Archive for July, 2009

What’s cooler than being cool?

July 30, 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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).

Mukluks, and Parkas, and Dolls, Oh My!

July 9, 2009

Well, folks, things have been kind of nutty out here on the edge of everything. But nutty in a good way.

Brittany and I have been working feverishly to get through our inventory of the collection. For those of you who have never done an inventory here’s how it works.

  1. Take an object out of it’s case.
  2. Identify it by it’s object id (if it even has one).
  3. Find any previously existing records of the object.
  4. Describe the object.
  5. Do a condition report for the object.
  6. Photograph the object.
  7. Put it back where it came from.

Pretty simple stuff, right? Well, yeah, it is. But it has to be done. So far we’ve worked our way through a case full of dolls by local native artists, a case of mukluks (go ahead, click the link, you know you want to, trust me, you’ll be sorry you didn’t), a case of parkas, a case of ivory, and we’re currently working on a case of baskets.

Brittany in the doll case(Brittany had to climb into the case to get some of the dolls out. She’s a trooper.)

Attack of the Parkas(Me looking creepy in a case full of parkas. The face mask was supposed to keep me from having an asthma attack what with all the dust and whatnot in that case. While I didn’t have a full out attack, breathing was difficult for a few days.)

I think everyone reading this knows that I have no intention of becoming a collections manager when I leave CGP. I am much more interested in how people can connect with collections and learn from them than in how they should be preserved. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad someone’s thinking about preservation, I just don’t want that person to be me.)

So how am I staying sane out here in Alaska getting experience in a job I’m not that interested in pursuing post-graduate school? Brittany. That’s how. And her friends. This may seem corny, but these kids are one of the best things about this job, and this place. As you might imagine, there aren’t a whole lot of opportunities for young people around Dillingham. Most kids get a summer job or two, but it’s a small town, very much like Cooperstown, in fact. So the fact that this pack of teens is hanging out in the museum during their summer vacation blows my mind. And makes me soooooo happy. I mean, they could just be hanging around, sitting on a curb. They could be getting into all kinds of trouble. But instead they sit around with a bunch of old stuff all day, sometimes just watching Brittany and me work, sometimes offering to help themselves.

I think the best way to describe this is through a couple of anecdotes.

First, a couple of weeks ago, Brittany’s friends Jesse and Ben were hanging around. Brittany and I were getting ready to inventory a case of ivory and soapstone carvings and I asked the guys if they wanted to help. They said sure, and so we established a sort of assembly line if you will. Brittany handled objects, getting them from the case to the table where I was photographing them; I evaluated and photographed each object; Ben looked up each object by its ID in the old card catalog; and Jesse recorded all of the updated information on our new condition report forms. The whole process went off without a hitch. And in record time. We tore through 20-30 objects in about an hour and a half. But the greatest part came about half way through. There I was, examining an ivory carving, wearing my little white cotton gloves, telling Jesse about cracks in the ivory, when I hear him mutter, “I wish I had a pair of white gloves so that I could handle an artifact.” So I said, “Sure!” When we were all done with the inventory, I gave him my gloves and let him pick one object to hold himself. He settled on a soapstone and ivory carving of a walrus that his friends had been teasing him about, saying he looked like the walrus. While he was looking at the walrus I showed him the marks on the bottom from where the artist had cut the block (circular saw!), which he thought was the coolest thing.

I am the walrus!(Jesse and Wilbur the Walrus)

Just yesterday, Brittany’s friend Shane was in the museum while we were working on a case full of baskets. Shane, too, offered to help, sI set him up with a pair of gloves so that he could help me position baskets to be photographed. He was particularly fascinated with their construction, and also had a keen eye and was able to help identify several flaws during our condition reports. Perhaps the best moment was when I found a letter inside one of the baskets, detailing its provenance and possible uses. This basket came to the museum in the 1970s, and at that time was several generations old. It is a coiled basket made of twine that was used to collect sea bird eggs by several generations of Yup’ik women from this area. I, of course, was freaking out over this letter and all the information it provided, while the kids looked at me like I was crazy. However, by the time we were done photographing the basket, Shane, Brittany, and Ben were all looking at the letter and the basket more closely, and heard Shane say “Cool!”

Shane and a basket(Shane examining a basket.)

It might not seem like much, but this is great exposure for these kids who are largely Native Alaskan. Here they are surrounded by thousands of years of products of their own cultures, and I hope they’re able to take pride in that. I’m slowly beginning to see how complicated Native Alaskan identity is today. On the one hand there’s a big push on the part of the elders to preserve culture, language, and tradition by educating younger generations, but on the other hand, a lot of people are rejecting traditional lifestyles. I can’t even begin to understand this push and pull… But I’m trying. It makes me wish I had more time here, that’s for sure.

But regardless, I’m seeing wth my own eyes what these kids are learning from the time they spend in the museum. And it makes all the inventories totally worth it.