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Preview: Adventures in Collections Management

Adventures in Collections Management





Updated: 2015-09-16T22:47:20.256-07:00

 



Baskets and How We Store Them

2011-03-31T15:42:39.880-07:00

This last academic quarter I had the opportunity to teach a class in the Museum Studies program here at Central Washington University. While I work with students as interns all the time, teaching a class was a whole new experience. I had the privilege of teaching a course on Registration and Collections Management, which is what I do every day!

My goal for the course was to teach the students practical fundamentals, and what better way to do that than with hands on projects? The basket collection was an immediate candidate. The baskets are beautiful and likely to be handled frequently for exhibit and research. The students were tasked with a four part assignment: Complete a catalog form, a condition report, rehouse and support the basket, and enter the information they gathered into the museum database.

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The rehoused baskets on carts.

All students were required to make a custom sized box from archival cardboard and support the basket if necessary. Many of the baskets chosen for the project are wide, shallow baskets for which we needed to construct supports to help prevent the sides from slumping. Gravity is a mighty foe which must be fought with….
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…custom carved blocks of ethafoam.

Carving foam to match the curve of a basket proved to be a very tricky proposition, but the students were up to the task. Not all baskets required such specific mounts. Some were fine without external supports.

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This flat bottomed basket is very stable as it is. A handling tray lined with ethafoam prevents sliding and accidental bumping into other baskets on shelves.

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This unique piece was too nearly flat for the sort of carved supports which worked best for other items, but small bumpers made of ethafoam tube cut length wise was just about perfect for supporting the basket and preventing movement in the box.
Some pieces, however, proved too difficult to build a mount for in the limited class time dedicated to the project and stop-gap measures were put in place.

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The ring at the base of this basket prevents the basket from shifting in the box and more equally distributes the stress at the base, but does nothing to alleviate warping that may already be occurring due to gravity. This basket will receive further attention before going back into storage.

Through this assignment, 16 baskets from the collection were thoroughly documented and now have housing which will protect them for years to come. Additionally, 16 museum studies students now have the experience of creating a custom storage mount for important museum objects. I declare that to be a success all around.



Picture a Museum Day!

2011-03-17T13:33:07.086-07:00

Today is [...]



Sharing Collections

2010-07-21T11:39:51.685-07:00

Part of my motivation in starting this blog was to share a peek of what behind the scenes looked like for a collections person. My favorite things to share are cool objects from the collection, and box making. Because making boxes, or object mounts more generally, is one of my favorite activity. One of my goals, once the collection move was completed, has been to photograph our collection objects and get those photos online, so that you all can see what I get to see everyday, and so that I can learn more about them from people who know more than me! Because I'm always looking to expand my knowledge about the collections.

This past week I've begun uploading some photos to Flickr. Why flickr? It's fairly cheap, easy to get access to, and you can comment on it! Also, I've seen that other museums, like the Magnes Museum have been sharing their collections there. So I've sent out a trial balloon - uploading 408 images of our collection.

Agates from the Bentley Collection
387 photos of beautiful agates.
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Baskets from the Collection
An incomplete photoset - it will be expanded as we photograph more of our baskets. But baskets are a wonderful and important aspect of our collection, and we believe that the more we can learn about them, the greater the stories we can tell.
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And now, a question: What sort of objects would you like to see from our collection? What interests you most?



Crash course in mount making

2010-04-06T10:00:00.811-07:00

Because we are a small museum, I end up wearing many hats. In addition to being collections manager, I also dabble in exhibit production and installation. To that end, I've begun to learn how to make mounts for objects on exhibit.

Last year, through a small grant from the University, the museum was able to purchase a heating element and some plexi glass. This year, as we began to develop our exhibits in house, we started to really use the tools we had on hand.

