Paula Alaszkiewicz – Making the past come alive through historical spaces, textiles, and dedication to education

Department of Design and Merchandising faculty member Paula Alaszkiewicz smiling outside of the Avenir Museum

Paula Alaszkiewicz is an assistant professor in the Colorado State Univesity Department of Design and Merchandising and the curator for the Avenir Museum. She seeks to shine a light on the past, expand visibility for the museum, and inspire students for the future. 

Tell us a bit about yourself! 

I am from Canada. I grew up in Calgary, Alberta, and was based in Montreal, Quebec for ten years. I also lived in London and Paris. I previously studied art history at McGill University in Montreal before pursuing a graduate degree in fashion history at London College of Fashion. I returned to Montreal for my Ph.D., which I obtained from the Department of Art History at Concordia University.  

Outside of academia, I enjoy spending time outdoors. I am enjoying discovering the trail network in Fort Collins on my bike or while running, and I look forward to doing some downhill and Nordic skiing once the snow falls. I also love cooking and dining. Recommendations for restaurants and markets in Fort Collins are always welcome! 

What brought you to Design and Merchandising at CSU?  

I was immediately drawn to the dual responsibilities of my position—assistant professor in the Department of Design and Merchandising and curator of the Avenir Museum—and to the dynamic, collaborative nature of the Department of Design and Merchandising. 

What are your research and/or teaching interests, and how did you get interested in that topic? 

My research explores the structures, spaces, and practices of exhibiting fashion. The experimental display of fashion objects far predates the rise of the specialized museum fashion exhibition in the 1970s and 1980s. One important arena of fashion display that I study is the international exhibition and world’s fair. Central to cultural and colonial histories of the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century, these events frequently featured innovative displays of contemporary fashion.  

I initially became interested in this topic when I noticed that reviews of recent fashion exhibitions in museums often make comparisons to spaces of fashion retailing, such as shop windows, department stores, and designer boutiques. To use a textile metaphor, I became interested in “unraveling” these comparisons. International exhibitions were informed by museums and department stores, and therefore are a key site in the history of exhibiting fashion.  

One of the goals I have at CSU is to expand the visibility of the Avenir Museum across the College, University, and broader community. With an archive of 25, 000 objects, the Avenir is an incredible resource for students and faculty alike. Historically, textiles were important sites of expression and exchange across diverse cultures. I look forward to using the historic textile and costume holdings of the Avenir to create new opportunities for collaboration and exchange. 

What is your teaching philosophy?  

When teaching textile and costume history, I strive to make the past come alive. In the age of smart phones and social media, the historical past can feel very distant. Accessing history through textiles and fashionable dress allows us to see the many connections between past, present, and future. Students in the Department of Design and Merchandising are developing skills to design for the future. I hope to empower them to look to the history of their practice from a decentered global perspective for inspiration and lessons that will contribute to their personal design processes. 

What is your favorite thing about CSU and the campus? 

There is still lots for me to discover! So far, the trial gardens are my favorite part of the CSU campus. The gardens are just around the corner from the Avenir Museum. I am very grateful when I pass through them on my way to and from campus. 

The Avenir Museum is in the Department of Design and Merchandising, part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.