Monthly Archives: December 2012

Wishing You a Lucky 2013

H.1953.39.48

H.1953.39.48

We’re pulling out some traditional good luck symbols from the NC Department of Cultural Resources collections database to counteract the last two digits of this New Year. Mary Taylor of Wake Forest received the above greeting card in 1910.

H.1992.57.1210

H.1992.57.1210

Black eyed peas are part of a traditional New Year’s meal and signify luck. Perhaps this “Good Luck” canning jar would be an appropriate way to preserve them.

tobacco tag S.1978.11.201

tobacco tag S.1978.11.201

As a new year begins, we look forward to continuing to promote collections preservation and access methods and growing our community of cultural heritage practitioners. Best wishes for good fortune in 2013!

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Happy Holidays from C2C!

We’ve begged for and borrowed the following pix to share holiday cheer (from various North Carolina cultural heritage institutions) with colleagues across the state and others in our national network too. Thanks for following us this year and enjoy your time away from the office. We’ll be back in touch in 2013!

AndyGriffithMuseumThis stunning nighttime scene of the grounds around the Andy Griffith Museum in Mount Airy reminds us of the celebrated North Carolinian’s memorials earlier this year.

RoanokeIFPManteoParadeA boat from the ship, The Elizabeth II, named the “Silver Chalice,” rolled in the Manteo Christmas Parade. The staff of Roanoke Island Festival Park was in high spirits as the event got underway on a beautiful Saturday morning, December 1st.

Palmer-Marsh HouseHistoricHalifaxAutumn fruits beautify traditional Christmas greenery at two of the Coastal Plain’s State Historic Sites, the Palmer Marsh House in Historic Bath (left) and at Historic Halifax (right).

BentonvilleBattlegroundThe tree at Bentonville Battleground’s recreated encampment is grounded in historical documentation of Confederate soldiers decorating their surroundings at Christmastime.

PoeHouseRed and green decorations brighten stately oak woodwork on the mantle and mirror in the sitting room at the 1897 Poe House, part of the Museum of the Cape Fear Historical Complex in Fayetteville.

MaritimeMuseumBeaufortNautically themed ornaments distinguish this tree at the Maritime Museum in Beaufort.

HighPointMuseumThe “Happy Tones” singers from the Culler Senior Center performed at the High Point Museum’s 29th annual Holiday Open House.

WilkesHeritageMuseumPartyFestive decorations and plenty of good food added to the fun at the Wilkes Heritage Museum’s annual holiday open house (right).

CHBSantaCHBcraftA visit with Santa and a make & take ornament craft project made the Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum’s event extra special.

Traveling Exhibits

Thanks to Sara Drumheller, Patrick Golden, Andrew Talkov, and session participants for their contributions to this post.

Early in November some of our C2C staff participated in a roundtable discussion as part of the Southeastern Museums Conference in Williamsburg. The topic was “Traveling Exhibits for Small Museums: What Works?,” and several important points emerged from the presentations and discussion.

