Please *bear* with us as we take a brief blogging break. Travel and piles of budget forms have interrupted our posting routines.
If you miss this week’s post, please consider contributing a guest blog. Topics we love include preservation tips, audience engagement with artifacts, disaster preparedness, and stories from NC’s cultural heritage institutions.
For more on the JFK Special Warfare Museum, click here.
Two of our institutional partners in the NC mountain region have been moving mountains—of collection materials, that is—in May.
May Day moving was once tradition, from the colonial period to WWII, in urban areas characterized by a high portion of rentals, such as New York and Chicago. This 1865 political cartoon pokes fun by connecting the tradition to the April surrender of the Confederacy by depicting government leaders packing up and leaving Richmond on May 1.
The Mountain Heritage Center of Western Carolina University is also packing up and moving. Staff members deconstructed exhibitions in late April – early May and have been re-configuring spaces to accommodate more artifact storage. By the end of the month they will move their offices to the campus library, where a new exhibition space will open in August–in time for the academic year.
The Carl Sandburg Home in Flat Rock, part of the National Park Service, began packing its collection of approximately 50,000 objects, ranging from furniture to archival materials, in the historic house in January. This month staff began moving boxed artifacts to an off-site storage facility in preparation for substantial renovations to the structure. Staff decided that rather than closing the house to tourists during the move, they could use the event as an interpretive opportunity. According to the site’s preservation webpage:
During this packing process visitors on tour will have an opportunity to see museum object preservation in person. The home’s interior will start to look more like the Sandburgs are just moving in with boxes still packed as the year goes on. This will be a fun time to visit the home to see the activity and to feel like the Sandburgs when they first moved to Connemara.
The move has also become a way for the site to connect with its social media audiences. Staff has been posting interesting collection finds on instagram, as well as a view into the tracking process. A collection inventory is a necessary and time consuming part of the move. Sharing a bit of the process with online audiences helps the public understand the meticulousness of preservation procedures, as well as engaging viewers with collection discoveries.
Need help planning a future collections move? The Science Museum of Minnesota has reported its experiences and advice for a major collections move, “Moving the Mountain,” and made the guidebook available as a PDF online. Beginning on page 66 are some helpful and well illustrated suggestions for fairly simple artifact mounts that could be used to move the artifact and continue as safe, permanent storage thereafter. Anne Lane, collections manager extraordinaire at WCU’s Mountain Heritage Center, will be instructing C2C’s Box Making Workshop next month where she will share her impressive skills for creating custom storage mounts and enclosures and update participants on her institution’s recent moving process.
What would you do if a couple of middle-school-aged kids (12+-) walked into your museum unaccompanied by adults? Would you stop them immediately and bar them from their journey of discovery? Or would you treat them as you would adult visitors and wait to see if they were disruptive before interfering with their visit? Or do you have a special procedure for youth to “register” at the front desk with a parent’s name and contact information?
Two years ago, when one of my sons was that age, he experienced two different museum procedures in Raleigh’s capital cluster of museums on the same day. He and a friend went into “Museum A” and explored and enjoyed themselves—no problems ensued. Afterwards they ventured into “Museum B” and an official stopped them at the door and told them they were not allowed in without a parent. Perhaps there are sound policies in place, based on liability or other concerns, that guided the boys’ exclusion. But whether or not that was the case, I believe a ban on kid visitors is a shame.
I support free-range parenting, which has become something of a movement in recent years. Most parents of tweens and teens today are old enough to remember a time when kids played outside all day and even visited stores, libraries, and museums without parents. Perhaps there’s no need to mention to the large portion of readers who are also historians that as soon as children were physically able in the past, they were encouraged to do all sorts of tasks independently. Amazingly to us today, in 1941-42 my grandparents put my aunt, who was a precocious 2-year-old, on a city bus in Iowa City by herself to ride to pre-school daily. How can it be that in the 21st century, even if we trusted our kids to function independently, we’re either too stunted by fears of criminals or fears of being criminalized ourselves to send them out on their own for brief excursions? Free-range parenting guru Lenore Skenazy has a thorough discussion of the possible reasons for the shift from free-range to cooped-up, often over-scheduled, kids in the last 20-30 years. She argues that the result is often harmful for both child development and parental well being.
Can our institutions function as part of kids’ free range? Read about a 60-something museum professional who fell in love with archaeology by repeatedly visiting his local museum alone when he was 8 years old here. Are there sound reasons to prevent decently behaved children, who are able to move through the space independently, from entering museums? (Granted, precocious 2-year-olds seem too young, but middle-school-age seems reasonable.) If so, can minor adjustments be made—such as registration upon entry—to allow older kids the freedom-with-responsibility they desire and arguably require?
Skenazy cites one school which instituted a “Free-Range Kids project” with great success. Can our cultural heritage institutions partner with schools, scout and church groups, etc. to welcome free-range children? Let’s join the chorus of the free-range kid movement. Independence paired with a sense of responsibility nurtures good citizens, and the freedom to explore inspires effective learning. Shouldn’t museums be a part of those essential processes?
Adrienne Berney, C2C Project Director
This week and into May, cultural heritage institutions of all types will be actively promoting preservation. Even though our C2C team is always preaching preservation, we try to make an extra push at this time of year. The American Library Association has decreed the last week in April Preservation Week. We are recognizing the campaign by meeting with the Mountain Area Cultural Resources Emergency Network at NCDCR’s Western Office in Asheville on Monday. MACREN formed 15+ years ago after the Wolfe Memorial fire and has been a model for us as we’ve tried to help establish regional mutual-aid networks for disaster recovery across the state. We’re excited to have the opportunity to help reinvigorate this group and tell them about CREST’s recent deployments in the mountain region.
This year MayDay synergistically falls on Friday, the end of ALA’s Preservation Week. Organizations that promote disaster preparedness for cultural heritage collections urge staff to “Do one thing” on May 1st to improve your institution’s disaster preparedness. It doesn’t have to be huge or involve much advance planning; you can still accomplish a worthwhile MayDay task. A few simple ideas with lasting benefits are:
- Update your institution’s emergency contacts on MayDay each year.
- Tune into the Foundation for the American Institute of Conservation’s FREE webinar this Friday, from 2:00 – 3:30 on disaster preparedness. http://www.connectingtocollections.org/after-disasters/
- Contact local firefighters to schedule a pre-plan for your institution, if you have not already been through this process.
- Order a Knox Box through your local fire station.
For groups involved with building preservation, May is Preservation Month. Old Salem and Historic Forsyth are offering a multitude of free preservation programs this month. Our state historic preservation office has organized a window workshop later in May in Black Mountain. The NC Museum of History has planned a Preservation Day for Saturday, May 9. The event will correspond with the museum’s quarterly Conservation Assistance Day and will include displays by representatives from preservation organizations from across the state (including Edgecombe CC’s Historic Preservation Technology Program) as well as special exhibits on the topic.
Does your institution have any special preservation-related activities this week or in May? How can you engage your community with this topic for next year? Take advantage of some of the programs other groups are offering now and use these ideas as a launching pad to plan next year’s preservation promotions!
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.
- 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.
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.
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?
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.
Many 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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?
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.
- Pins can leave permanent holes in some materials—particularly skins. Magnets are less invasive in such cases.
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.)
- Rare earth magnets can be painted with carefully matched paint so that their appearance blends with the artifact. (a barrier layer is still necessary with painted magnets.)
- 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 here. This option for magnetic strips is $12 for a ½” width and 7 feet length.
[Thanks to T. Ashley McGrew for contributions to this post.]
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?
I 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…
The 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.