Author Archives: collectionsconversations

Reminders from Recovery

Last week C2C conducted our 6th and final fire recovery workshop at the Fayetteville Fire Training Center. Overall, the process of setting up and burning the mock museum replicated that of earlier workshops. Our “artifacts” experienced a range of damage from a level of charring that would lead to deaccession to a light level of soot and ash to the absorption of smoky odors. The scenario gave our staff and participants a rare opportunity to witness the protective powers of various storage materials and the effectiveness of simple recovery treatments.

This event offered reminders of 3 preservation techniques we’ve discussed before, both in workshops and in this blog.

  1. ???????????????????????????????Textile interleaving helps protect artifacts. The vast majority of disasters involve water. Even fires usually end with the activation of sprinkler systems or water hoses. Although a fire’s intense heat often evaporates any water involved very quickly, bleeding dyes and sooty tide lines can remain. Participants in our “Collections Care Basics” workshops get to practice rolling textiles for storage. They are careful to interleave the object with acid-free tissue during each revolution and cover the rolled fabric with muslin, Tyvek, reemay, or tissue. In this case (shown above) the muslin cover appeared to protect the rolled textile inside but once opened, water damage became apparent. Dyes bled onto the muslin and interleaving tissue, which mitigated the damage from one layer of the textile to the next.
  2. board box after fire

    board box after fire

    plastic box after fire

    plastic box after fire

    Plastic storage boxes are a protective option—even in a fire. We previously postulated the melting fate of plastic boxes in fires as disadvantage of that storage option. However, in this fire, the plastic box protected its contents similarly to the board box. We had placed a like array of materials (8 objects) in each of 4 boxes—2 plastic, 2 board. One plastic and one board box survived well on a lower shelf. Both the plastic and the board box on a top shelf experienced destructive heat. The fire melted the plastic and caused the board to char and collapse. In both boxes most materials suffered damage but could be recovered. Once cooled, melted plastic could be pried off the surviving objects fairly easily and board dividers and tissue inside the box protected much of the contents.

  1. Gonzo is visible in the trashcan beneath the object tray.

    Gonzo is visible in the trashcan beneath the object tray.

    Deodorization chambers are effective as a recovery technique. Paper, textile, and wooden objects absorb smoky odors easily. The deodorization chamber we have recommended previously worked really well for the textile items involved in this fire. We placed two infant clothing items in the chamber overnight and all traces of odor disappeared. The Gonzo product needed recharging in the sun before the next session but then resumed absorbing effectively and deodorized two dresses that had been on the garment rack during the blaze.

Although every disaster is different, we learn lessons after each that help us mitigate risks and be better prepared. What lessons have disasters taught you?

House Calls at the Country Doctor Museum

The Country Doctor Museum in Bailey serves its rural community with mobile health units. This unusual outreach program relates to the institution’s historical content and models creative connections between common mission-driven goals: to interpret the past while building community in the present.

CDM_IllustrationMany thanks to Anne Anderson, Director, and Jennie Schindler, Site Manager of the Country Doctor Museum, for this guest post. Much of the material previously appeared as a poster session at the NCMC annual meeting March 30.

The Country Doctor Museum is a history of medicine museum established in 1967 as an effort to preserve the material culture associated with rural physicians. The Medical and Health Sciences Foundation of East Carolina University acquired the Museum in 2002, and ECU’s Laupus Library now manages it. Seeking to help improve access to health screening and education, the Museum has embarked on a program to bring mobile health units to its small, farming community.

The Museum recognizes a distinct need in its local area for access to health care screening and information.  By inviting various mobile health units to visit the museum, area residents gain access to health services such as kidney screening, mammograms and vision testing.  The visiting health units introduce the participants to health professionals who can answer their questions and guide them in the right direction for continuing care. The Museum is engaged in growing the mobile health unit program due to the success of prior events and by the encouragement of grateful participants.