OakviewShow

  • The typical traveling exhibit format consists of graphic panels that include text. This is not a very effective way to engage participants with information in and of itself. Venues must add artifacts, interactive components, and/ or programs to flesh out the borrowed skeleton and encourage audience participation. Borrowing that foundation, however, can be a cost-effective shortcut for host staff who want to offer additional graphic content and related community events at their sites.
  • For museums establishing traveling exhibits, remember to reach out to libraries as important venue possibilities. According to Andrew Talkov, Coordinator for the “Virginia’s Civil War” traveling exhibit, an initiative of the Virginia Historical Society, libraries make up approximately 70% of the borrowers for their shows. Also, many libraries have an active schedule of public programs. They often possess the staff and the audience to connect with exhibit themes successfully. Some libraries borrow exhibits regularly from the American Library Association, which requires public programming components as a condition of hosting.
  • Flexibility is crucial for smaller host sites. Panels must be able to be configured in various ways and still make sense. The show should still work even if one or two panels must be deleted. Chronological stories, then, are not so compatible for small venues, which often need to arrange in ways that deviate from the expected formation. Themes that can dovetail well with materials that a venue can add in are most desirable. Topics that are too specific to a lender’s location may not have broad appeal for potential borrowers.
  • Consider incorporating technology when building traveling shows, but be aware of its limitations for audience engagement. For example, QR codes are the current fad and hold promise as a way to connect interested exhibit participants with more in-depth information than a panel can provide. However, currently only half of the population has the necessary mobile devices and an even smaller proportion has downloaded the software to enable reading the codes. Additionally, some websites take several minutes to load, leading to participant frustration. An added complication is the lack of cellular service at various potential venues. Read more here about alternatives to relying on visitors’ mobile devices.
  • Borrowing fees for traveling shows should be scrutinized. Preparing the shows for your own institution can be time consuming and involve additional mounting and programming costs. Some organizations create traveling exhibits as a revenue-generating measure. These are often cost-prohibitive for small institutions. The Smithsonian Institution produces Museums on Main Street as a low-cost outreach program for smaller, often rural, venues. Here in North Carolina, several institutions offer low-cost or free traveling shows. Our State Library lends framed images and accompanying labels at no cost, provided the borrower transports the show to another regional venue. Oak View County Park in Raleigh has produced several framed panel exhibits for their own site and staff has adjusted them for travel. Staff have also decided recently to waive borrowing fees. The North Carolina Collection at UNC Chapel Hill offers a free traveling exhibit on the photography of Bayard Wootten.  Preservation North Carolina has a number of graphic panels on North Carolina architecture and related topics. Several cost $600 to rent.

Has your institution tried traveling exhibits as a way to augment the materials your own staff can provide? If so, what worked?

To Show or Not To Show?

ConfederateCoatConfederate General Patrick Cleburne’s frock coat is currently on exhibit at the Museum of the Confederacy’s new Appomattox branch, which opened in March 2012. Some visitors, like the one who posted this photo to a Facebook community page last month, assumed that the Museum of the Confederacy was exhibiting the frock coat as the garment Cleburne was wearing when he died at the Battle of Franklin (outside Nashville, Tennessee) on November 30, 1864. The damage, then, made sense as a result of exploding shells.

Another Facebook poster commented, “this worn tattered coat sends chills down your back, if you arent a true gray southerner, this pic proably does nothing to you, my great grandfather fought with the macon county guards..james o. dixon, there is something deep inside that when you look at this pic it touches you, and i can see how when the brave confederates saw such horror, it inspired them to give thier all,,god bless the south!!”

Other comments followed, debating the cause of the losses:

  • “Unfortunately, according to the museum officials, that is not actually the coat that General Cleburne was wearing when he was killed.”
  • “That’s definitely moth damage from [what] you can see. I’m not sure where he was hit or how many times but none of those holes seem to go through the coat’s inner liner.”
  • “That’s not all moth damage gents. General Cleburne was hit no less than 40 times. Thats right, his body was literally ripped to shreds by Federal musketry and cannister.”
  • “The museum has already said he wasn’t wearing the coat. I suspect if he was in this coat when he was hit 40 times, there might be some BLOOD stains on it. Most of these holes are tiny except for the one on the right hip. Moth holes. If these were canister shot or musket ball holes, the coat would be soaked in blood.”

The photo and subsequent commentary were interesting enough to come to our C2C team’s attention. When the damage to an artifact detracts from the experience of the object’s original form, museum staff often choose to store that piece until conservation can be funded and accomplished. Why did MOC staff decide to exhibit this piece without conservation to camouflage the losses? MOC Curator Cathy Wright explained that staff debated that question at length. They ultimately decided not to conserve the piece because of the tremendous cost, as well as the significant alterations to the original fabric that conservation would involve. They also judged it was important to exhibit the frock coat–one of the few artifacts available to represent the war’s western front.

