Over the past term, I've been considering myself such a "practical historian" - but it wasn't until today that I was actually reminded of the practicality and reality of WORKING in the museum field instead of just studying it. Certainly, the theories discussed in my Museology class at Western have brought me miles and miles from where I started back in August of 2008 - but there is nothing like the buzz of a power tool to remind you of all the minor details that go into running a museum, especially a small museum.
The Oneida County Historical Society, where I indulge in occasional intern work when I'm at home, is a small museum setting that allows me to see the actuality of the business. While I've been away in the ivory tower, I suppose I've forgotten just how many things the Museum Director is responsible for - maintenance, painting, exhibit design, merchandise, paperwork, AND making the coffee all in one day? It is abundantly clear that the curator of a small museum must be a jack of all trades.
I'm really excited to be working on a new temporary exhibit for the historical society while I'm home during my holiday break. This is what I've been given to work with: one really old exhibit case, a box full of donated materials that pertain to a local Italian band director, and very little information (most of which is unclear and confused).
This is pretty neat - the fact that I have complete creative control over this project. I was quite inspired, sketching out what I wanted the display case to look like, where everything would go (I even got way over-ambitious and contemplated possibly using some kind of audio enhancement). But I went into the society today to make my vision a reality...and I realized...
I had no idea where to start.
Exhibit design is a lot more complicated that it seems. I think people tend to equate it with other simple tasks, like decorating a Christmas tree or arranging a bookcase. There are several things to be considered: what kind of display methods are going to be best for the well-being of the artifacts? For the understanding of the patron? How many artifacts will fit in the case? Which ones can I leave out? What do I put in first? Do I have to interpret every artifact?
I decided to take a breath and start with the largest artifact, a large banner from the children's band that Vito Mole directed. It looked like it would fit perfectly as a backdrop on the pane of the case - but how was I supposed to mount it...or hang it? I decided to call in the director for a little boost in the right direction. We settled on the method of suspension using hooks and wire.
This is the part that required handy-work and power tools - something that was not covered in Museology class and could be a potential liability to be completely honest (but that's nothing to worry about because two years ago, I filled out a card that covers me and the society in case I'm injured on the job
). So the director (bless him) was very patient in teaching me about the softness of wood and that you need to plug in the drill before it can make a hole. These weren't my proudest moments, but necessary all the same. I don't mean to make myself out as completely hopeless with handy-work, I've had my share of fixing things around the house and working on stage crew in high school, but it's a different story when we're talking about objects that mean a lot to people and to the community.
What is that saying about university and exposure?
And so - for today - the banner was hung. Huzzah!