August 2, 2009 by

While Cooperstown geared up for the induction, I headed to Pennsylvania. Sally McMurry, a prof at Penn State has been working on a state-wide project funded by PennDOT to document farms. Her goal is to develop a context to evaluate farmsteads for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. The idea is that some farms may be eligible not for their architecture (fancy buildings or technological wonders) but because they exemplify an agricultural theme. One of the most tangible benefits of listing is that incoming producing property is then eligible for a tax credit for work done to the buildings according to the Sec. of the Interior’s standards. Ideally, farmers could get money for keeping and using historic buildings! I worked for five days with Sally and Diane Wenger in Lebanon County, PA. I met one very mean bull, two bats, a snake, and lots of more friendly farm animals; got zapped on a electric fence trying to document a particularly large 18th c. barn (turns out the tape measure I have using conducted electricity); and saw more corn cribs, manure lagoons, and machine sheds than I had imagined possible in such a short period to time. I also met some great farmers who were willing to talk with three women who arrived with no notice and wanted to poke around the barns, farmhouse, and fields!

Cindy filling out the form

Cindy filling out the form

Each farm was recorded in three ways:  through photographs, a site plan, and a lengthy form that required a full description and dating of every building and landscape feature on the property.  I took a few pictures and drew one site plan, but most of the time I filled out the form (wearing my CGP hat, you’ll note).  Hopefully when Sally gets back to Happy Valley to enter everything in the database, which will eventually go on-line, she’ll be able to follow my notes!


What’s cooler than being cool?

July 30, 2009 by


So this past week I got to experience one of the joys of collections management: mold. Yes, as it turns out our entire basket collection has at some point in the past 30 years been exposed to that festering nemesis of the collections manager. Complicating things further was the fact that as a small museum, we were ill equipped to deal with such developments. I knew that the best way to deal with the problem was to freeze the baskets. This would hopefully kill any active spores on the baskets. But where oh where to find a freezer that could accommodate this?

old baskets display(Holy baskets, batman!)

Also, while that’s most of them, there were more than what’s shown here. Well, our first thought was the school. They have a gigantic walk-in freezer, but weren’t comfortable with us putting moldy baskets in it, even if they were wrapped up and the whole point was that the cold would kill the mold. Honestly, I can’t really blame them, it’s kind of a gross proposal. After the school I thought maybe the Fish and Game office could help us out. Alas, they do not have a freezer. Then I thought well maybe Fish and Wildlife does. Yes, they have one, but it’s broken. No dice. However, the guy at Fish and Wildlife suggested we try the hospital or the cannery. The hospital was going to have the same issue with us that the school did, so we went straight to the cannery. Because, duh, of course they have huge freezers. I was apprehensive, though, and concerned they too would take issue with putting moldy baskets in where food is usually kept. But no! Success! Peter Pan Seafoods, Inc. saved the day, allowing us to store our baskets in their deep freeze for 24 hours. So last week the kids helped me wrap each basket in either a taped up garbage bag or ziploc and get them into the office. And then over the weekend Deb and I transported the packaged baskets to the cannery freezer, where they spent Sunday night at -40 degrees (brrrrr). Monday afternoon Deb and I went to retrieve them and brought them back to the museum where they thawed out for the next 24 hours. And Tuesday, Brittany and I set to work unwrapping each basket and placing it back in its case.

I have to admit, I was really nervous about the whole thing. Seeing as I’d never undertaken that kind of conservation on my own before, I was terrified I’d do it wrong and cause even more damage to the objects. But again, no! Everything turned out marvelously. The baskets weren’t exposed to any moisture, there doesn’t appear to be any new mold deveoping (of course only time will tell with that), and their new arrangement in the case is pretty snazzy if I do say so myself.

new baskets display(You probably can’t tell the difference, from photos alone, but trust me, it’s waaaaaay different in person.)

So despite all of the false starts and failed leads, I was really impressed with how willing everyone was to help. I think it’s really cool how people in Dillingham really seem to get behind the museum. Even if they don’t necessarily visit it all that often, they’re pretty much all willing to help out in some small way, if they can. Which is nice. It really is a community center.

I now think postcards are cool.

