Monthly Archives: November 2012

Winter Weather Awareness Week

Raleigh 1884: A group of men gaze at a snow sculpture of a woman with a bustle skirt. (H.1955.21.10)

We’re nearing the end of North Carolina’s designated Winter Weather Awareness Week (November 25- December 1, 2012) Although snow can be a lot of fun, especially here in the Piedmont and down East where it’s infrequent, storms do pose dangers.

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Hazardous driving conditions, downed power lines, and breaking tree limbs are some of the risks involved with winter storms. The photograph on the left shows a car stuck in the snow in Sparta (Alleghany County) on March 2, 1942. On the right, a 1915 Raleigh street scene shows damage from an April storm. The North Carolina Department of Public Safety has posted some useful reminders here.

In addition, FEMA and partner agencies have put together a preparedness guide that includes a useful list of supplies to maintain in the home or office to help weather winter storms and the power outages they often bring.

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Shown here, a crew shovels snow to clear the way for a state truck to bring supplies to the Mount Mitchell warden station in the 1930s.

Does your institution maintain a supply of blankets, flashlights, batteries, water, and non-perishable food? These are important preparedness measures for winter storms. In a worst-case scenario, members of the public or staff could be stranded at your site and if a storm is bad enough to shut roads down, then power loss is also a real possibility.

Has your institution ever sustained damage from a winter storm? What preparedness measures can you recommend to others in our cultural heritage community?

Trash It

Does your collection contain large, rolled papers like posters that need to be flattened for appropriate storage or objects that have absorbed bad odors? If so, trash cans can be handy preservation tools for humidification as well as fumigation.

A National Park Service Conserve-O-Gram outlines the process of setting up humidification chambers, including the trash-can variety. A document should be fairly sturdy in order to stand on one rolled end safely. It can be placed inside a smaller, water-tight container inside the larger trash can. Several inches of water should fill the base of the larger can. After several hours in the chamber, remove the document and begin blotting and weighting process according to these instructions.

courtesy, Tara Kennedy

Tara Kennedy, Preservation Field Services Librarian at Yale University Library, recently promoted trash cans’ other collections-care use–fumigation–in a Connecting to Collections online community webinar. Pour or place an odor-absorbing material in the bottom of the large trash can. Several good materials are:

  • activated charcoal in the form of briquettes
  • baking soda
  • kitty litter (unscented)—probably the least expensive option
  • Gonzo Odor Eliminator, made from volcanic rocks (zeolites)

Place the olfactory-offending object in a smaller bin inside the larger trash can. Secure the lid on the trash can only. After a few days, the stink disappears from the object. For a good discussion and set of photos on setting up a trash-can fumigation chamber to remove cigarette smoke odor from books, click here.

As our staff has learned from C2C’s fire recovery workshops, objects that do not suffer direct fire damage continue to smell like smoke indefinitely. A trash can fumigation chamber, then, could serve as a recovery measure for objects that emerge from a burn unscathed but stinky.

Note that this type of fumigation only works for objects that have absorbed odors, not objects that generate strong smells from their own deterioration processes. (Cellulose acetate and its vinegar-like scent is a common example.) If your collection contains objects that smell as the result of an inherent vice, consider storing them in microchamber boxes to trap the pollutants they emit.

Cobweb Game

Museum and historic house staff often decorate for the Christmas season immediately following Thanksgiving. With that holiday falling at its earliest possible date this year, there is more than a week between Thanksgiving and December 1st, when winter holiday special events usually begin. This additional decorating time may allow for a slightly more complex decorative arrangement this year that can also involve participation.

If you are looking for a new feature to enliven your site’s holiday presentation, the cobweb game, which enjoyed some popularity during the late 19th through the early 20th century, may be a good thing to try this year. Thanks to several recent posters on the Museum-L listserv, we were able to compile a list of online primary sources discussing this game. [We are grateful to Helen Lueders, Library Assistant at Kitty King Powell Library and Study Center, Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens, and Rebecca Mir, School and Community Programs Developer, Voelker Orth Museum, Bird Sanctuary and Victorian Garden, for sharing the following information.]

Many of these sources include more detailed instructions, but the general idea is to string several pieces of ribbon or yarn from one spot. Each ribbon should follow a different path all around rooms and even through doorways and windows and then end at a present or back at the beginning spot with a card attached somewhere along the way.

Has your organization ever tried the cobweb game for a special holiday event? What other decorative specialties does your site present? We will include images of seasonal decorations from cultural heritage institutions across the state in a future post. Please submit photos to us to share with our C2C community!

 

Native American Museums

Thanksgiving is not only a time for gratitude for the abundance of the harvest, but it’s also a time for honoring the many ways Native Americans shared crops and knowledge with European colonists. North Carolina witnessed two such exchanges in the sixteenth-century with Spanish explorers at Fort San Juan, near Morganton, and British settlers at Roanoke Island. In both cases, European groups initially learned from and exchanged with local tribes, before their ultimate devastation or mysterious disappearance. The image on the left represents the type of house Spanish explorers built at Fort San Juan. Based on archaeological investigations, this form exhibits Native American construction influences.