As a satellite program of Laupus Library, the Museum staff is kept abreast of regional trends in health disparity, public health concerns and challenges facing the health care profession in North Carolina. Located in the small, rural town of Bailey (population 600) and situated in the southern tip of Nash County, the Museum operates in a farming community with limited access to healthcare. Only one local family practice doctor is established in the Town of Bailey and the nearest medical center is close to 20 miles away in Wilson, North Carolina.

Demographic information about Nash County and neighboring Wilson County (from which the Museum draws heavily for its programming) illustrates a rural environment with above average unemployment rates. Underserved populations include a large African American community (39% in Nash County; 61% in Wilson County from the 2012 census) and a significant Latino community.  Up to 26% of residents in area communities live below the poverty level. Nash County in particular has a decreased number of health care professionals, especially in comparison to the adjacent Wake County, and many of these health care providers work in Rocky Mount, located in the northern part of Nash County.

In the past, the historic and tourism focus of the museum’s programs has limited its contributions to the health community. However, through the use of mobile health units from medical and community organizations, the Museum has developed an approach to improve access to care and education for members of the community including breast health, vision testing and kidney screening. Mobile health groups from Rex Mobile Mammography, UNC Kidney Education Outreach Program and the North Carolina Lion’s vision screening unit are participating partners in the Museum’s effort to bring accessible health care and education to the Bailey community. The health professionals in these mobile units can advise local residents about the continuum of care for any risks or symptoms that they might present.

guest post authors Anne Anderson on left and Jennie Schindler 2nd from right

guest post authors Anne Anderson on left and Jennie Schindler 2nd from right

The Museum uses resources including its large parking lot, administrative coordination and marketing network to successfully host visiting mobile units. Community members have given a favorable response to mobile health events hosted at the Museum in the past. Appointment times for the day of the mobile units fill quickly and waiting lists are started in case of cancellations. Most women who participated in the mammography program were apt to schedule an additional appointment the following year when the unit visited again. Visits by new mobile units are planned for the coming year. Participants have expressed their gratitude and appreciation for the availability of these health units and look forward to future visits.

The Museum’s mobile health program follows a recent trend in the museum field to become more active in addressing America’s health issues. In 2013, the American Alliance of Museums published a report, “Museums On Call: How Museums Are Addressing Health Issues,” detailing the collective and individual efforts of museums in meeting the health needs of the communities they serve. Participants in the Museum’s mobile health unit events reflect the underserved minority population of the area.

The mobile health units help empower and educate participants to become better advocates for their own health. Repeat visits allow participants to start implementing healthy behaviors, such as by recognizing the signs of kidney disease or breast cancer, and to regularly screen for these diseases. Mobile health units can lead to personal health improvement and enable the Museum to become a health resource in the community.

Still Standing: Evaluating Visitors’ Interest in Slave Dwellings

Thanks to Beth Bullock, Jayd Buteaux, Caitlin Butler, and Bonnie Soper for this guest post. The students first presented this information during a poster session at NCMC‘s annual meeting last week and we’re grateful to be able to share it with NC C2C’s online community.

In the fall of 2014, graduate students at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington started a yearlong project focusing on the preservation and interpretation of slave dwellings. The first part in the process was to gather information on the community’s general impressions about slavery and slave dwellings.

Slave Quarter at the Bellamy Mansion

Slave Quarter at the Bellamy Mansion

We conducted 90 visitor surveys at the Bellamy Mansion and 12 focus groups with various individuals across age groups and races within the local Wilmington community. This was done in conjunction with research on various slave dwellings, the history of slavery, and slave dwelling preservation. The data we compiled represents the largest known collection of visitor responses regarding slave dwellings and offers great insight into visitors’ interest in slavery, slave dwellings, and preservation.