July 22, 2009 by

It’s been a while since I’ve been here! Today marked the opening of the “Mailed from Maine: Vintage Postcards from the Kennebunks” exhibit. I’ve been working non-stop on this for about three weeks now, and not only do I know a whole lot more about the history of postcards, but I’m proud of how it turned out. Today was also the test run of how it actually looked to visitors, as an ElderHostel group tried out the interactives (and were also most interested in finding the bathrooms…).

The museum director, Tracy Baetz, gave me the chance to lead this exhibit. I chose the postcards; rearranged the gallery; took down the previous exhibit; researched postcard history; wrote labels and designed them; printed them all out and mounted them on mat board and then hung them; chose to enlarge certain graphics; figured out how to hang incredibly heavy double mat board with fishing line (the word here is frustration); built two interactive elements; and wrote the press release to the local newspapers about the exhibit. Today I had an interview with a writer for the Biddeford Journal-Tribune.

The interactives for the exhibit tests visitors’ knowledge of what they learned about postcard history by asking them to inspect a collection of six postcards and put them in order by print date; I developed an answer key that’s interactive in itself, three flip cards with mini- images of each postcard sits beside the timeline. The other interactive allows visitors to “pluck” postcards from a nest (because we’re suggesting that postcards were the early version of Twitter) and try their hand at reading the messages on the back of each postcard. No one panick! These postcards aren’t real – we’ve produced hi-resolution scans of every postcard (front and back) and laminated them. I think this interactive is great because it shows that this exhibit isn’t just about the decoration on the postcards…it’s about what’s on the back, and what people were saying.

The real adventure took place a couple days ago whilst hanging a seven foot strip of vinyl lettering for the title of the exhibit. It seems that it could be simple, but as I’ve learned, it’s not. It looks great after the fact though! To add another of the five senses to the exhibit (instead of just sight), a loop of big band swing music is playing throughout the room and really infuses a sense of fun into the exhibit. I’m loving my job here and appreciate all the experience the staff is giving me!

The vinyl lettering after about an hour of applying it. I chose this font because it mirrors font on the backs of many postcards.

The vinyl lettering after about an hour of applying it. I chose this font because it mirrors font on the backs of many postcards.


Will’s Adventures in NYC

July 20, 2009 by

While spending time with family on Long Island, I took advantage of my proximity to NYC to do some scouting for this year’s field trip.  First stop was the new Museum of Chinese in America at 215 Centre St.  Although not officially open yet (the grand opening is scheduled for September 22), the new building is hosting previews through July.  I was impressed with the space, although there really isn’t much in it at this point.  Here are some photos:



In addition to offering brief tours of the space, the museum was running short films about Chinatown by some fairly well known filmmakers.  They also had a special program, which Kristin and I attended, with a Chinese-American spoken word artist and a Korean-American singer-songwriter.  The performers were so-so, but the room was full and the audience young and enthusiastic.

Next stop (a few days later) was the Center for Traditional Music and Dance for a conversation with a former Smithsonian folklorist/curator.

Then on to the NYC branch of the National Museum of the American Indian, which is across the street from the Center and housed in the old Customs House.  I had been here a couple of times before but not since NMAI opened on the Mall in Washington.  One thing I hadn’t really paid attention to on previous visits were the sculptures by Daniel Chester French that loom over the building’s entryway.  Fascinating and compelling pieces of public art, if tinged with a healthy dose of racism and imperialism.  The museum stands as a nice counterpoint to these classic pieces of late nineteenth-century ideology.DCFrench_sculptures

Job Perks

July 19, 2009 by

Induction weekend is fast approaching and the latest estimates have attendance between twenty and thirty thousand. Since the Hall of Fame doesn’t sell tickets to the event, there is no way to actually know how many people are coming to Cooperstown, but I’m sure it will be higher than last year (Goose Gossage) and lower than 2007 (Cal Ripken, Jr. and Tony Gwynn). Red Sox fans will show up to support Jim Rice and who doesn’t love Rickey Henderson? He’s the all-time stolen bases leader and there is a very real possibility that he will do his induction speech in third person! I’ll be helping with set up and take down all weekend, which I’m okay with. Keeps me away from any visitor services type responsibilities.

