IO Spurlock Peach of the Midwest

The Peach of the Midwest ensemble is featured in the Spurlock Museum exhibit 'In Her Closet — How to Make a Drag Queen,' open through May 3, 2020.

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On Sept. 15, the Spurlock Museum opened the temporary exhibit “In Her Closet — How to Make a Drag Queen.” Items on display include 15 costumes, two cases of jewelry and related materials loaned by several drag queen performers connected to the Central Illinois region.

In addition, visitors can watch a video showing Veronica Bleaus applying her makeup for a drag performance.

When you hear “drag queen,” what comes to mind? Perhaps pink feathers, sequins, sky-high heels, corsets, impossible proportions, duct tape, a pound of stage makeup and a healthy portion of sass?

The popularity of drag has exploded in recent years, and so have the questions and curiosities related to drag artistry. This exhibit takes a step into the closet of the drag queen and highlights the aesthetic practices of costuming and styling that make her fabulous.

How do drag queens get “that look”? To answer that question, and several others the museum staff had while creating the exhibit, the queens contributing the costumes were asked to give their answers to a range of drag-related questions. The answers are shown in brightly colored labels placed on the walls near the mannequins. The thoughtful responses reveal many different experiences with topics including gender, identity, drag events, access to space and safety.

One of the most interesting sets of answers was those to the question, “What are the most important things to you when you put together a ‘look’?” The answers varied widely but emphasized engaging the audience and allowing the performer to give a good show:

— “The fit! The overall look has to flow, match and fit just right!”

— “Cohesive story telling. I like everything to be intentional rather than thrown together.”

— “For me, the most important thing is to inspire people.”

— “I think about versatility. If I am able to reuse certain garments in different ways, then it would be something I would want to add to my wardrobe.”

— “I try to be very creative with every costume I make.”

— “My style is admittedly eclectic, so sometimes I think about what not only ‘goes together,’ but what deliberately clashes, or creates a jarring effect when it’s looked at.”

— “The most important thing you have to remember as a drag queen is that more is more ... and we always need more.”

As stated by Mona Monclair, one of the contributing performers, “I always remember at shows that people pay to come see us, and you need to give them something to see. You’d better come correct or don’t come at all.”

Several special events are planned in conjunction with the exhibit. Learn more on the museum’s online events calendar at spurlock.illinois.edu/events/#all.

The exhibit is open through May 3. Admission is free. Museum hours are noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.

For more information, contact Beth Watkins at ewatkins@illinois.edu or call 217-265-5485.

Kim Sheahan is the assistant director of education at the Spurlock Museum.