The heating element and our very high tech method of lining up and stabilizing plexi - lumber with lines drawn on it.
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The rod in the heating element gets very very hot, and the plexi, when placed above it, softens and becomes pliable, allowing us to bend and manipulate the material. When I began experimenting with the heater and plexi, I used some 1/2" plexi we had laying around. Unbeknownst to me, 1/2" plexi is really tricky stuff to work with. I quickly discovered the trickiness - the plexi wound strain against the bend lines, causing striations.
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I had better luck working with our 1/8" plexi, which is much easier to deal with. Seeking guidance, Andy Granitto, Curator of Exhibitions at the Yakima Valley Museum offered to give myself and programming manager, Angie Koch some pointers. Which we gladly took him up on.

Armed with my new, increased understanding of mountmaking, I was faced with my first challenge - mount a pipe in the middle of an exhibit case, preferably so it would look more or less like it was floating. After a couple of sketches, I decided that a tall, freestanding shelf would serve our needs. So that's what I made from plexi.
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I embedded the bottom of the stand in an ethafoam block to provide a more stable base. The pipe is attached to the stand through use of monofilament. The process was definitely a learning experience, but it's very exciting to be able to achieve a professional look in house.
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A Mammoth Undertaking

2010-04-02T10:00:04.832-07:00

Yes, we are milking that pun for all it's worth. And maybe more...

In any case, we've gone a little mammoth crazy around here. If you're not local, you may not have heard about the Wenas Creek Mammoth, which was discovered a few years ago about 35 miles south of campus. It's kind of a big deal. Several large bones have been unearthed, including a humerus, femur and vertebrae. The project was even featured in the History Channel's Journey to 10,000 BC (the only link on the History Channel website seems to be to their video shop - but at least it has a description).

And now, the Wenas Creek Mammoth project will be our inaugural exhibit of our Window on Central series, small exhibits which showcase work being done on and around campus. The exhibit itself will be featured in our hallway facing corner display case, but a mammoth calls for something a little more... dramatic. Like a full size mammoth in the lobby.

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And how does one create a full size mammoth? In this case, interim museum director Bill Wood enlarged and refined artist's Carl Buell's rendering of the mammoth and separated it into sections we can print with our 24" plotter. Once printed, the strips were cut down to fit on pieces of foam core and then glued to the foam core. Then we reassembled the whole thing on the lobby wall. No small project!

We started near the front and worked out.
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Bill Wood places the final tusk piece.
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When it was all done, we put together this little video of the process.
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Definitely a lot of fun, and a very cool thing to have in the lobby.



Class Project Part 2: Rehousing a Peruvian Knit Bag

2010-03-29T09:00:03.498-07:00

A while ago, I mentioned that CWU's Curation and Collections Management class is working with some of our textiles. Part of their assignment included working with me to rehouse the object they chose. Using a series of videos from the Minnesota Historical Society as our guide, we set out to house the textiles. The first piece we did was a small knitted bag, probably from Peru.The bag had two major needs: a new tag to replace the fading ink on its current tag, and some padding, to relieve pressure on the creases that had formed from being stored flat for many year.Our first step was to relabel the object. To do so, I first removed the old tag, very carefully, so as not to pull on the knit stitches of the fabric. Meanwhile, Taylor, a student in the class, wrote the catalog number on a piece of twill tape with an Identi-pen; this will be our new label.Sewing labels to textiles is always a very delicate procedure. The sewing needle and thread need to be very carefully placed between the thread or yarn of the textile that needs to be labeled. To sew down this label, I tacked both ends of the label to the bag without tying knots that might pull on the fibers and cause stress or damage. We then padded out the bag with some unbuffered acid free tissue paper. In this rather unscientific process, we crumple some tissue paper and place it inside the bag, giving it some bulk and taking some pressure off of the creases that have developed from years of being stored flat. We then placed the stuffed bag on another sheet of unbuffered acid free tissue paper which will serve as a handling sling, allowing us to easily lift the bag into and out of the box in which it will be stored. In this case we also added a small pillow to stabilize the delicate 'handle' on the bag. In the interest of space, many textiles will be stored in a single box. Each piece will have a tissue paper sling, and a larger muslin sling will allow us to take all the pieces out of the box at the same time. Finally, the box is closed up and put back into storage until the textile is needed for research or exhibit. Each of the students in the class had a different textile to work with, and each faced different challenges to housing it appropriately. By the end of the quarter, each piece was successfully rehoused and readied for storage. A very successful project![...]