The MOC’s website contains a brief description of the piece’s provenance and condition.  “This uniform coat was sent to a family friend after Cleburne was killed at the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee. Thirty years after the event, the donor of the coat found it ‘so dirty and so moth-eaten’ that she ‘hesitated about sending it on to Richmond…’ This is the first time in many years that this unique artifact has been on public display.” This description and the caption beneath the accompanying photo indicate that Cleburne was wearing the coat at the Battle of Franklin.  A museum staff member answering the MOC phone lines explained that the Cleburne was carrying, rather than wearing, the coat into his final battle and the garment fell off into the mud. According to the staffer, the damage, then, resulted from “rot” rather than enemy fire.

In the Facebook discussion quoted above, the damage became the main idea the artifact conveyed, for at least one group of beholders, and it inspired controversy among them. As we’ve written previously, exhibits can and should be forums to present various possible answers to questions that artifacts can pose. The piece’s damage certainly generated interest and discussion, which is a wonderful result of providing access to engaging artifacts. However, in the case of the Cleburne coat, the piece’s condition and its cause(s) dominate any other point the MOC hoped to present, leading to confusion or even misinterpretation.

What do you think? Should the piece be exhibited without conservation? If so, should its display be altered in any way?

Silica Gel

Silica gel is a safe, inexpensive, and useful product to help regulate relative humidity (RH) in an enclosed space. Such a microenvironment is the best tool available for stabilizing corroding metals.  Conservation product suppliers, such as Gaylord, Talas, and Conservation Resources, sell several varieties of silica gel.

Silica gel serves two primary purposes for museum collections:

Mystery object from the Museum of Ashe County History

tool from the Museum of Ashe County History

1. RH reduction:  Certain materials, especially metals, require environments with low RH in order to preserve them for perpetuity.  Whereas 50% RH is the optimal level for a variety of artifacts, closer to 35% is usually best for metals.  In order to stabilize corroding metals, they need to be stored in an airtight container; plastic (polypropylene or polyethylene) tubs are often the most convenient for creating microenvironments. With the right amount of silica gel included in the container, RH levels can drop to 15% or less–the necessary range for metal stabilization. This article can help you estimate the amount of silica gel you’ll need for a particular space.

For a good discussion of metals care, see http://www.nps.gov/museum/publications/MHI/Appendix%20O.pdf

OrangeSilicaGelOrange-indicating silica gel will be orange in its conditioned form (ready to adsorb moisture) and then turn either dark green or white when it becomes saturated.  It will then be time to recondition the gel. Conservation Resources’ guidelines for reconditioning orange-indicating gel call for baking it in a glass pan in a low-heat oven (220-230 degrees F) for at least an hour. A little indicating gel can be mixed with a larger amount of conditioned regular gel as a cost-saving measure.  Use a humidity strip or a hygrometer to monitor the humidity within the microenvironment and adjust the amount of silica gel according to the target RH level.

2. RH stabilization:  Canisters of silica gel will offset seasonal RH fluctuations as well as more rapid RH-altering events, such as power loss.  The gel beads will trap moisture at times of high ambient RH and then release moisture when the RH gets below optimal levels (around 50% for most artifacts).  When using silica gel to stabilize, humidity strips or hygrometers are still useful to make sure RH is near target levels and adjust the amount of gel accordingly.  With the right amount of gel in place, it should only need to be changed or re-conditioned once each year.  The color-indicating feature is less important for stabilization purposes.

For more on preservation environments and monitoring devices, see http://www.nedcc.org/resources/leaflets/2The_Environment/02TemperatureAndHumidity.php

Free App for Artifact Recovery

WheelIf you’ve been to any of our Disaster Preparedness or Recovery workshops, you know that we at C2C are fans of the Emergency Salvage and Response Wheel, published by Heritage Preservation. The piece is an ideal quick reference for the appropriate salvage activities, material by material. A more extensive version, which we also recommend, is the Field Guide to Emergency Response. Both can be purchased through Heritage Preservation’s website.

