Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Day in the Life of a Curator

     I really hesitate to call this a typical day, as I never really know what’s going to happen!  But, here’s a look at a somewhat typical work day:

8:30 – 9:30 am  Arrive at museum, check my email and voice mail, make my “To Do” list for the day, and start answering emails.  Some of the emails I’ve received are intern requests, a loan request for surgical items, thanks for information I provided, a request for information about unusual artifacts which could be featured in a magazine article, a request for items relating to women in the Civil War, a request for photos of Civil War chamber pots, and notification that I “won” an auction for a hospital muster roll.

This muster roll caught my eye because it is signed by Surgeon B. (Benjamin) Rohrer.  The museum has other items which belonged to Surgeon Rohrer.  It was also of interest because it lists soldiers who were working in the hospital as nurses and a cook.  It was not unusual for patients who were fit for light duty, but not quite ready to return to their units, to be assigned duties in the hospital.

Of course I also got a chuckle over that other signature at the bottom of the document!  A little research turned up the fact that James Thompson Kirk enlisted as a Captain in the PA 39th Infantry in June of 1861.  So, at one point during the Civil War there was actually a Captain James T. Kirk!

9:30 – 10:00 am  Walk through the galleries to ensure that the museum is ready to open.  The artifacts, display cases, and lights are all fine today, but I do have to restart the sound system for the Field Dressing Station.  At least that’s an easy fix! 

10:00 – 11:30 am  Check the museum’s Facebook page for any questions directed to me.  Have a quick meeting with Deputy Director about the possibility of getting an ambulance wagon out at the Pry House Field Hospital Museum.  Enlist the help of a coworker to assist in removing two old panels in the museum’s store, and replacing them with a new panel.  I hung it level with the ceiling, but then discovered that the wall wasn’t square, so the panel appeared to be crooked.  I adjusted it so that it looked straight.

Here’s the new panel in our store, a reproduction of Winslow Homer’s painting, “Playing Old Soldier.” For those unfamiliar with the term, the painting’s title refers to soldiers who would pretend to be sick to get out of duty, or in the hope of obtaining “medicinal” alcohol.

11:30 – 12:00 pm  Receive delivery of a group of artifacts which had been out on loan to the Clara Barton National Historic Site in Glen Echo, Maryland.  I get the loan papers signed and check the condition of the artifacts.  Then of course, I show off the “new” Clara Barton artifacts!  Afterwards I file the loan papers and update the loan information in the data base.

12:00 – 12:30 pm  Lunch time!  I’m eating at my desk today since most of my coworkers are out at other locations.  I put in a call about the broken thermostat for my office.  I take two phone calls – one asking for sources of reproduction surgical kits and the other inquiring if we have an interest in an antique doctor’s buggy.  I think tomorrow I will go to the lunch room instead of staying at my desk!

12:30 – 1:30 pm  Get a call to go downstairs for a donation of two reproduction canteens.  Finally start researching topics from this morning’s emails and finding the requested photographs. Answer more emails.

Though these are reproductions, they will be useful in the museum’s displays!

1:30 – 2:30 pm  Catalog some new artifacts and enter the information on the data base.  Check snail mail.  Throw out the ads, record and file the loan renewal papers that arrived, and put the questionnaire from the Museum Studies student in my “To Do” pile.

2:30 – 3:00 pm  Take two quilts from the quarantine cabinet to the collection room for storage.  Wrap each quilt in acid-free tissue paper, roll them up, and attach labels.  Record the cabinet and shelf numbers for each quilt to put on the data base.  Vacuum the collection room, and make a quick check of the items in the room.

Here is one of the Civil War era quilts that was recently donated.  Though we didn't get the name of the quilter, we do know that it came from North Carolina.

3:00 – 3:30 pm  Take four books in need of repairs to the conservation room, and make minor repairs. Take note of supplies which need to be reordered.

3:30 – 4:30 pm  Photograph artifacts which were cataloged earlier.  Load photos onto computer, crop and label them.  Run the back-up for the data base.

4:30 – 5:00 pm  Place order for supplies.  Complete the questionnaire I received in the mail, and answer a couple of new emails.  Work on writing my blog post and finding photos to add. 

5:00 – 5:30 pm  It’s my turn to close the museum, so I go back through the galleries, check the artifacts, make certain everyone has exited the building, turn off lights, fans, and monitors, pick up dropped admission tags, and lock the doors.  On the way out, I turn on the alarm and double-check that the exterior doors are locked.

     That wasn’t so bad.  I’ll have to do this sort of post another time on a more hectic day!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. 

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