And we're back!

2010-03-26T10:47:31.923-07:00

We keep ourselves pretty busy around here. There's been a lot going on - new exhibits, learning new techniques, installing a mammoth in the lobby. Yep. Full size mammoth in the lobby. It's awesome.

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More content coming over the next weeks.



Photo Friday: Beyond Black and White

2010-02-26T09:26:35.880-08:00

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It's been a crazy month here at the Museum of Culture and Environment. A week ago we opened our second exhibit: Beyond Black and White: The Stories Behind Our Masks. We're especially excited about the exhibit for two reasons: it features lots of amazing masks from our own collection and we were able to work with CWU's Diversity Education Center.

The photo above shows our two tigre masks in their case, and you can see the reflection of the toro mask in the reflection. In the background are 20 masks created by students in conjunction with the Diversity Education Center.

From a collections standpoint, this exhibit was our first real try at mounting objects for exhibit, and we went for a fairly low tech approach. The tigre masks are supported by a custom carved block of ethafoam, with a small piece of volara under the chin to cushion the pressure point. Simple, but effective. Some of the other pieces were much trickier.



Class Project, part 1

2010-02-05T13:34:11.421-08:00

One of the really neat things about having a museum as part of a university, particularly a university with a museum studies program, is that students have a chance to participate in the collections work. Every year, the museum studies program offers a class on curation and collections management. As part of that class, the students choose an object to research, catalog, and rehouse, if appropriate.

This year, the students are working on a collection of textiles. The textiles have not been researched or housed. In fact, when they were moved last year, they were in a stack in a box. That stack was transferred to the compactor storage, where it's stayed for the last year.
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To prepare for class today, I took the textiles from storage and laid them out in the collections workroom. The students each choose a piece to research and rehouse.
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I'm really glad the class will be working with these textiles. They need new storage - the flat storage is putting a lot of stress on the fibers, particularly on the knit pieces, which are meant to be three dimensional. I'm also glad these pieces are being examined, because I discovered that the ink used to mark the pieces is fading, in some cases quite badly.
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So I'll be replacing those labels that are fading before we finish this project completely. It should be very interesting to see what sort of information the students can find on these pieces.



Clearing out the Gallery

2009-12-28T11:56:15.557-08:00

Our first exhibit closed on December 19th. Over the past week, I've been engaged in taking it down, or deinstalling it. With 140ish silk fish and 60+ photos, that's a lot of material to taken down. This is what the gallery looked like on the last day of the exhibit. Very full, very vibrant.
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When taking down the exhibit, the first thing I did was to re-attach the tags to each of the hanging fish. Then I went around, cutting down the thread we'd used to hang the fish with. After recording any changes to the condition of the fish, I returned them to their original boxes and will be repacking those boxes inside their crates when all the fish are down.

The second step has been to take down the framed photos. I noted any condition changes and repacked the images. Thankfully, this didn't involve going up and down a ladder countless times, like preparing the fish did. All in all, the process has gone really smoothly, and I expect to finish deinstalling tomorrow. Here's what the partially deinstalled gallery looks like right now (click on the image to get to a larger version).
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Note all the hanging threads we used for the fish, and the stick-um on the gallery walls from the labels. We'll deal with gallery clean up last.



Photo Friday: Petrified Wood Projectile Point

2009-12-11T14:20:32.171-08:00

I've spent a lot of time with archaeological lithics in my life. As an undergraduate, I spent 3.5 years working with and studying lithic debitage. In the collection here, we have about 6000 pieces of chipped stone tools - projectile points and scrapers, mostly. This week I've been photographing some projectile points and processing photos that our intern, Leila, took earlier this month.

I was really struck by the beauty of these tools. They're made from a variety of materials. Around here, you sometimes see projectile points worked from petrified wood. There's quite a bit of petrified wood in the area. There's even a petrified forest nearby (which has a pretty neat museum/interpretive center down the road from it). I think it's just wild how a tree becomes fossilized and then becomes a tool when worked by a skilled craftsperson.