Native American communities proudly persist in North Carolina, and representatives from many of the state’s 8 recognized tribes participated in the Museum of History’s 17th annual American Indian Heritage Celebration this past weekend. (To learn more about each tribe, click here.)

A variety of cultural heritage collections across the state focus on Native American artifacts, honoring the prehistoric past as well as the ways communities have evolved over time. The Town Creek Indian Mound State Historic Site interprets Pee Dee Culture (1000-1400) through archaeological research. Both the Frisco Native American Museum on the Outer Banks and the  Harnett County Indian Museum exhibit artifacts from the local area as well as those from across the continent to showcase the vibrancy of Native American handiwork.

Several institutions preserve the heritage and culture of the Cherokee, the only North Carolina tribe with full federal recognition, and present it to the public. The Museum of the Cherokee Indian and Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual complement the living history presentations of the Oconaluftee Indian Village in Cherokee. The Junaluska Memorial & Museum in Robbinsville also interprets the tribe’s history.

The Lumbee Community from Union Chapel, c. 1900, collection of the Museum of the Native American Resource Center

The Lumbee Tribe is the most populous Native American group in the state and has achieved partial federal recognition. The Lumbee Indian Museum in Laurinburg and the Museum of the Native American Resource Center at UNC Pembroke focus on this group.

How does your institution present Native American history? By preserving artifacts, presenting them through exhibits, or by developing public programs?

Today we’d like to share some helpful fundraising tips, with disaster preparedness as a primary component.

Engaging Places

Another post this week inspired by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, with the article, “Charities Unveil Bold Year-End Appeals in Storm’s Big Shadow” in the November 15, 2012 issue prompting several ideas that might be useful for historic sites as they come to the end of the calendar year with its year-end fundraising appeals.  Hurricane Sandy and the 2012 federal election results are both affecting donations, with much attention given to disaster relief and to the possible limitation on charitable deductions.  Can your year-end appeals:

  • Emphasize your needs for storm-damage recovery or for disaster preparedness (e.g., roof replacement or repair, tree trimming, repairing gutters and downspouts, preparing a disaster plan).
  • Encourage major donors to give big gifts now, rather than

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Artifact Controversies

Looking for a new way to engage your museum’s participants with its collections? An exhibit called “Controversy” at the Ohio History Center is a model that most history museums could R&D—rip-off and duplicate. Curators displayed objects with little physical or interpretative background. Rather than use a didactic approach to presenting the objects, the exhibit encouraged visitors to the museum to imagine each artifact’s significance, to raise questions, and to share ideas with other participants. Visitors loved the experimental, exploratory tenor of the project. In fact, the show was so successful in its first incarnation, that OHC staff (who recently presented about this exhibit at the AASLH conference) created a sequel, “Controversy 2.”

Most curators and collections managers know of intriguing artifacts that raise more questions than the limited documentation accompanying them can answer. Rather than keeping them locked away in storage because they do not fit neatly into the stories that our institutions have told or want to tell, they can be displayed as conversation starters.

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This military helmet (c. 1812-1860), currently on exhibition at the North Carolina Museum of History, offers little interpretive information but suggests many questions. Visitors may ask themselves: What type of hair is it? Why was hair included? Does the form refer to Native American scalping practices in any way or does it follow ancient European traditions? If the exhibition allowed space for feedback methods, then one participant’s questions could provide food for thought for others. Participants could then even generate and share possible answers.

Some especially provocative and emotionally challenging artifacts can also be the most influential and engaging. The strong reactions that some objects elicit can be used as teaching moments. On the Indiana University campus, for instance, in 2002 representatives from the Black Student Union asked the University president to remove one of painter Thomas Hart Benton’s Depression-Era panels from public display. In an assemblage of historical scenes, the painter had included a Klansman with a burning cross to juxtapose Indiana’s past KKK prominence with its recent progress. Some 21st-century students were so upset by the image that they couldn’t concentrate in classes where the panel was on display. Rather than capitulate to demands to move the panel, the university president initiated an interpretive series on the panels for interested students. To read more about that controversy, visit http://www.indiana.edu/~benton/

Could you consider assembling a “Controversy” exhibit at your institution? Which objects would you include?

Introducing CREST

PrintOur Connecting to Collections (C2C) team has received a 21st Century Museum Professionals grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. This funding will allow our staff to initiate the Cultural Resources Emergency Support Team (CREST) to train staff and volunteers from a wide variety of institutions to improve disaster preparedness measures throughout North Carolina. The project will allow C2C to strengthen public/ private cultural heritage partnerships and to provide tangible assistance to organizations across the state. CREST will have a dual focus on training/ preparation and response.

