Smithsonian launches Kickstarter campaign to preserve Dorothy's ruby slippers

The Smithsonian is looking for a legion of good-deed-doers to help save Dorothy Gale’s ruby slippers.

Though the shoes found their forever home in 1979, when an anonymous donation brought them to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, time has not been kind to the nearly 80-year-old costume piece from “The Wizard of Oz.” 

Created by the MGM studios prop department, the slippers were never intended to last. Since 1939, their bright ruby hue has faded, some threads attaching sequins have broken and some sequins are losing color altogether.

On Monday, the Smithsonian launched a Kickstarter campaign for $300,000 in an attempt to raise funds to preserve the slippers from further deterioration. 

It’s the second such campaign launched by the Smithsonian. In 2015, it exceeded its $500,000 fundraising goal to “Reboot the Suit” and conserve and display Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 space suit at the National Air and Space Museum.

The crowdfunding on the project was so popular that the museum was additionally able to conserve the space suit of Alan Shepard from the first American manned space flight in 1961.

With “Keep Them Ruby” the goal is to study the slippers to determine the optimal conditions for display and conservation. Once those conditions have been determined, the slippers will be cleaned and stabilized and placed in a special display case.

Throughout the Kickstarter campaign page and accompanying news release, the Smithsonian is careful never to use the word “repair.” 

“While the slippers undergo treatment their appearance will not change drastically, and we don’t want them to,” the Kickstarter page reads. “They were created by hand and show evidence of wear during filming, small signs of use that add to their character and sense of life. Conservators and curators will speak with experts to unveil their history and make sure their life and story are retained.”

While the Smithsonian is a federally funded institution, those funds are allocated for the core functions of the museum, including the safeguarding of the collections, maintenance and staffing. For the conservation and exhibition of certain items in the museum’s collection — like the ruby slippers — the Smithsonian depends on private donations.

In its third day of fundraising, the project has amassed over $145,000 in pledges, nearly halfway to its goal, with 28 days until its Nov. 16 deadline. 

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libby.hill@latimes.com

Twitter: @midwestspitfire

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