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Photo Friday: New Acquisition

2009-12-04T10:49:18.356-08:00

Since the Museum of Culture and Environment began running workshops last spring, we've had higher visibility. Over the summer we received three new donations. This piece is one of them. After some delay, we've attached a label to it and it is now fully integrated into the collection.
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At the moment, we don't have a great deal of information about piece, except that the owner before the donor may have been a librarian in Peru. Intriguing!



Photo Friday: Outside the Museum

2009-11-20T09:12:58.766-08:00

I stepped outside on Tuesday afternoon to get some air and see daylight (occupational hazard of working with collections? Basement or windowless office.). The daylight was exceptionally beautiful - sun from the west, clouds in the east. So I ran back to my office, grabbed the camera and snapped a few photos before the light disappeared.
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Photo Friday: Polar Bear Pendant

2009-11-13T13:43:04.225-08:00

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I skipped ahead out of the lithics this week and took pictures of some of our smaller Arctic type objects. This piece, a carved polar bear head pendant, was probably carved for sale. It's grouped with three other carved for sale type pieces including a napkin ring, a letter opener, and a small seal. I love the heads flanking it on the right and left. Seals, maybe? And also the tongue detail - very red and interesting!

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Photo Friday: Mortar/Bowl

2009-11-06T13:01:27.596-08:00

The major collections projects at the moment are somewhat less photogenic than the process of packing and moving were.

We're doing an inventory. Moving and unpacking was a group effort which involved many people, and sometimes lines of communication get crossed. Right now we're working to make sure that everything is where it ought to be and that our database reflects that.

At the same time, we're using our new Nikon camera to take high quality photos of the collection. We're starting with our mortars and pestles and moving on to the natural history collection. Here's a photo of a bowl or mortar made of volcanic rock:
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This piece was collected in Idaho. According to its catalog record, the donor "worked on it" suggesting that he modified it in some way from how he found it. But what precisely was done is hard to tell. It may have been a chunk of volcanic rock, completely unformed, or it may have had the suggestion of a bowl. Another mystery to speculate on.



We've arrived

2009-10-06T10:21:10.903-07:00

(image) College of the Sciences Dean Kirk Johnson and CWU Trustee Patricia Notter cut the ribbon.

The Museum of Culture and Environment at Central Washington University is officially open. When I began this blog more than two years ago, the museum didn't even have an official name. It didn't have a gallery. It didn't have a webpage. What it had was the dedication of some volunteers and an academic department, 35 years of history, and one new full time employee.

We've come a long way in these two years.

(image) Guests view the exhibit for the first time.

We opened on September 25th, 2009 with a crowd of nearly 200 people touring the gallery (Link to Facebook photo album.). The opening exhibit, River of Memory: The Everlasting Columbia, on loan from the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center, has been really an excellent first exhibit for us. It truly combines the themes of culture and the environment by exploring the history of a river that people have impacted for thousands of years. The Museum even added a small component to the exhibit, showing some of our net weights and talking about fishing on the Columbia.

(image) Net sinkers and anchor weights on display.

We've come so far in just a couple of years, but we have farther to go yet.

In the meantime, I hope to get back to talking about collections work on a regular basis soon here. And I hope you can come visit us! River of Memory runs through December 17th. We're open Wednesday through Friday 2 to 6 pm and Saturday 10 am to 3 pm. Parking is free on campus after 4:30 pm on weekdays and all day Saturday.



Too busy, can't blog

2009-09-24T10:53:10.154-07:00

The opening is tomorrow at 4 pm! (Read the official press release.) We have been busy here the past few days (busy is an understatement, it's been a madhouse! But in a good way.).

I've got to get back to work, but here's a neat photo of one of the spawning salmon.
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Swimming with the fishes

2009-09-14T15:55:23.996-07:00

The crates for our first exhibit - River of Memory: The Everlasting Columbia - arrived on September 1st.
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7 of them! Four and a half crates holding 68 images and panels to go up on the walls, one holding the opening panel, and one holding 144 silk fish. I just updated the MCE facebook page to say how excited I am about the fish and I got a request for photos. Well, I can certainly oblige. But a little about how exhibits travel.

