Medium 9781442267886

Collections Vol 10 N1

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"Collections: A Journal for Museum and Archives Professionals" is a multi-disciplinary peer-reviewed journal dedicated to the discussion of all aspects of handling, preserving, researching, and organizing collections. Curators, archivists, collections managers, preparators, registrars, educators, students, and others contribute.

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From the Guest Editor

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Over the past fifteen years historic house museums have been the object of lamentation and, in some cases, mourning. Article after article discuss declining visitation and revenue, boring tours, and a lack of connection to respective communities. In fact, Donna Harris’ book New Solutions for House Museums guides house museum trustees to explore adaptive re-use upon realization that their house museum is no longer viable. Historic house museum staffs feel assailed and somewhat confused about what to do, or if it is worth it. So many issues, so much hand wringing.

The power of these types of museums has convinced me that there is no more effective venue for connecting to people and issues in this profession. With misty eyes I watched Charles Boles, from rural Georgia, who was so moved by the verisimilitude of the ca. 1930 home of rural black farmer Amos Mattox as it was reinstalled in Greenfield Village, that he hopped the low rope barrier, grabbed the hymnal off of the mantel, and began singing and praying. Lines between past and present, black and white, and North and South blurred. Few other museum experiences could have engendered such emotion.

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Different Approaches to Caring for Historic Collections Case Studies from the National Trust

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Barbara Wood

Curator (South West), Devon Office, Killerton House, Broadclyst, Exeter, EX5 3LE England; email: Barbara. Wood@nationaltrust.org.uk

Abstract The “National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty” (NT) is called upon daily to address such questions at over 300 historic houses which form part of its holdings of buildings, countryside and coast. This paper will consider five case studies which demonstrate different methods of presentation and conservation of collections in the historic house context. None are traditional museums, but all are places that are exploring new ways of thinking and may perhaps appeal to less traditional historic house audiences or be relevant to different communities. All have been the focus of internal discussion to define management and interpretative processes relevant to the individual property which place conservation and interpretation at the core of the visitor experience. All use the “real thing” as the foundation for the offer that they make, yet have been required to debate and identify what the “real thing” actually means in the context of their property.

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Upstairs-Downstairs Active Learning and Compelling Interpretation

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Janet Sinclair

Consultant; Curator, Stansted Park, Hampshire, P09 6DX, England; email: mandalay.sinclair@virgin.net

Abstract The context for this paper is Stansted Park, an historic Edwardian house in southern England, given by the 10th Ear of Bessborough (d. 1993) to Stansted Park Foundation which now owns, conserves and administers the house, its moveable property and furnishings, and forested estate. The house has been open to the public since the 1980s but is no longer lived in by the family. This article describes differing yet complementary methods of interpretation, with specific examples of activities undertaken to fully involved and engage visitors of all ages and abilities through real life stories, while protecting the collections. Firstly, it discusses where, why and how collection items, their owners and their stories are presented. Secondly, how this engenders and enables an informal self-directed learning relationship between visitors and objects. Finally, more formal learning structures around school-age visitor activities are described, and outcome is documented by visitor feedback. The author is a member of the Attingham Society1 and Curator at Stansted Park, where she was House Manager 2008–12. During this period Stansted Park won two Quality Badges for Learning Outside the Classroom (LOtC) and was highly commended as best Small Attraction in South East England. Each award recognized high levels of active learning, accessibility and sustainable interpretation, balanced by the conservation issues.2

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The Curator’s Role in Crowd-Pleasing Events Maintaining Safety, Accuracy, and Sanity in the Excitement of It All

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Laurel A. Racine, Gregory R. Weidman, Lenora M. Henson, and Patricia West McKay

Laurel A. Racine, Senior Curator, National Park Service Northeast Museum Services Center, Charlestown Navy Yard, Bldg. I, Charlestown, MA 02129–4543, laurel_racine@nps.gov

Gregory R. Weidman, Curator, Hampton National Historic Site, Towson, MD, and Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, Baltimore, MD. gregory_weidman@nps.gov

Lenora M. Henson, Curator, Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site, Buffalo, NY, lenora_henson@partner.nps.gov

Patricia West McKay, Curator, Martin Van Buren National Historic Site, Kinderhook, NY, patricia_mckay@nps.gov

Abstract National Park Service curators share best practices for holiday decorating at historic house museums including protecting resources, philosophy and research, and planning and logistics. Racine explores the issues of resource protection including winter weather, evening events, visitor flow, open display, moving objects, fire safety, refreshment policies, and museum pests. Using Hampton NHS as a case study, Weidman outlines the importance of holiday displays being accurate to the time period, particular site, individual inhabitants, and locale. Museum staff should use primary, secondary, and internet sources to research an appropriate holiday installation to support the institution’s mission. This research and plans for holiday decorating should be documented in written files or a report. Using Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural NHS as a case study, Henson illustrates the importance of planning and communication for a successful holiday event. McKay, drawing on her experiences at Martin Van Buren NHS, describes a nuanced approach to bringing a popular holiday event in line with curatorial best practices.

