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.
Since dogs are traditional hunting companions, it may not be surprising to find an embossed dog motif on this leather shot flask. Accession records indicate that this example was found near Raleigh during the Civil War. The North Carolina state dog—the Plott hound—is a renowned hunting breed. 5 years ago Western Carolina University’s Mountain Heritage Center produced an exhibition on the the Plott hound. This show continues to travel (most recently to last year’s Plott Fest) and could be a popular and low-cost option for educational programming at your site. The Center’s museum sales division produced this t-shirt for the exhibit and online merchandise.
In addition to hunting, dogs have filled other domestic roles. Perhaps this dog (above) alerted its owner when Fred Olds, founder of the NC Museum of History, visited the Cherokee reservation in 1908. As part of his basket-collecting mission, he had a photographer record this scene of “Aunt Lydia” Sands, whom he described as “the best woman fisher,” making fishing baskets on her porch. At the time of the photo, Sands’ dog “Surlagoochee” rested on the steps below. Dogs also provided affectionate companionship and could possibly (as in this advertising print above right) help with child rearing. Above left Governor Luther Hodges (1954-1961) pets his cocker spaniel.
Some craftsmen recreated dogs in objects ranging from decorative to whimsical. Woodcarver Jack Hall, who studied at the John C. Campbell Folk School, created this dog (left) in 1947. Annie Eaton Brower of Cary made dog cookies with this cutter (right), made by Moravian tinsmith G.A. Boozer in the mid 19th century. The retired proprietor of Hinshaw Yarns of Alamance County, Walter Hinshaw, fashioned the ornament below by sewing loops of machine braid together in the late 20th century.
In April Jeanne McGuire, Office Manager at F.Patrick McGuire, D.D.S. of Sylva, North Carolina, contacted Pam Meister, Curator at WCU’s Mountain Heritage Center in Cullowee, with an unusual request. She wanted to set up a time for the entire staff to volunteer at the museum. Why volunteering? McGuire hoped that an afternoon out of the office working together, rather than in separate treatment spaces, would be a team-building experience.
Why the Mountain Heritage Center? The McGuire family has a fascinating history and artifact legacy, partially housed at the museum. In 1908 Daisy McGuire, Patrick McGuire’s grandmother, became the first woman licensed to practice dentistry in North Carolina. She continued practicing until the age of 97. She was not only the daughter of a dentist, but her husband, two of her daughters, and two of her grandsons also became dentists.
The Mountain Heritage Center’s collection contains 69 artifacts relating to this pioneering professional, ranging from a dentist chair and Dr. Daisy’s medicine bag to dental implements, medicines, a false teeth sample case (pictured here), and molds for making false teeth.
Always on the lookout for new ways to engage audiences, Meister readily accepted McGuire’s offer. Given that dental office staff members specialize in precise, meticulous, and hygienic work, Meister knew that their skills would be a good fit for collections storage cleaning projects. Dr. McGuire and his staff were indeed able to accomplish a set of important tasks.
Strengthening your institution’s connection to its community does not only involve outreach to new groups. Equally important is a sustained effort toward cementing and building upon existing relationships. By being open and willing to accommodate the needs of an unusual interest group, Meister was able to accomplish much more than a clean storage area. She was able to invest more of the McGuire family’s hearts and hands in the Mountain Heritage Center.