  •  Disaster supplies and response teams: CREST staff will encourage the formation, development, and maintenance of regional cooperative groups and emergency response networks. A statewide disaster response team will establish a recovery and preservation resource for any disaster-affected museum in the state. CREST staff will stock a cache of recovery supplies in Raleigh that can be mobilized quickly to aid in response. Grant funding will provide specialized team training to encourage a unified and safe approach to recovery efforts. Team members will help organize regional disaster response networks and will be equipped with basic “go kits” of safety supplies.
  • Participants at one of C2C’s burn recovery workshops assess and record the condition of “artifacts” that they have retrieved from the controlled burn building.

    Workshops: By providing low-cost regional workshops, NCDCR has offered an important resource for North Carolina’s low-budget museums. Through a growing statewide network, project staff will continue to identify and to collaborate with other experts across the state in order to provide a rich variety of training opportunities in planning, preparedness, and recovery topics.

The Federation of North Carolina Historical Societies, the North Carolina Museums Council, and the North Carolina Preservation Consortium will partner with the CREST project and will offer assistance through resource sharing, networking, and outreach. Each of the partners will offer at least one member of their board or extended leadership circle to participate in CREST team development and training.

C2C’s statewide disaster preparedness program will be strengthened by an ability to provide small to mid-sized institutions the additional training and guidance they need to execute preservation and preparedness strategies. The creation of a well trained statewide response team will provide long-term assurances to museums that help is available if disaster strikes. For more information contact Disaster Preparedness Coordinator, Lyn Triplett at 919-807-7293 or lyn.triplett@ncdcr.gov.

Vote!

One simple, low-tech way to turn visitors to your museum into participants is to provide a voting opportunity, accompanied by a regularly updated display of the results. You can ask for this kind of instant feedback on anything related to your institution and its exhibits. Most importantly, you can encourage the exhibit audience to become a part of the show.

Why not have participants vote for their favorite artifact after viewing an exhibit? Or even invite them to decide on an exhibition theme as the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore did for its summertime “Public Property” show? Or, pose several big questions or problems in the exhibit and have participants vote on which one interests them the most? Audience engagement strategist Linda Norris had success with this approach as a way to shake up the conventional presentation format at a recent AASLH session entitled, “Banish the Boring.”

One recent analysis found that rates of voting (as a way to participate in exhibits) were low among art museum visitors at three different museums (4% – 27%). Despite the relatively small numbers of attendees who chose to vote, the exhibition events that included voting were a big success. More people showed up and the voting process generated a noticeably more social experience within the galleries.

History museums often try to tell stories that tie in well with voting activities. Several state and local historic sites in North Carolina commemorate political figures. Voting could be a fun way to engage visitors with the subject matter. Create a short list of the major issues of the place and time. Briefly describe the stand that politician took on each issue; briefly describe the stand his opponent took; and give participants the ability to vote. The exercise could enliven James K. Polk, Zebulon B. Vance, Andrew Johnson, and Charles B. Aycock, increasing their relevance for today’s visitors.

Has your institution ever tried a voting activity as part of its exhibits? If so, did it increase audience engagement with the material presented? Were there any surprising outcomes?

Creative Fundraising Ideas

Thanks to Laura Ketcham, Coordinator for the Federation of North Carolina Historical Societies, for the ideas presented in this post. Thanks also to Belle Long of the Joel Lane House and John Love of the Belmont Historical Society for their contributions.

Historical organizations, like many other non-profits, have had to get especially creative with fundraising ideas during these tough economic times. A few groups have ventured beyond the well trodden realm of special dinners, concerts, walking tours, and silent auctions. They are trying to address community needs and harness local resources while building their own capacities.

Making rag dolls is one of the possible birthday party activities.

Two years ago the Joel Lane House in Raleigh began offering its site as a birthday party venue. Features include dressing up in period costumes, an age-appropriate guided tour of the 1770s house, a choice of one of 4 staff-led colonial craft activities, and games. Parties last one hour and can include up to 15 people. The Joel Lane House charges $10/ person for this event. Curator Belle Long reports that this continues to be a successful fundraiser.

A view of the Stowe Park Special from a vintage postcard

The Belmont Historical Society, just west of Charlotte, has joined forces with a local business to raise money for a special project. As an ongoing fundraiser, Pace Recycling (between Mt. Holly and Stanley) channels revenues from metal scrap to the Belmont Historical Society upon the individual deliverer’s request. The Society then directs these funds toward restoration of the Stowe Park Special miniature train and one passenger car and the renovation of a shed as a “depot” to house these vehicles. Stowe Park, a popular entertainment destination in Belmont during the mid twentieth century, is an important part of the community’s cultural heritage. In four months the Society has raised $100 as a result of recycling and, in combination with other fundraisers, it is about a quarter of the way toward its goal of $30,000 for the train restoration project.

Sometimes fundraising benefits extend beyond the actual dollar amount raised. The Belmont Historical Society’s project is also raising awareness about the community’s past and encouraging members and visitors to recycle. The Joel Lane House’s idea not only builds on its educational mission but also provides a service to families with school-aged children at a reasonable cost, while reaching out to that important demographic.

What unusual fundraising projects has your organization tried? Were the results successful, whether financially or otherwise?