Monthly Archives: February 2013

Display Mount Tip

Thanks to two of North Carolina’s premier collections care specialists for this tip: Anne Lane, Collections Curator at Western Carolina University Fine Art Museum; and Kyle Bryner, Collections Manager at Wake Forest University Museum of Anthropology.

WCU Fine Arts Museum's glass exhibit, 2012

WCU Fine Art Museum’s NC Glass 2012 exhibit

A company called Quakehold! makes “museum wax” which many exhibit professionals use to secure artifacts to mounts. The wax helps keep an object in place, allowing an added measure of protection in addition to its pedestal or shelf placement. Floss or thread can cut through the wax gently to release the object.  Microcrystalline wax is a product that we recommend as safe for preservation purposes. But beware! Although the company advertises other products as safe for museum use, experience proves otherwise.

Lane warns against using the museum gel, as it is not the same formulation as museum wax. “It’s a clear gel, very odd stuff, but not a wax. You form it in your fingers and put it under the piece, and it sort of crawls around and eventually firms up, but not hard like wax. You break the bond by twisting the piece loose. It claims not to leave any residue, but that claim is false. It stains our latex-painted pedestals something fierce. We’ll see how it is on the glass when we take the show down.”

3MbumponsBryner prefers another product to the Quakehold! offerings. She has purchased 3M bumpons at Staples or Office Depot, and they are also available online. She reports that they adhere easily to a base or pedestal and readily pop off when the time comes to disengage the artifact from the mount. The MOA uses them on artifact display mounts to stop objects from sliding, especially when mounted at an angle. The bumpons are also useful around the base of hollow containers, like pots or baskets, to keep them from moving gradually as the result of vibrations.

How preservation-appropriate are these bumpons? The manufacturer’s materials safety data sheet (MSDS) indicates they are fairly safe. The bumpons are made from a polyurethane encased in polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is a stable polyester material. Although polyurethane is not a stable material, the PET forms an effective barrier, and 3M reports that the product does not emit any VOC’s (volatile organic compounds). The adhesive is an acid-free acrylic.

Do you have any tricks of the trade or supply tips to share with our cultural heritage collections community?

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Behind-the-Scenes Tours

AcklandStorageHas your institution ever tried or even considered storage area tours? Recently, there was a spirited discussion about this topic on the RCAAM listserv (Registrar’s Committee of the American Alliance of Museums). Comments revealed serious considerations and a range of opinions about the activity.

Pros:                                                                                    Cons:

Additional access to your collection                                  Security risk

Increased public understanding of the time                     Staff time requirements                       and expense of collections care

Several years ago a panel of security experts produced” Suggested Practices For Museum Security As Adopted by The Museum, Library and Cultural Properties Council of ASIS International AND The Museum Association Security Committee of the American Association of Museums” (Revised June, 2008).  The guideline asserts that storage tours are an additional security risk for collections and recommends against them. Where educational tours are necessary, the document recommends a written policy defining the safeguards to be taken and the responsibility of each person assigned to the tour. The policy should:

  •  limit the size of the tour to no more than 25 maximum for large rooms with a staff member assigned for every 7-8 people. Smaller groups are advisable for small spaces or those with small or especially valuable items.
  • address allowing members of the tour or class to leave to go to the restroom without an escort and what to do if someone becomes ill and needs to be escorted out of the room.
  • prohibit the use of cameras in collection storage where security equipment or procedures might be photographed.
  • provide a holding area for attendees’ personal belongings. Parcels carried by members of a tour should not be permitted in collection storage. In one instance, museum staff put belongings on a cart inside the door to the vault. “We let them know that their items are safe behind locked doors and that we ask them to do this, as neither we nor they want to accidentally knock something off a shelf.”

Do storage tours raise money? Responses indicate that tours do not generate monetary donations (even when wealthy guests come through)but do prompt offers of objects for donation. Several museums charge to take these tours, so they can become a revenue source. (Several charge $15-$25/ person.)

Is there an effective compromise to satisfy both security and access concerns?

  • One museum accomplished this by escorting visitors along the front of the large storerooms, where they could look down the long rows of shelves. The end section of each row had one or more particularly interesting objects stored on it, and the “tour guide” would be prepared with a talking point for each.
  • Another recommendation from is to pull artifacts from storage for a program to explain various collections care principles, especially the costs and labor involved in providing appropriate storage. This format works well for one professional who found that tour participants are too visually overwhelmed to focus on collections care messages while in storage.
  • A third compromise is to post photos of collections storage on your institution’s social media sites (eliminating, of course, any sensitive security information).

What lessons have you learned about storage tours at your institution? Do you know of any other strategies to address the disparate goals of security and access?

Thanks especially to Lana Newhart-Kellen, Collections Manager & Registrar at Conner Prairie; Lisa Kay Adam, Curator and Registrar of the Museum of South Texas History; Malia Van Heukelem, Preservation Management Specialist, University of Hawaii at Manoa Library; Janice Klein, Collections Consultant; and Wayne Phillips, Curator of Costumes & Textiles, Louisiana State Museum for their contributions to this post.

Satisfying Numen-Seekers

Does the declining visitation to historic houses, villages, battlefields, and other sites over the past few decades reflect the public’s lack of interest in history? Audience research and experimental media during the last decade answer a resounding “NO!” The lesson much of this recent work teaches us, is that visitors want to be a part of the historical experience, either by a transcendental connection with the past or by participating in historical activities to the degree that they can imagine what life was really like in the era a particular site portrays. Our institutions must find better means to supply those ends.