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Seeing Beyond the House: Historic Structures as Museums

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Siobhan Fitzpatrick

Curator of Collections & Exhibits, Museum of Early Trades & Crafts, 9 Main Street, Madison, New Jersey 07940; email: siobhanfitzpatrick123@gmail.com

Abstract This essay examines five historic structures two mills, a library, a custom house and a retirement community that have been converted to serve as museums. Each case study looks at the building location, building ownership and interpretation of the structure.

How many historic buildings can you think of that serve as museums? Depending upon where you live, I am sure many come to mind—the house where George Washington slept, the historic house that is the headquarters for the local historical society, the preserved colonial, antebellum, or Victorian home of your town’s founding family, et cetera. Now try to think of any preserved historic structures other than houses that serve as museums in your local area. This selection becomes more difficult. If you are from an area that has preserved its industrial past, perhaps there is a factory that has been turned into a museum, but it is just as likely that those factories were either torn down or turned into residential or new commercial spaces as industrial areas underwent revitalization. Maybe a well-known military campaign was fought in your local area, and some remnants of the fortifications remain; they may be preserved and interpreted as part of a greenspace or larger museum space. But what about more conventional everyday historic buildings: libraries, custom houses, or early mills? Does your town have any of these buildings and how have they been put to use?

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The Other House Museum Places of Worship and the Case of Synagogues

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Barry Stiefel

PhD, Assistant Professor, Historic Preservation & Community Planning Program, College of Charleston, 66 George Street, Charleston, SC 29424; email: stiefelb@cofc.edu

Abstract This article explores the house of worship museum; a type often overlooked in house museum analysis. Due to the history and functioning of house of worship museums their interpretation, development, and upkeep have some issues that are very different from traditional residential house museums. The kinds of house of worship museum studied in this article are synagogues, which are used by the Jewish religion. Other house of worship museums of other faiths may produce different findings, such as churches of various denominations in Christianity, as well as mosques for Islam, and temples and shrines for other religions. Using synagogues as an example, this article suggests that studying house of worship museums can bring new ways of thinking about house museums as a whole, especially religious and ethnic minority groups who are often underrepresented.

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The Lighting Upgrade Reducing Light Damage in Historic Houses

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Elaine Barone

Roseville, MI; email: EBarone2004@yahoo.com

Abstract This essay focuses on upgrading a historic house’s lighting system by researching and locating light bulbs that are energy efficient and can reduce long-term damage to the building and its historic collections. First, it will discuss recent energy legislation. Then, the damage light can cause within the historic structure will be explored. Next, terminology and scientific equipment that is used to measure light will be covered. Following that, a number of environmentally-friendly light sources will be compared, noting advantages and disadvantages of each type. For historic homes that are open to the public, “comfortable” light levels for different age groups will be investigated while also examining possibilities for raising light levels and still maintaining the proper historic atmosphere. Finally, a case study will discuss how Edsel and Eleanor Ford House (Grosse Pointe Shores, Ml) utilized recommended methods of testing existing and potential new light sources.

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Using Research on Preservation and Conservation in a Historic House The Museum Plantin-Moretus (Antwerp, Belgium)

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Tom De Roo

University of Antwerp/Museum Plantin-Moretus, Vrijdagmarkt 22, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium; email: tom.deroo@uantwerpen.be

Abstract Historic houses are challenging environments for conservation and preservation of the often vulnerable collection objects contained within. Multidisciplinary scientific and expert research in the Museum Plantin-Moretus, UNESCO World Heritage since 2005, revealed its particular issues regarding airborne pollutants, climate factors (temperature and relative humidity), light, and presentation protocols that were all potentially damaging to the collection. Particular research on the displayed objects illustrated the negative effects of these issues. The combined research effort now serves as a “status of conservation” upon which future policy can be based. As a rational resource, it addresses overseeing governments’ wishes by making it possible to propose measures that are both effective and efficient. It also serves as a convincing justification for procedural and presentational change by museum personnel and management. Overall, it creates valuable goodwill among the various stakeholders of the museum, thereby going beyond the pure practical use.

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NOTES FROM THE FIELD Do You Feel Your Museum Is Becoming a Dinosaur?

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Independent Contractor,. Collections Management, 110 Bland Drive, Indian Head, MD 20640; email: sourdoughcreek@earthlink.net

Over the centuries, humankind has honored and attempted to reconnect with the past. Charlemagne, for example, tried to recreate the great Roman Empire in the eighth century and strove to revitalize its intellectual legacy by creating centers of learning and scholarship. Americans in the mid-nineteenth century with the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, 1876, sought tell the story of our nation’s founding. This event sparked such an interest in our Colonial and Revolutionary past that it led to the creation of the Colonial Revival movement and with it active, community-centered historic preservation.

Those of us who work in historic house museums enthusiastically carry on this legacy by providing the public a place where they can receive that much-needed tangible link to the past that seems to be such a vital part of our human DNA. We watch people every day come through our doors and leave changed. They carry with them the important understanding of the how and why we became the country we are today.

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