These resources, however valuable, have a price tag. Because one of C2C’s primary objectives is reaching out to small institutions, many of which are volunteer-run with tiny budgets, we are always on the look out for cost-saving measures to share with our community of cultural heritage practitioners. Now there is a free solution (for those with certain mobile devices and data plans).

Heritage Preservation’s announcement follows:

The ERS: Emergency Response and Salvage app is now available for Android users and can be downloaded through Google Play. The app was first released in April 2012, for Apple devices running on iOS 5.1 or later. Since its release in the App Store, ERS has been downloaded more than 1,800 times! The app provides the same reliable content found in the original Emergency Response and Salvage Wheel. ERS makes the Wheel’s invaluable guidance accessible to anyone who is in need of practical advice for saving collections in the first 48 hours after a disaster.

Coming soon, ERS for BlackBerry, an updated Apple version for all iOS platforms, and ERS in Spanish!

In the unfortunate event that disaster strikes, it’s best to have resources for recovery close at hand and portable. The wheel and its mobile app can offer ready guidance when salvage activities must be quick and efficient.

 

 

C2C’s Crowdsourcing Experiment

Three weeks ago we posted a discussion here about Artifact Controversies. While we hoped to inspire engaging, low-cost participatory exhibits with historical objects, the post generated another idea from one of our blog followers. Why not set up a website with special objects from around the state that would be open for contributions? We love the idea (thanks, Mary Ellen!), but our team’s meager technological capacity limits its implementation. Our blog, however, enables us to add pages that can achieve the same ends.

Our staff decided to seed the newly created pages with our own selections and then put out a call for contributions on our listserv, which has a reach of 641. The “parent” page initially contained objects that Project Director, LeRae Umfleet, had culled several years ago from the NCDCR online collection database. Photographs of objects taken during the NC ECHO survey and their provenances established the auxiliary regional pages–Coastal Plain, Piedmont, and Mountains.

After two weeks the response (so far) to this crowdsourcing experiment has been underwhelming. We’ve had feedback and ideas from only two colleagues, both from within our NCDCR nexus here in Raleigh. The two contributions, however, were important and reshaped the parent page. Cheryl McLean, Head of the Information Services Branch at the Government & Heritage Library, augmented our original selections by contributing an entry titled “James Madison’s Gift.”

The initial concept was “Hidden Treasures of North Carolina,” and we proposed to present fascinating objects that had not been exhibited. But the title and idea behind it warranted revision. As John Campbell, Director of Collections at the North Carolina Museum of History, noted, the title perpetuates a negative stereotype of museums as troves of unaccessible artifacts. Moreover, Campbell pointed out that two of Umfleet’s ideas (then posted on the parent page) have been placed on permanent exhibition in the past year at NCMOH. So, we changed the parent title to “North Carolina Treasures” and replaced one of the entries with an artifact idea that Campbell contributed.

We’d love more object images and brief stories to add to our pages—both selections from the vast NCDCR collection, as well as compelling artifacts from across the state. What is your favorite North Carolina object? We’d like entries to come from publically accessible collections, but contributors do not have to be affiliated with a particular institution.

Our attempt at crowdsourcing online content leaves several additional questions:

  • Why haven’t you contributed yet?
  • Isn’t selecting objects based on your own notions of significance a fun and rare opportunity?
  • Is there any inherent reward in seeing your own selection included?
  • Or do we need more incentives for participation, like a raffle for preservation supplies?
  • Would having a tag line, such as “contributed by _____” be worthwhile recognition for your submission effort?
  • Or would it be best to leave the submissions anonymous?

Please send us your object ideas and opinions, either via the comment function below or by emailing adrienne.berney@ncdcr.gov, and continue the conversation!