Jayd Buteaux interviewing docents

Jayd Buteaux interviewing docents

Community Leaders focus group

Community Leaders focus group

We asked visitors about their knowledge, associations, assumptions, and interest in the history and preservation of slave dwellings, particularly their impressions from visiting the slave quarters at Bellamy Mansion. We also conducted focus groups with various stakeholders, including African American genealogists, historic preservation professionals, African American community leaders, African American parents, and museum docents. The small group interviews helped us gather in-depth responses about the relative importance of preserving slave dwellings and what people want to know about slavery, slave dwellings, and their preservation.

survey results: average interest in various aspects of museums

survey results: average interest in various aspects of historic house museums

Through these surveys and discussions, we found that there were huge gaps in knowledge of the history of slavery. Most visitors envisioned slavery as a Southern, rural phenomenon and pictured an antebellum plantation setting. Visitors exhibited surprise when presented with an urban slave dwelling, proving that visitors needed context on the differences between rural and urban slavery, and the changes in slavery over time. These gaps in knowledge were found amongst all age groups and walks of life. Other themes that became apparent throughout the project were the lack of awareness of agency in the enslaved community and the impact of media representations upon modern perceptions of slavery.

There was also contention over the preservation of slave dwellings and their interpretation. Some participants in the focus groups expressed concern over the authenticity of the representation of slave dwellings.

Our findings prompted research into local slave dwellings and the existence of slave dwellings throughout the Northern and Western United States. These insights will inform our upcoming public exhibit on the preservation of slave dwellings, but can also aid other museums and historic sites in understanding their visitors’ assumptions and correcting myths in visitors’ knowledge. The exhibit will open at the Bellamy Mansion Museum in Wilmington, NC next month (May 2015).

Are We Doing Our Best to Serve Youth?

Despite mandates to be community-focused, many historical organizations struggle to interest younger visitors. Family programming is a great outreach method to include small children, but as kids grow, hanging out with their peers usually becomes a stronger draw for them than parent-guided activities.

Many museums and historic sites currently support school groups by hosting field trips. Some even offer history-in-a-box kits to augment curriculum and serve students, while allowing the school to avoid the inconvenience and expense of field-trip transport. Many also offer enrichment opportunities for home school families. While this audience is often more convenient for standard museum hours and staff schedules, it excludes many youth who may be interested or could benefit from historical resources. The NC Museum of History, for instance, has a selection of programs available each month for school-age children during the school day. In addition to home schoolers, tracked out students are the only possible participants.

For the past 2 years NCDCR has been reaching out further to promote its facilities and services to the home school contingent by buying exhibit space at the annual home school conference in Winston Salem. NCDCR-organized programs such as Tar Heel Jr. Historians clubs and NC History Day have disproportionate numbers of home-school participants. The in-depth scholarly activities that these organizations nurture are often an easier fit for home-schoolers and may conflict with scheduling and test-preparation directives in standard public school classrooms.

Since many of the activities NCDCR and many other history organizations offer are not reaching the general population of youth enrolled in public schools, is there a way to bridge the gap and engage teens with programming at times that work for them? Can limited staff resources stretch to accommodate more after-school-hours activities? Even then, will kids care to show up? Here are a couple of ideas from other parts of the country that have been low-budget, widely accessible, and successful:

  • A California organization set up several “Community Science Workshop” spaces filled with interactives and set up as a drop-in free resource in a walkable location to kid-filled housing areas.
  • The Seattle Art Museum has used social media effectively to promote a regular teen night out successfully.

Could either of these model programs work at your institution? What does your organization do to engage youth? Which activities and methods of promotion have been successful? What could be improved?

Magnet Mounts

Have you tried using magnets yet to construct artifact mounts? Over the past decade or so, conservators have come up with innovative and preservation-appropriate designs using both small rare earth magnets and flexible magnetic strips. Here are a few reasons that magnet mounting systems can be safer for the artifact:

  • Traditional textile mounts include stitching and pinning, which can stress the adjacent fibers disproportionately. Magnets act as more of a clamp and magnetic strips distribute the pressure evenly across a border or other strip.
  • Magnets can be a safer mounting method for paper with very brittle edges than adhesive corners. This example shows magnet mounts around poster borders, leaving a thumbtack-like appearance without the collateral damage to the artifact.

Conservators and exhibit designers across the country have come up with a variety of solutions for incorporating magnets into mounting systems.

