Gunny Harboe discussing the Preservation Master Plan for Taliesin West.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation recently released the Preservation Master Plan for Taliesin West, a National Historic Landmark, which was established in 1937 as Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home and studio, and the campus of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. As part of the Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer lecture series, T. Gunny Harboe, preservation architect and founder of Chicago-based Harboe Architects, and the plan’s primary author, will present the major points of the Taliesin West plan on Monday, November 16 at 6:30 p.m. at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The lecture is free and reservations are not required.
I had an opportunity to use with the Preservation Master Plan as part of the interpretive planning work I’m doing at Taliesin West and it was immensely helpful in clarifying the significance and integrity of the many buildings at the site through a set of tiered levels: Continue reading →
For the past 15 years, McDaniel also taught the AASLH Historic House Issues and Operations Workshop with Max van Balgooy, most recently in Charleston, South Carolina.
The Drayton Hall Preservation Trust (DHPT), a privately funded nonprofit organization responsible for the operation and administration of Drayton Hall, a National Trust Historic Site, today announced that President and Executive Director George W. McDaniel, Ph.D. would be stepping down on June 30.
“Drayton Hall has been my passion and purpose for more than 25 years,” said McDaniel, “and I can’t imagine a better or more fulfilling vocation. But the time has come to turn over leadership responsibilities so I can focus on family, research, writing and other projects. I thank the Drayton family, whose vision made all of this possible, and the Drayton Hall Preservation Trust board of trustees, our outstanding staff and the thousands of Friends and visitors who have supported us during my tenure.”
On April 26-29, 2015, the Preservation Society of Newport County (aka the Newport Mansions) is hosting a symposium on the cultural connections between the North and South from the Colonial Period to the Gilded Age as seen through furnishings, silver, textiles, painting, architecture, and interiors. Scholars include:
Daniel Kurt Ackerman, Associate Curator, Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts
Registration is $600 and includes an opening reception at Rosecliff (1902) and dinner in the Great Hall at the Breakers (1895). Scholarships are available to undergraduate and graduate students, as well as arts and humanities professionals. To register or for more information, contact symposium@NewportMansions.org or call 401-847-1000 x 160. Tell them that you heard about it from Engaging Places and you’ll receive a 10% discount!
What historic sites are doing great interpretation?
Behind the Velvet Ropes tour at the Gamble House.
That’s a question I’m often asked by my clients and while I can usually rattle off a half dozen examples, it’s usually not very satisfying. If I suggest a ranger-led tour of Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, the behind-the-velvet-ropes tour at the Gamble House in California, and the Dennis Severs’ House in London, you can quickly see the problems—you need to experience them to understand them, plus they’re thousands of miles apart.
Although I’ve been working in Charleston, South Carolina for more than a decade, it was just this past month that I realized that it’s an ideal place for experiencing a wide range of interpretive approaches for historic house museums. In November, I joined Mike Buhler, the executive director of San Francisco Heritage, in Charleston to study a wide range of interpretive methods, from guided to self-guided, from furnished to unfurnished, from exhibits to period rooms, from grand mansions to humble cabins. Heritage is in the midst of re-interpreting the Haas-Lilienthal House, so Mike found the research trip to be incredibly helpful because it showed him various possibilities and clarified what methods would be most effective for his historic house museum.
Charleston, South Carolina has one of the most active convention and visitor bureaus in the nation and it has embraced the value of history and historic preservation in its promotion of the region. This past year they launched a series of videos on different distinctive aspects of Charleston, including “History Lives,” which features interviews with George McDaniel of Drayton Hall, Kitty Robinson of the Historic Charleston Foundation, Charles Duell of Middleton Place, and Robert Russell of the College of Charleston. At 5:41, it’s a bit longer than most videos I’ve shared previously but it’s a good example of content, production, and pacing. If you’d like to see all of their videos, visit the Charleston Area Visitors and Convention Bureau website or their channel on YouTube.
This week I’m teaching a workshop on historic house museum management with George McDaniel for the American Association for State and Local History. It’s great fun working with people from all over the country because we learn so much from each other.
