Thursday, February 27, 2014

What's in a Curator's Office?

     I have to confess that this has been a very busy week for me.  I’m still catching up from the snow days we had and the time I was away for the conference.  So, today I thought I’d give you a look at some of the odd things which are in my office!

     Let’s start with my desk.

Clara Barton watches over my business cards.
I always have some relevant reading material on my desk.

This item came out of my desk drawer.  It is a spring mechanism which was removed from the (reproduction) musket we put out on display for people to handle.

     I also have an “artifact desk” which holds the artifacts which I’m cataloging or photographing, as well as some exhibit supplies.  

I’m working my way through cataloging a large donation of medical books.

This Civil War surgeon stands guard over the artifacts on the desk!

These pantyhose and fake eyelashes aren’t for me!   The pantyhose were used to cover a foam head in the exhibits.  I needed to display a white lace nurse’s cap on it, which didn’t show up well against the white covering on the head.  It shows up very well against the black though.  The eyelashes are used on the mannequins in the exhibits.

I also keep a black light in my office.  It comes in handy for detecting stains and repairs on artifacts, as well as highlighting mouse trails.

There’s a bookcase in my office which of course holds books.  It is also home to a petri dish which contains a form for growing an ear.  It was part of a past exhibit, and now it functions as a great conversation piece!

The artifact quarantine cabinet is in my office as well.  Any artifacts which come into the museum first have to “live” here for a month or so.

One of the items currently in the cabinet is this combination knife and fork, which was used by amputees.  This one is on loan to us from the collection of Scott Pfeffer, and it is slated to be part of an exhibit on amputee eating utensils.

Items which are too large for the quarantine cabinet, like this musket, are kept in a safe corner of my office.

Hanging from the pipes in my office ceiling is this moth trap.  I keep textiles in here, so I do not want any moths in the area!

     Let’s take a look at what’s on the walls too.

Every good Virginia Tech alumnus needs to display a Hokie!

Every good collection manager should have one of these Emergency Response Salvage Wheels handy.  It is a handy reference which lists some basic treatments for the various types of artifacts in various types of disasters. 

      I will leave you with my favorite work-themed cartoon which is on my wall!


Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Professional Development…at the Beach!

     Occasionally, I get to take a little time away from the museum to attend workshops or conferences.  They are good opportunities for keeping up with the latest information on museum policies and artifact care, for making new contacts at other institutions, and for getting a fresh perspective on museum issues.  I was fortunate (and thankful!) this year to win the Peter H. Plamondon Professional Development Scholarship so that I could attend this year’s Small Museum Association conference in Ocean City, Maryland.  I was also happy that my colleague, Tom, could attend the conference as well!

It was a three hour drive from Frederick, so Tom & I were glad when we caught a glimpse of Ocean City!

Even in winter, this is the kind of view you want from your hotel room!
In the keynote address the first morning we learned about what some teenagers thought about their visits to various museums and historic houses.  We were surprised to learn that they aren’t necessarily drawn to technology.  Tom & I were not surprised to hear that what they really want is for their museum experience to relate to them and to their lives.  That’s a familiar concept to us at our museum, for visitors of all ages!
     Another part of attending the conference is meeting with the museum vendors.  I got to see some new products and to sign up for some new programs.  There were some interesting “freebies” as well.  I always appreciate those! 

My choice for the best giveaway was these “thumb tacks” from Dorfman Museum Figures!
     The rest of the time consisted of workshops and roundtables.  I usually attend all of the ones which deal with collections issues, but I branched out this year and also attended one on using Wikipedia for museums, and one on museum grant opportunities.  I got a lot of good information which I can use, and which I can share with my coworkers.

     The most eye-opening session for me was the roundtable “The Past, Present, and Future of Small Museums” in which we discussed many of the changes we’ve seen in the museum world over the years.  There was a wide range of experience represented, from college students who haven’t yet landed their first job, to people with over 30 years in the field.  The difficulty in finding a paying museum job was one of the topics discussed.  It is not news to me that no one goes into museum work to get rich!  However, I was a little surprised when one of the panel members asked to see a show of hands for those who are “lucky enough to have a full-time, paid museum job.”  Several of us started to raise our hands, until she added, “with benefits?”  Most of us put our hands back down.  This led to a discussion about ways we could possibly change that.  While we didn’t solve all of the museum world’s problems in that session, at least we could see that we weren’t alone in our frustration!  