  • Find appropriate barrier layers to protect the textile or paper artifact from the magnets’ metal. Polyethylene filem (mylar) and Japanese paper are two safe possibilities.
  • Magnets can be safely embedded inside archival museum board. In this example,the magnetic mounting system kept 3-dimensional artifacts mounted on panels for a traveling exhibit.
  • Magnetic strips can be camouflaged with a digital print (to-scale) of a textile’s pattern and that is adhered to the strip.   (See example photo above.)
  • Use a larger, strong magnet to remove magnets from the artifact in this case. Attempting to pry them away from brittle paper with fingers introduces more risk to the piece.

Small rare earth magnets and magnetic strips are affordable materials for mount construction. 100 thumbtack-size rare earth magnets are available for $6.85 hereThis option for magnetic strips is $12 for a ½” width and 7 feet length.

[Thanks to T. Ashley McGrew for contributions to this post.]

Preservation vs. Access at Körner’s Folly

Thanks to Dale Pennington, Executive Director of Körner’s Folly, for this guest post.

Preservation vs. access is a tricky balance that we all have to deal with in the museum field . In “The Anarchist Guide to Historic House Museums,” Vagnone and Ryan continually assert that visitors really want a tactile and authentic experience while touring house museums.  But just because visitors want to touch, should we let them? And to what degree?

Korner'sVisitorsI recently had the opportunity to work through Vagnone and Ryan’s self-evaluation to see how my institution measured up to their anarchist guidelines. They sent students as “undercover visitors” to Körner’s Folly and had them graph their experience with “energy,” “imagination,” and “excitement” as variables. Vagnone and Ryan contacted me, excited by some high student marks in these categories. We do not actually allow visitors to touch our artifacts at Körner’s Folly. We do, however, offer self-guided tours, rather than a traditional guided tour.  According to Vagnone and Ryan this freedom of movement really helps improve the visitor experience.  The self-guided option was also something their students found particularly enjoyable.  So let me start with a little background on Körner’s Folly and how we evolved into our current level of preservation vs. access…

Korner'sReceptionRoomThe 22-room Victorian house was built in 1880 by Jule Körner, a local artist, interior designer, and furniture designer.  After Jule and his wife died, the family removed all heirlooms and personal artifacts, boarded up the doors and windows, and the house sat largely untouched, aside from occasional vandals, until the 1970s. In 1971, the Town of Kernersville wanted to have the house demolished as it was rapidly falling into disrepair. Fortunately, a group of town residents came together and purchased Korner’s Folly. Their goal was to eventually restore Körner’s Folly and open it for tours. They operated as an all-volunteer run organization for nearly three decades, hiring their first professional staff in 1999.  Most of original furniture remained in Korner’s Folly because it was too large to move; much of it was literally built in the room it still inhabits to this day.

While many pieces of original furniture remained, there were virtually no surviving small artifacts, valuables, or heirlooms. With a lack of “pocketable” artifacts, an unrestored house, and surviving largely on volunteers, Körner’s Folly was set-up for self-guided tours, with an orientation by a docent, and then a few velvet ropes and signs here and there to help visitors navigate. Today, while we have grown in staff size, we still largely offer self-guided tours. We have added a security camera system, “do not touch signs,” and more interpretive signs, but by-and-large, what grew of out of lack of resources is now an active choice our institution makes, guided by visitor feedback.

When I first started as executive director at Körner’s Folly, I was really unsure of this self-guided stuff. After all, I am very comfortable with rules, policies, and procedures – that’s why I got into this field, right? I thought: “They won’t read anything and they’ll touch everything!” So I started conducting visitor exit surveys, and monitoring how visitors acted on their tours. Of course, we always have visitors who do just as I suspected, but the majority of our visitors are actually respectful.  Overall, our visitors report to spend approximately 1.2 hours touring the house on their own, rate their experience as a 4.8 out of 5, and 2/3 report they read “all” of the interpretive signs where 1/3 report they read “some” of the signs. Our visitors appreciate being able to wander, take selfies, and spend as much time or as little time as they like in each room.  Additionally, with so many different rooms and architectural features, no spaces in Körner’s Folly were ever closed off from tours.  We don’t offer a “behind the scenes” tour because all 22 rooms are open to the public.  Since we lack many small original, artifacts, visitors get to walk into all of the rooms, not just do a “hallway tour.”