Frontier House  was a 6-episode public television series filmed a decade ago. The format was part reality TV and part documentary. Three families from different regions of the United States went to live in an 1883 Montana homestead settlement and had to adjust to the daily tasks and consumer goods that were typical of the setting. The show was a successful enough for PBS to produce 2 similar subsequent series: Colonial House (portraying 1628) and Texas Ranch House (portraying 1867), and for channels such as DIY to replay the series. The shows remain available on YouTube.

Although only 3 families participated in Frontier House, over 5,500 applied. Research on audience engagement among historic site visitors indicates that the desire to experience the past first hand is widespread. Cultural anthropologists John Gatewood and Catherine Cameron conducted an extensive visitor survey at the Gettysburg National Military Park and published their findings in “Battlefield Pilgrims at Gettysburg National Military Park,” Ethnology, vol. 43 #3 (2004). They handed out over 400 surveys to visitors outside the Park with return stamped envelopes and $1 bills attached to each as “token compensation.” More than 2/3 returned the surveys, yielding 253 responses. These revealed “that a certain portion of visitors want to consume history in a deeper, affective, and personal way [and want] to go back in time and imagine what actors were feeling.” Gatewood and Cameron labeled this impulse “numen-seeking.” (p. 194)

Numen is a term that has gained currency among social scientists in the past several decades and, as Gatewood and Cameron explain, it includes three dimensions:

  1. deep engagement or transcendence, which can involve such concentration that the individual loses a sense of time passing or may have a flow experience
  2.  empathy, a strongly affective experience in which the individual tries to conjure the thoughts, feelings, and experiences, including hardships and suffering, of those who lived at an earlier time
  3. awe or reverence, an experience of being in the presence of something holy or spiritual communion with something or someone. (p. 208)

Experiencing part of the setting—place—is critical to finding numen. In the Gettysburg study,

Almost a fifth of the respondents responded in a very personal way to the site. In some cases, that translated as a kind of awe that one could be standing on the very spot where the two sides fought so fiercely. Being in the same place as the soldiers and seeing the landscape also brought old history lessons to life or allowed deep empathy and leaps of imagination. Others responded with great reverence for the places where men died and expressed honor for the great sacrifice. This group often used religious language to express their feelings. (pp. 204, 211)

Re-enactors at the Burwell School, Hillsborough

Re-enactors at the Burwell School, Hillsborough

Smaller historic sites will rarely have the budget required to set up authentic historical experiences for visitors to the extent that Frontier House did. However, they can facilitate numen experiences in several ways:

  • The popularity of war re-enactments as hobbies testifies to the pervasiveness of the drive to experience the past. Many re-enacting groups convene at small historic sites for special events and members often like teaching visitors about how they recreate historical accuracy. Why not keep a range of reproduction clothing and other items on hand, partner with a re-enactor group, and let individuals and/ or families in your community apply to be re-enactors for a day?
  • Even if you cannot supply participants with the trappings of a particular period, you can assign each visitor an historical identity to read about and possibly role-play as groups move through the site. This activity could be either a routine aspect of visits or part of a special tour. The process can enhance the group social interaction that is already a typical and important part of historic site visitation and allow the stories the site portrays to be multi-vocal.

What other ideas can you come up with to help satisfy numen-seekers at your institution?

What Is Your Institution’s Economic Impact?

Have you ever collected data to calculate the economic impact of your institution in the local or regional community? Now, with three figures—annual budget, population, and attendance, you have a tool to justify continuing or additional support. Americans for the Arts have built a free, simple-to-use online calculator that can help you with both internal and external discussions of the critical role your institution plays. Economic impact arguments are important to convince donors, community leaders, grantors, and legislators that the funding they provide makes a significant and positive difference for the community your institution serves.

This kind of analysis dovetails well with Museum Advocacy Day, coming up soon on February 25-26. The American Association for State and Local History has published some important suggestions for ways to participate in the event and advocate for cultural heritage. Even if you can not attend the Washington, D.C. event and even if you are not a member of AASLH or the American Alliance of Museums, you can still help out by contributing data about your institution and working to convince legislators and other local leaders about museums’ economic impact. Highlights from AAM’s “Economic Impact Statement” include:

  • Cultural tourism comprises one of the most popular and significant segments of the travel industry, accounting for over 23% of all domestic trips. Moreover, visitors to historic sites and cultural attractions, including museums, stay 53% longer and spend 36% more money than other kinds of tourists.
  • According to research cited by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, “the nonprofit arts and culture industry generates over $166 billion in economic activity annually, supports over 5.7 million full time jobs, and returns over $12 billion in federal income taxes annually. Governments which support the arts on average see a return on investment of over $7 in taxes for every $1 that the government appropriates.”

AASLH’s “Educational Impact Statement” (download at #10 here) is another site for contributing useful data from your institution. The organization argues forcefully that “museums are essential partners in education.” A few selections:

  • Museums receive more than 90 million visits each year from students in school groups and provide more than 18 million instructional hours for educational programs (IMLS study).
  • Museums tailor educational programs to a wide range of instructional topics, often in coordination with state and local curriculum standards (IMLS study).
  • Teachers, students, and researchers benefit from access to trustworthy information through online collections and exhibits, although most museums need more help in developing their digital collections to meet this need.
  • Americans view museums as one of the most important resources for educating our children and as one of the most trustworthy sources of objective information. According to a study by Indiana University, museums are considered a more reliable source of historical information than books, teachers, or even personal accounts by grandparents or other relatives.

What arguments work in your community to gain or continue support for your institution? Please share!