I was planning to post on a different blog entry, one I had written for the Hall of Fame website, but unfortunately it has been pushed back until August. They asked me to write about a recently accessioned object, and I researched a baseball signed by the Detroit Tigers replacement team, recruited in the spring of 1995 during the big strike. Everyone liked it, but PR decided they only wanted publish happy things without any hint of controversy in the weeks leading up to Induction Weekend. I guess I understand the decision, but it’s still annoying. As long as it hasn’t been permanently nixed I’ll be happy.

Before I go, here are a few pictures from one of my happiest days working at the Hall of Fame.

Maddux Jersey
Jersey worn by Greg Maddux when he recorded his 3,000th strikeout.

Wood's Hat
The better quality picture is on the computer at work, but this one will do. This hat was worn by Kerry Wood on May 6, 1998, when he struck out 20 batters, matching the major league record and setting the National League record for strikeouts in a single game. This event is my first happy baseball memory.

Just one of the perks that comes with the job.

Dr. Matt Destruction’s Song to Sing-Along to: “Daylight” by Matt & Kim
BONUS TRACK: “The Legionnaire’s Lament” by The Decemberists

Dance Party!

July 17, 2009 by

Your long overdue obecjt of the week (past several weeks).

Dancing is a major part of traditional Yup’ik culture. Every major celebration/festival/gathering includes elaborate dances accompanied by drumming.

Yup'ik Dancing

(Camai Dance in Bethel, AK)

Part of the dance regalia for men and women alike are dance fans (the Fenimore Art Museum has at least one pair). They are worn on the hands almost like brass knuckles, the fingers fitting into 1-3 holes on the base. Then there’s a circular part that sticks up off the hand and is usually decorated with feathers or fur.

Dance Fans

(A pair of dance fans in the collection at the Sam Fox Museum.)

Dance Fans

(Another pair of dance fans from the collection of the Sam Fox Museum.)

So now for the interesting part. The first pair of fans are a woman’s, the second pair are a man’s. How can I tell? Women’s fans are traditionally made of grass, and in the same style as woven grass baskets, a traditional female art. Men’s fans are carved out of bone or ivory, a traditionally male past time.

The first pair are from Nome, AK and their maker is unknown. The second pair were made right here in Dillingham by Sam Fox himself.

Anyway, I hope to see some Yup’ik dancing in about a week. I’ll be sure to post pictures of fans such as these in action.

Historic House Museums: the good, the bad and the ugly (literally)

July 16, 2009 by

Greetings from the other end of the mighty Susquehanna! Over the last few weeks I’ve been researching that favorite of all museums…Historic House Museums! Specifically I’ve been researching how historic house museums can utilize/develop/enhance/think up earned income streams and thus hopefully become more sustainable and less dependent on public or private funding. 

I’ve learned a lot and have had many of my preconceived notions challenged. And even though it does seem to be true that you can’t throw a stone without hitting one, there are definitely some really great things going on in historic house museums. I’m really enjoying experiencing some of the quirky aspects of each historic house museum (and yes, it seems they each have one), from the large stone shrine to a later owner’s horse behind the Nathan Hale Homestead (I’ve already put in an order for one for my horse), to the millions of arts and crafts tiles covering floors, walls, ceilings and even furniture in Fonthill (nothing says home like concrete), to speed dating at the Noah Webster House (I’m not sure if Webster would have even allowed ‘speed dating’ in the dictionary let alone his house).

But then there are the great ones: 

 Wyck House, a nondescript Quaker house in Philadelphia, produces veggies, herbs, flowers and eggs (soon) from their interpretive grounds and sells them every Friday on their sidewalk. They are the only source for local produce in their economically depressed neighborhood and they fully participate in public assistance food programs. So yay for reinvention!

I also really liked the thriftyness of the Mifflinburg Buggy Museum (I had never heard of them either before finding their great little website). They were able to use two local grants to create several streams of earned income including a video tour of the buildings and grounds to facilitate ADA accessibility which they now produce and sell, a local artists rendition of the site which they’ve made prints of to sell and they processed a collection of glass plate negatives in their collection which they also now reproduce for sale and licensing. The MBM began as an all volunteer organization in the late 1970s and since then they’ve restored or rebuilt 4 buildings, created a collection, and built a modern visitor center, and they’ve only just recently hired their first director (take note Meredith Historical Society…it can be done!).