One of the most popular sections is membership (who doesn’t want more supporters?). George uses his experience from Drayton Hall to demonstrate some techniques in the tour for showing “membership dollars at work,” which gets visitors so excited that many join at the end of the tour. With members in more than 7,500 households in all 50 states, Drayton Hall must have one of the nation’s largest membership programs for an historic site, so their techniques work.
I provide a complementary perspective, using profiles to understand member motivations and interests. In an exercise, I have the class combine a mission statement with a member profile to develop a membership program or activity. I’m always surprised by Continue reading →
This 2:24 excerpt from a self-guided multimedia tour of the landscape integrates the history of the people who lived and worked at Drayton Hall, an early 18th century plantation in South Carolina. This multimedia tour was produced in collaboration with the History Channel.
Monticello Explorer provides several virtual tours.
Although guided tours of period rooms is the most common form of interpretation at historic sites, audio tours, video tours, and virtual tours are growing in popularity thanks to technologies that are lowering the cost of production and increasing access to new audiences. From a short list of examples, the students in my “historic site interpretation” class at George Washington University developed a list of ten best practices for different types of tours of historic sites. You’ll discover that many of their suggestions emphasize the need for a plan, themes, and a focus–and projects that failed to have these elements were weaker and less effective.
A. Guided Tours of Period Rooms
Reviewed by Johanna Bakmas, Melissa Dagenais, Emma Dailey
“Historic House Furnishings Plans” by Bradley Brooks in Jessica Donnelly’s Interpretation of Historic Sites (2002)
“I Wish You Could Take a Peek at Us” by Nancy Bryk in Donnelly (2002)
Working in historic house museums often can often seem like an isolated job but not in the nation’s capital, where there is the Historic House Museum Consortium of Washington, DC, an active association of forty sites that mutually support and promote each other. Every two years they also host a half-day symposium that attracts about one hundred museum guides, docents, and interpreters. This year it was held on September 17 at the impressive George Washington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia and I joined Dr. George McDaniel of Drayton Hall and Rebecca Martin of the National Archives to talk about various aspects of tours and the visitor experience:
George laid out that the visitor experience is much more than the tour and extends to the visitors’ planning, arrival, and departure. He emphasized the importance of little things, such as the directional signage, staff hospitality, and the condition of grounds and restrooms can have on visitors’ attitudes even before the tour starts
In “Before You Get Engaged: Advice for Lovers of History and Historic Sites,” a light-hearted perspective on visitor engagement, I discussed three issues to consider before getting engaged with visitors: don’t marry a stranger (know your audience), don’t share everything you know about a site on a tour (keep it mysterious), and let them know what you care about (keep your passion alive).
As an interpretive planner, one of the common circumstances I encounter at a site or house museum is that historical research hasn’t been conducted for years, perhaps even decades. It’s not that research and scholarship isn’t appreciated by the staff. Typically there was lots of research done when the site first opened, but staff just hasn’t had time since then (the distractions of “toilet paper and light bulbs”, alas!) or there isn’t the incentive now that the place is open (“history hasn’t changed that much in twenty years, has it?”).
The past may not have changed, but our interests continually change. Right now, the Civil War is hot but in a couple years it could be jazz. Without new historical research, eventually tours, exhibits, events, and programs, and yes, even staff lose their edge and the place seems dull and boring. And you have to stay committed to research for the long term because as other sites mimic your innovative interpretation, it eventually settles into a regional monotony when everyone does the same thing (e.g., now it seems that every Colonial house museum is discussing foodways, lives of servants, and the contradictions of liberty and slavery).
Scholars Workshop underway at Drayton Hall. Director George McDaniel is providing an introduction to the site during the first part of the workshop.
If you find that you’ve ignored research far too long or that your research endeavors need some direction and refinement, a scholars workshop may help. For a day or two, a small team of scholars gathers at your site to review the current interpretation and historical resources (archives, collections, and buildings) and then discusses how they might be refined, updated, or approached in new ways. They can also confirm existing plans, support new ideas, and suggest new books or archives to explore. By including staff in the workshop, it rekindles their energy and allows them to think longterm and strategically about interpretation. For an example of the structure of a scholars workshop, take a look at Continue reading →