This exhibit originated at the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center and has toured the Northwest. You've already seen how you move an exhibit: in custom built crates.

When the crates arrived, the first thing we did was... nothing. We moved the crates into our space and then let them sit. They sat for 48 hours so that they could acclimate to the climate at the museum (okay, they sat longer than 48 hours - I had a bit of a fight with some of the screws holding the crates on, and there was a holiday weekend). Once opened, the next step is to unpack and prepare a condition report for each individual piece.

A condition report is an individual examination of each object to provide a baseline. So we know that when the MCE received X object, it had a chip at the bottom right corner and a scratch in the upper right, 2 inches from the corner, for example. That way the lending institution knows what happens where. Condition reporting can be time consuming, especially with over 200 pieces to process. This is what it looked like when I was working on the images:
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I would keep the report with the image until the image was moved into the gallery. When I completed the images, I moved on to the silk fish. The fish are beautiful, and the condition reports are pretty easy, since they're almost all in excellent condition. The fish are made from silk, painted by artists, and are meant to be hung from the ceiling. They're going to be amazing and dramatic. They range from quite small (just a few inches) up to 4 feet, and one that's 14 feet long - those are the real sizes the fish would be in the Columbia! Here's a glimpse of four of the 144 fish.
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Spawning Salmon:
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They're gorgeous on the table - I can't wait to see them all hung up with the historical photographs in the gallery.



September?

2009-09-01T16:55:46.261-07:00

In my mind, September has always been the end of the summer. I think it has to do with spending so many years in school, and now working for a university. But the grass in the arboretum is still green and various individuals are out there enjoying it. Like this guy:
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He's an African tortoise from the Biology department and lives in the Science Building, next door to our building. He was out today, getting some air and nomming some apples.

But I spend most of my time inside. Yesterday we were playing with the gallery furniture, testing out various arrangements in preparation for our opening exhibit. The mobile walls are really versatile! It was amazing to see the different ways in which our (more or less) rectangular gallery can be set up with the walls. Here's one view:
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It's really astounding to think of how far we've come since we started this blog nearly two years ago (wow! has it been that long already?). I'm really looking forward to seeing the exhibit up in the space. I think it's going to be really great.



Object History

2009-08-17T12:58:08.646-07:00

Unfortunately, we don't have extensive records on many of our objects. Sometimes we don't know if an object was donated to us in a broken state, or if it broke in our care (over the nearly 40 years a museum in some form has existed). So it was really exciting for me to find a contact print documenting the repair of a broken object.
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I presume this occurred in the 1970s, when there was a great deal of activity in the collections. You can see that the ceramic figure was in (at least) two pieces, broken right down the middle.
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Presumably, an adhesive was applied to the broken edges, and then it was held together. By what look like rubber bands. And then it is all one piece again!
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And the repair has held through all the years. You can still see the crack running down the center of the figure.
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I've got a large box full of negatives to go through. I wonder what other object stories we'll uncover as we work through those.



New Dean Hall Neighbors

2009-08-12T15:06:20.734-07:00

I learned this week that Dean Hall has some residents without offices. Whooo whooo can it be?
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Do you see them? It's a couple of Great Horned Owls (I think). They've decided that those, um, architectural features over the windows are just about the best place to be. What's really neat is that, from the third floor stairwell landing, you're pretty much at eye level with them.

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It's kind of appropriate that these great birds would choose to spend their days on the building that houses the Museum of Culture and Environment - this intersection of human modification of the landscape with the needs of wildlife is right up our alley.