     On the last night of the conference, we got to cut loose a bit at the banquet.  Since this year is the 30th anniversary of the SMA’s conference, the theme for the banquet was the 1980s, and we were encouraged to come dressed in our best ‘80s costumes.

In keeping with the theme, Tom & I went as Carmen Sandiego and Indiana Jones!
     It was tough to leave the beach, but still good to get back to the museum.  I've got a few new ideas to try!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Hiding in Plain Sight

     One of the challenges of putting museum displays in an older building is working around the features of the building.  Sometimes these features can be adapted into the exhibits, but other times they need to be camouflaged.  We had some of these challenges in our building at the NMCWM.  Our biggest adaptation is probably the ramps which lead from the front half of the building (which is higher) to the back half.  When the building was renovated, the stairs between these spaces were replaced with ramps.  The ramps were then integrated into the exhibits.  You can read a post about our ramps here.  

     We also had to deal with some areas which needed to be camouflaged. 

Several support poles run from the third floor all the way down to the basement of the building.  Here in the collection room they don’t need to be disguised.  They would be a distraction in the galleries though, so we had to get creative!

The Camp Life gallery is directly below the collection room.  Can you spot the pole here?  You probably guessed that it’s inside the tree, but if you were just walking through the museum you wouldn’t know that the tree was hiding something! 

On the first floor, the same pole is hidden inside the wall to the Pavilion Hospital gallery.

     Another area which needed disguising was the building’s old elevator. 

Here you can see the door to the old elevator on the third floor.  Visitors don’t see this floor, so we only need a warning sign to remind the staff not to use this non-functioning elevator!

There’s no sign of an elevator on the second floor in the Field Evacuation gallery.  
The barn door which is part of the scenery in the gallery actually disguises the elevator door.  It also creates a little storage nook, as well as a convenient place to hide a sticky trap!

On the first floor, in the Field Hospital gallery, a different door hides the elevator and a storage closet.

     I’ll bet the next time you visit a museum, while you’re looking at the artifacts you’ll also be looking for the “hidden” items!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Things I Find in the Galleries!

     Every morning before the museum opens I walk through all the galleries to check on the displayed artifacts.  This is also my opportunity to inspect the galleries for possible leaks, heating or cooling issues, broken props, burned out light bulbs, signs of insects, or any other issues which need attention.  On most days everything is fine, though I may have to change a light bulb or two.  However, I do get some surprises from time to time!  Let’s take a look at what I found in the galleries last week.

Yes, on this walk-through I had to change a bulb.  At least now that the tracks are clearly labeled, I can change it without playing the circuit breaker guessing game!

This carte-de-visite (CDV) image of a Civil War surgeon was giving me trouble last week.  I kept finding it on the floor instead of on its stand.  That seemed odd, as it’s been there for a while and hasn’t fallen off in the past.  Since the CDV is inside a sleeve of Mylar, I was able to use a small piece of double-sided tape to solve that problem.

     Downstairs in the Field Hospital gallery, I discovered something a bit more unusual.

Can you see what’s wrong here?

The mannequin’s arm had fallen off, and taken some other props along with it.  It was a pretty strange sight!

I checked the mannequin’s arm to make sure nothing was broken.  It appeared that the arm had simply succumbed to gravity.  

After I replaced the mannequin’s arm, I put the props back in their places as well.  Here I’m putting the chloroform cone back over the face of the “patient.”
While I was back there, I made some minor adjustments to the other mannequins.

     Finding two fallen items in the galleries made me wonder if our building was being subjected to some sort of vibrations.  Though unusual occurrences in the museum building are usually jokingly attributed to ghosts, I wanted to check out the other possibilities.  My first thought was that it could have been caused by a larger than usual tour group.  When I checked, I found that we hadn’t had any large groups through in the past week though.  Next I looked at possible seismic activity, but I didn’t see anything unusual for our area.  I did find that there was some local road construction recently though, so that could be the culprit.  I’ll have to continue to keep an eye on things to be sure.  

Things appear to be back to normal now, at least as normal as is possible for an amputation scene!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.