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The procrastinator’s Halloween costume headquarters

Oct 28, 2015


Maggie Adler, Curator of Paintings, Sculpture, and Works on Paper

Part of  these categories:: Collection

This blog post was originally published in 2015 on the Carter's previous blog.

Woman with shoulder-length reddish hair wears a black top and pants under a piece of board that is hung around her neck; pasted to the board are a dollar bill, picture of the Mona Lisa, a name sticker, sugar packet, and more.

Curator Maggie Adler in her homemade costume inspired by John Frederick Peto's A Closet Door.

In my group of closest friends, I count many overachievers in the crafting and project-realization vein. For a still-life themed Halloween party a few years back, one among this crew sewed her own large clamshell out of shimmering fabric and lined it with an opalescent interior so that she could be an oyster on a half shell. I decided to take an easier route by emulating the trompe l’oeil masters of American painting, Harnett and Peto, with my own half-hearted attempt at their signature style of assembling paper goods on a painted wooden backdrop.

Compare the Carter’s John F. Peto, A Closet Door, 1904-06, with my homage. Of course, my friend—the oyster—received all the congratulatory remarks.

In keeping with their reputations for preparedness, I suspect that most of the people I know have already assembled their Pinterest boards with costume ideas or have planned to make spooky breadsticks with painted almond fingernails as detached finger treats. For those of us more, shall we say, normal folks ... we offer this inspirational guide to last-minute Halloween costume ideas inspired by the Carter’s collection. They are vetted by the least crafty among our staff.

Karl Struss, [Barbara Modelling Her Costume]

Putting a bag on your head or cutting eye holes in a sheet are the go-to costumes for uninspired people. In this case, you may put a bag on your head and tell people you are evoking the work of master photographer and cinematographer Karl Struss. Voilà!

Supplies: paper bag, markers, scissors

A black-and-white photo of a child wearing a tall, cardboard hat with a face painted on the top.

Karl Struss (1886-1981), [Barbara Modelling Her Costume], 1925; Gelatin dry plate negative; Amon Carter Museum of American Art, P1983.25.1604

Grant Wood, Parson Weems' Fable

There are plenty of costume aficionados out there who will create their own versions of Grant Wood’s iconic painting American Gothic. Dare to be different with your own take on one of Wood’s other iconic works, Parson Weems’ Fable. George Washington’s head here is modeled after Gilbert Stuart’s rendition of the first president. It was once remarked that if George Washington were to come back to life, he better look like Stuart’s painted portrait, or else he would go unrecognized!

Supplies: White shirt, blue pants, axe, white hair powder, and black ribbon*

*May substitute with handmade George Washington mask using $1 bill and copier

Frederic Remington, The Sergeant

I personally find those people who paint themselves with metallic paint, stand still in public places, and then scare innocent pedestrians half to death by engaging in sudden movement highly terrifying, so feel free to skip the bronze face paint!

Supplies: floppy hat, neckerchief, fake mustache ... if needed

William M. Harnett, Attention, Company!

Though I wouldn’t be able to make an origami crane, I can certainly fold a paper hat. So can you! If you have forgotten how, there are many instructional YouTube videos.

Supplies: newspaper, broom handle, khaki coat, and some origami skills

William J. McCloskey, Wrapped Oranges

I have been known to call this painted rendition of the tissue paper used to protect oranges as they were shipped across the country “exuberant” for the way the flamboyant crinkled coverings make the oranges festive and celebratory. People will probably assume you are a cross between a pumpkin and a mummy, but you can clarify.

Supplies: orange clothing and tissue paper

Thomas Eakins, Swimming

If all else fails ... might I suggest Thomas Eakins’ Swimming?**

**The costume ideas in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the beliefs and attitudes of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. The Amon Carter Museum of American Art is not responsible for the legal ramifications of copying dollar bills, nor does it endorse public nudity. This disclaimer is meant with good humor and is in no way legally proper. Happy Halloween!