Tyvek Shelf Cover project

2009-08-06T11:30:54.675-07:00

Our compactor storage is awesome. In addition to the compactor storage, we have a couple shelves of storage for oversize materials.The shelves do their job well, but the objects on them are exposed to light and dust... especially light. A number of the shields have quite fragile pigments. So I wanted to devise some way to construct covers for the shelves. I considered many options, but eventually decided to use the Tyvek, which is a great material for museum use because it's light, waterproof, and pretty archival. Plus, I happened to have a roll of it 60" wide. Except the shelves are 76.5" wide. Which meant that I had to bring in the big guns. Or, rather, the Mini Ultra Sewing Machine.Now, I hadn't used a sewing machine in about four years, but I was pleased to find that I was still able to fill a bobbin and thread the machine. And, after some experimentation on scraps, I was also please to find that the Tyvek sews pretty nicely and doesn't rip easily.The covers for the front of the shelf are quite large. In addition to being over 6 feet long, the shelves are 8 feet tall. In order to make such a large amount of material sewable, I did what any resourceful person would. I used paper clips to keep everything lined up.The paper clips worked remarkably well. And so did the little sewing machine.By the end of all that I had several large pieces of Tyvek and then had to work out how to attach the Tyvek to the shelves. I've seen velcro used with great success, but decided against the velcro because it would make adjusting the shelves difficult in the future and would probably leave a sticky residue on the metal if it was ever removed. Ultimately I decided to use simple magnets. The magnets hold up the Tyvek effectively, but are also easy to adjust, rearrange, and remove. It's almost too simple!The end product of the the project is shelves which are protected from light and dust. I'm pleased with the result.[...]



Moving the Field Museum

2009-07-28T10:04:40.452-07:00

I just got back from some vacation time and spent most of yesterday catching up on a ton of emails and museum-y news. As I was skimming my museum blogs, I found this link to a collection of photos from The Field Museum. (I think it was on a blog, may have been in an email... I had a lot to catch up on.)

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A set up for moving exhibit cases.

The image collection is made up of 78 scans of glass plate negatives from 1920. They document the move of the Field Museum to its current location by train, auto, and horse drawn cart. It's fascinating to me to see all of the cases, with objects still inside them!, being loaded onto trains. Certainly appears to be a different method than we used earlier this year.

It's also worth peeking at the rest of the Field Museum Library's flickr stream. There are some pretty cool photos of two toed sloths, and a prehensile tailed porcupine on their front page right now. Very cool stuff. There are actually a ton of museums on Flickr, and a lot of fabulous image collections from history institutions in The Commons to explore. Check it out!



Walls and cases!

2009-07-01T14:50:25.885-07:00

Yesterday was very exciting around here. Our mobile walls and exhibit cases were delivered!

The good folks at Museum Resources designed walls and cases to meet our needs. They drove over from Seattle yesterday in a big yellow truck filled with all kinds of exciting things.
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In just a few hours, the truck was empty and the gallery was filled with, well, take a look.
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That's four mobile walls (you can only see one and a half in this photo), four display pedestals, and four table cases. The case toppers are in a different corner of the gallery. The walls had to be brought in in pieces and finished in the gallery. They went from planks of wood to walls before our very eyes. It'll be a couple of weeks until we put everything together, because this is just the first delivery! The second delivery will be all the small things to make these lovely big things useful.

It's great, because now the empty gallery space is really beginning to fill up. And those walls will be great for hanging the photography exhibit we're hosting in the fall. Check out our flickr account for more photos of the delivery.



Coming together

2009-06-24T09:46:50.015-07:00

As the (fiscal) year comes to a close, we're seeing a flurry of activity around the museum. The big news today? We have a sign and a docent station.

The sign went up yesterday afternoon. The sign guys have been putting up all kinds of signs around the building, but this is one of the bigger ones. They laid it all out on the gallery first to make a template.
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It really helps to identify the museum. No more confusion about that big gallery in Dean Hall!
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And just this morning we walked into the gallery and discovered that our docent/greeter station had been delivered. Modeled on a version in a catalog and constructed by the fine folks at CWU facilities, it looks great, and is versatile.
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That's Angie behind the desk. Angie's here for the summer, and hopefully beyond, working on programming for this fall and the next school year or two. She and I had great fun playing with the new docent station. It's in two parts, so there are some options. Angie and I like this set up better; it certainly gives the person behind the desk more room to move around.
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Everything is coming together now. We'll really be ready for our first exhibit this fall.