I have always been really interested in interactive exhibit elements and ways of making audiences more engaged.  So we are brainstorming ways to make the self-guided experience more interesting. For example, last year we created a scavenger hunt for children to do as they toured the house.  The scavenger hunt is so basic and cost us nothing, and we always get lots of compliments on it (it’s rated 4.7 out of 5).  Coming up for next year, we are experimenting with “Please Touch” baskets for a few rooms in the house.  These interactive baskets will include (reproduction) items for touch or activities that visitors are encouraged to do.

Challenging the lines between preservation vs. access is not a new concept. Ryan and Vagnone just suggest some different approaches, some that we are already implementing in my institution and some that would not work here. While I like creative ways of engaging visitors, I still can’t grapple with encouraging visitors to outright touch artifacts or sit on the original furniture. But I do appreciate Ryan and Vagnone’s out-of-the-box thinking. What works here would not work at every institution – we all have our own unique circumstances and limitations. I think what’s important about “The Anarchist Guide to Historic House Museums” is that it challenges us to imagine and test new ideas to enhance access, while continuing to preserve responsibly.

Wet Recovery–Photographs

Lees-McRae3With February’s onslaught of winter weather, another of our cultural heritage institutions needed help from CREST. A pipe burst in the Lees-McCrae College Library in Banner Elk on Friday night, February 20th. A member of the facilities staff called the library director Saturday upon discovery and reported the leak and damaged ceiling tiles. When librarians arrived Sunday (2/22), they found that the entire archives, containing “all the College’s history” along with additional materials of regional significance, had been soaking for 48 +- hours. CREST members Jeff Futch, Supervisor of NCDCR’s Western Office, and Heather South, Western Regional Archivist, responded to the CREST activation the following day and braved snow-covered roads to spend the next two days assisting with recovery.

Initial delays in beginning the air-drying process and inside temperatures well over 70 degrees brought difficult challenges to the recovery effort.  Air drying requires a great deal of space so that materials can be spread out and benefit from as much air flow as possible. By the time Futch, South, and library staff had secured a work area, photographs had already begun to stick together or to the envelopes and plastic sleeves that housed them.

Lees-McRae2As with any disaster, there are always lessons to be learned and the burst pipe at Lees-McRae proved to be an unplanned test of the effectiveness of archival storage. One recovery advantage was that most archival materials had been well housed in boxes. These absorbed most of the moisture from the leak, leaving the artifacts inside mostly just damp and not sopping wet.  Many of the boxes were the DuraCoat variety. DuraCoat is a thin layer of acrylic applied to the outside of archival boxes for moisture resistance. In the Lees-McRae case, wet conditions persisted over several days and the coating could not repel the volume of water. South noted that the coated boxes stayed wetter than the non-coated containers. Water was still able to seep into the boxes, and then the acrylic layer inhibited evaporation, keeping the paperboard and the boxes’ contents more moist. This disaster instance suggests that at nearly $2 more per box, DuraCoat is not a cost- effective product for more than a small leak.

DryingPhotosDryingRackDryingTraysIn cases where photographs called for simple air drying, Futch and South were able to string a drying line and pin photographs to it—a measure that economizes on surface space and maximizes air flow to each piece. They set aside boxes with photos that had become more problematic and were able to bring them back to NCDCR’s Western Office for treatment. Somewhat counter-intuitively, wet recovery of damaged photographs often involves re-submersion in water. Because the photographic production process involves water, submersion in clean water for up to 48 hours is generally safe, when followed by thorough air drying. (Note that this is not appropriate for more recent digital prints.) Careful wet treatment allowed Futch and South to remove deteriorated plastic negative casings from the image film. By the end of the week Western Office staff and volunteers had completed the photo recovery tasks.

JeffWorking2Thanks to these skilled and devoted CREST members for another CREST mission accomplished!