Currently I’m looking for some sites to ‘try out’ my developing checklist of potential earned income opportunities. If anyone has a favorite site or if there are any interesting earned income streams at any of your internship sites let me know. Hope everyone is having fun and staying safe!

Wild Center Visit

July 16, 2009 by

Thanks to Wild Center executive director, Stephanie Ratcliffe, and CGP’er Mary Olson, I had a great day trip to Tupper Lake and the new museum. Attached are just a couple of pics. Great place to visit and not too far from Cooperstown. Gretchen & Staphanie are working with me to set up a field trip sometime there during the coming year. It’s a great case study on how to start a museum from scratch, and Stephanie & staff are excellent resources for anyone studying those kinds of issues. Great use of technology to.


Stephanie Ratcliffe (Wild Center director), Mary, and Mike in Mary's office

Stephanie Ratcliffe (Wild Center director), Mary, and Mike in Mary's office

If it’s Wednesday I must be in Cindy’s Office!

July 15, 2009 by


The former CGP Lakeside Classroom

The former CGP Lakeside Classroom

While you’ve been gone big changes are afoot in Cooperstown at CGP. Shortly after graduation the faculty and staff hurriedly moved out of the building and into the NYSHA Library. Unfortunately our offices were not ready so I moved into the main reading room. Cindy, Will, and Mike moved into home offices and the CGP office moved into what will become Will’s office in the fall. Now Cathy moved into Mike’s future office and then I moved into Cindy’s future office and Cathy moved into Lou Jones former office so that Geri could move into Mike’s future office which was Cathy’s temporary office. Now, I’ve moved into the former cataloging office on the third floor, but Rose and Ann are still on the Lake level.   You get the picture.  You all are having way more fun than we are this summer.  We promise to be less frantic and ready for you when you get back to Cooperstown.  In the meantime here are some pictures of the CGP facelift in progress. We hope that you will all help us plan for a grand opening of the finest museum studies facility in the country!


Looking south in the former faculty wing

Looking south in the former faculty wing


The CGP building looks better Already!

The CGP building looks better Already!


The computer lab will be the site of the new museum studies classroom

The computer lab will be the site of the new museum studies classroom

You OTTER come visit…

July 14, 2009 by

Otters!  I have recently learned that people love otters.  Evidence:

Families at Breakfast with the Otters

Families at Breakfast with the Otters

I attended the summer’s first “Breakfast with the Otters” last Saturday.  It was full of small children and delicious food. 

A family at the breakfast

A family at the breakfast

July 6th was the first summer board meeting, followed by a reception.  There was a fairly nice crowd, with donors from around the area.  I got to sit with “Mu,” who told me how she started investing when she was 15 with the change leftover from buying groceries.  Makes me feel a tad lazy, but…

"Mu" greeting Mr. Lowe

"Mu" greeting Mr. Lowe

Other than that I have been working on grants and sponsorship letters.  I was made the “Project Manager” of a summer communication plan with the top 400 donors at the museum. Our first mailing went out on July 1st and the second is slated to go out on the 23rd.  It involves a lot of ordering of “fancy” paper and colorful envelopes.  But seriously, it gives me a great opportunity to collaborate with the board members as an equal contributor to the project. 

Obie, the board president, who actually knows me by name!

Obie, the board president, who actually knows me by name!

I still hike, and hills are still difficult.  Last Sunday I lost a trail in the middle of a lake, which was great fun.  Needless to say, very wet shoes.

"Bridge" I walked across for half of the lake before it inexplicably ended

"Bridge" I walked across for half of the lake before it inexplicably ended

I have also started thesis work, beginning the interview process last Sunday, only to dread when I finish it to embark on the transcription process…

Susan’s dogs and cats have left, so the menagerie has dissipated.  Just before they left:

Susan's cat Zingo with a "cone of shame" because of an abcess that had to be drained.

Susan's cat Zingo with a "cone of shame" because of an abcess begging for tuna (with his meds in it).