby slippers, fully restored to their former sparkly glory, along with other artifacts like Jim Henson’s Muppets, R2-D2 from “Star Wars” and John Coltrane’s saxophone.
The New York Times