For more information on wet recovery, click here for the National Park Service’s guidelines for photographs, books, and papers and here for Heritage Preservation’s video on wet salvage techniques.

Bridges and Improvement

February 2015, courtesy Ocracoke Island Realty

February 2015, courtesy Ocracoke Island Realty

Although the bridges in North Carolina have been pretty icy and slippery in the past few weeks, the bridges that we are building through the C2C program and CREST are stronger than ever. This will only make our artifacts safer for future generations. I cannot stress how seriously important it is that your program – no matter how small or how big, is “on the radar” when a large scale catastrophic disaster hits our state. NCDCR now has a seat at the table of North Carolina Emergency Management (NCEM) during preparations before a large weather related event. We will be able to have access to better information for both response and recovery from the coast to the mountains. The very same thing is true if it is a local event and maybe just your site that is affected.  For Example:  Yancey County Public Library, Mendenhall Plantation, Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum, and others have learned that preparations before an event will make a terrible situation more bearable. The overarching disaster management team (NCEM) must know of the distinct needs of cultural institutions. They need to know simply which institutions are in which counties and they need to know that, in partnership with Red Cross and other private disaster response groups, NCDCR will organize experts to help historic sites, museums and libraries recover and salvage artifacts.

Over the last eighteen months the CREST project has built important bridges in numerous areas.  Not only are many of our museums, libraries and historic sites better informed about mitigation and planning before disasters, but they are also better informed about what will happen after a disaster. CREST has proven over and over to be a necessary and viable program across the state.  Besides the dollar value of books, documents, photos and artifacts that have been stabilized and kept from further deterioration, there is also the preservation of our local history for future generations of Tar Heels.  The C2C team has been able to educate audiences about the importance of artifacts and their need for special attention before and after a disaster. This awareness has extended to community leaders, board members who support and develop our smaller institutions, and civic groups that volunteer to be of assistance. Moreover, we have encouraged larger cultural heritage institutions to re-examine their outdated plans and contact lists.  This frequently leads to a re-thinking of critical needs and response sequences.

Another important bridge of connections has been with North Carolina firefighters.  They have learned about our work by collaborating on C2C’s 6 regional fire recovery workshops, and we have spread the word about their pre-planning process to our NC cultural heritage community. Across the state, museum and library professionals are connecting with their local emergency managers and fire & rescue personnel.  This is very encouraging for NC Emergency Management professionals, as they are dedicated to the concept that disasters start local and end local.  It is, in reality, the community that will respond to help in recovery and rebuilding.  The better linked that we all are to local and state recovery officials, the more efficient recovery will be.

So, stay off of those “icy bridges” that lead to a disaster. Contact us about how we can help you create an easy disaster plan and who your local connections are and how they can help you be better prepared when a disaster occurs.

Lyn Triplet, Disaster Preparedness Coordinator

What’s Your Pres-Ac Quotient?

Have you heard yet of the “Anarchist Guide to Historic House Museums?”   It started several years ago as a series of presentations and a social media campaign and will soon be published as a book. We’ve recently learned that North Carolina is one of the two primary centers of the authors’ (Deb Ryan and Frank Vagnone) research (New York being the other). Professor Deborah E. Ryan teaches architecture and urban design at UNC Charlotte and has organized class and individual student visits to several NC historic house museums.

The core concept of the “Anarchist Guide” is that focusing on preservation, historical accuracy, and exclusivity can undermine the higher callings of museums to be welcoming and engaging spaces.  Such ideas, though justifiably controversial, are worth discussing and it is the mission of our NC branch of the Connecting to Collections program to encourage both preservation and access (pres-ac). We have written here before about new access approaches to historic houses, especially programs that depart from the traditional docent-led, roped-off-room tours and facilitate historical imagining with re-enactments and visitor role playing.

RosedaleChart2Vagnone and Ryan emphasize the importance of cultivating an understanding in visitors of what it was like to inhabit a space in earlier periods. In one class exercise, Ryan instructed students to graph their historic house museum experiences with “energy,” “imagination,” and “excitement” as variables. In the past several years, Ryan and Vagnone have repeatedly included the graph one student created about his visit to Rosedale Plantation in Charlotte as an example in their “Anarchist Guide” presentations.  Like most museum visitors, Kevin Schaffner’s energy level started out fairly high and continuously decreased over the course of the visit. His imagination and excitement peaked when he could feel like he was discovering traces of the past by encountering artifacts or century-old handwriting on a wall, but overall, he felt bored by the docent-led tour. This detailed visitor feedback, especially from a younger visitor—a demographic historic house museums often struggle to interest—is valuable, if challenging, and has led Ryan and Vagnone to advocate self-guided tours and allowing visitors to touch artifacts.

When visitors can sit down and enter typically closed-off spaces like bathrooms, Ryan and Vagnone believe historic house museums can sustain visitors’ energy and heighten their imaginations about what it was like to live in the house in the past. In houses with lower visitation levels and fewer safety and security concerns, this may be an option. If the site displays “expendifacts,” sitting on the furniture may be okay. But many historic house museums cannot allow unfettered access in general on a daily basis without compromising the artifacts that make them unique. Preservation and access is always a tough balance to manage.

What innovative approaches has your institution tried? How do you negotiate between these often-competing needs for both preservation and access?

Exhibit Outreach Program for Western NC

Many thanks to Matt Provancha, Exhibit Developer Extraordinaire at the Mountain Gateway Museum, for this guest post. 

vignette for the "North Carolina School for the Deaft, Then and Now" exhibit at the Historic Courthouse in Morganton

vignette for the “North Carolina School for the Deaf, Then and Now” exhibit at the Historic Courthouse in Morganton

Up until the mid-2000s, the Mountain Gateway Museum and Heritage Center was known as the Mountain Gateway Museum and Service Center. No, you couldn’t get an oil change or your tires rotated while you were learning about Appalachian history or touring one of the cabins. The designation “Service Center” referred to the museum’s Exhibit Outreach Program (EOP).  You see, since the museum joined the NC Department of Cultural Resources in the late 1970s, part of its mission has been to share the collective experience of its museum professionals with all the little history museums and historical societies in Western North Carolina. Since the Mountain Gateway Museum (MGM) is the smallest museum in the Division of History Museums (with the largest service area) this exhibit outreach program has greatly increased the impact our little museum has on our part of the Old North State, extending our reach well beyond our walls.

Matt Provancha designed this exhibit title panel for the Rural Life Center at Mars Hill University.

Provancha designed this exhibit title panel for the Rural Heritage Museum at Mars Hill University.

Creating exhibits that cost from $30 to $3,000, the MGM has worked with numerous organizations’ budgets. From the creation of simple informational labels to the construction of museum-quality display cases, the EOP has helped non-profit, history-based organizations in our 39-county service area make their exhibit ideas into reality for more than 30 years. Here’s how it works:

  • We assist qualified agencies with planning their exhibits by utilizing their existing research to develop an organized and engaging storyline.
  • We advise them on collections care in the exhibit environment, and collections storage.
  • We help them design their exhibit layout, as well as simple informational and graphic exhibit elements.
  • We will design and fabricate exhibit elements, such as: display cases, artifact-specific mounts, and other exhibit furniture as necessary.
Provancha built this case for NCDCR's Western Office in Asheville.

Provancha built this case for NCDCR’s Western Office in Asheville.

Planning, consulting, design, and fabrication time/labor is provided free of charge.  The only cost to the interested agency is the cost of materials. MGM is lucky to have some key materials donated to us, so make no mistake: We can, and have, produced exhibits for as little as $30 in the past. [In fact, Gaylord just advertised a case nearly identical to the one I built for the NCDCR Western Office  with a starting price at $5,600. My case (at right) cost the Western Office in the neighborhood of $1,200.]

Utilizing the knowledge and resources of the EOP can open many avenues for history-based organizations interested in developing and displaying a high-quality museum exhibit at their institutions. For more information on this program, visit our website at MountainGatewayMuseum.org and click on “Outreach,” or give us a call at 828-668-9259.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 556 other followers