Rembrant’s personal study collection at Rembrant Huis, Amsterdam.
Historic sites have incredibly complex collections that range from furniture and photos to buildings and landscapes. Figuring out priorities for collections care can be daunting but thankfully, the University of Illinois Libraries with the help of IMLS funding, recently created a Preservation Self-Assessment Program (PSAP). It’s a free online tool that helps collection managers evaluate the condition of materials, storage and exhibit environments, and institutional policies for books, paper documents, photographs, recordings, films, and architectural prints in historic sites, museums, archives, and libraries. In addition, there’s a Format ID Guide, which includes identification cheatsheets in case you can’t tell a blue print from a Diazo print.
Staff and volunteers at any level of experience can use the PSAP. The program asks questions about your the materials in your collection, storage and exhibition environments, and collections policies to develop a unique profile for your organization and potential priorities for collections care. It includes additional help to explain concepts and principles, showing examples along the way. The application runs in your web browser; no software installation is necessary. No limit is placed on the amount of items or collections you assess; all data is securely stored on University of Illinois servers. The Illinois Heritage Association has a lengthy overview with more details.
Even though PSAP doesn’t cover everything you’ll encounter in your collections, it’ll help you with a significant part. Now someone needs to get to work on a Museum Self-Preservation Program in Illinois.
Every historic site (well, perhaps 98% of them) have windows but they are rarely used in the interpretation. Here are several ways to use windows to set the stage, enhance the experience, or provoke thinking.
1. Windows can set the stage for interpretation
Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park in Dayton, Ohio.
The easiest way is to use windows is as an introduction to the site by using a bold image or intriguing message that prepares the visitor for what’s inside. Perforated vinyl is ideal for this situation because it can display graphics while allowing light to flow inside and permitting views outside. At the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, perforated vinyl signs on the two-story windows of the visitor center feature enormous Continue reading →
In this 1:28 video, Sarah Barnard shares her visit to Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Illinois, a World Heritage Site and once one of the largest cities in North America. If you interpret historic sites, it demonstrates that many visitors see the tour as just one of many activities during their visit and shows that what they find interesting and significant may be different from the site’s. What I found most interesting is that the huge visitor center with exhibits and store was excluded from the video. No doubt she explored the visitor center (it’s at the entrance) but I suspect it wasn’t as important as seeing the authentic historic site.
Taliesen, Spring Green, Wisconsin, 1932. Drawing by Frank Lloyd Wright.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, which owns and operates Taliesen and Taliesen West–the homes and studios last used by Frank Lloyd Wright–has transferred its architectural archives of papers, drawings, and models to the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library at Columbia University and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The collection includes more than 23,000 architectural drawings, about 40 large-scale, architectural models, some 44,000 photographs, 600 manuscripts and more than 300,000 pieces of office and personal correspondence. “The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation takes seriously its responsibility to serve the public good by ensuring the best possible conservation, accessibility, and impact of one of the most important and meaningful archives in the world,” said Sean Malone, CEO of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. “Given the individual strengths, resources and abilities of the Foundation, MoMA and Columbia, it became clear that this collaborative stewardship is far and away the best way to guarantee the deepest impact, the highest level of conservation and the best public access.”
The decision to transfer the collections couldn’t have been easy for the Foundation–it’s a significant part of their identity with tremendous historical and cultural value. Admitting you can’t care for a collection is difficult–but organizations should regularly ask themselves if they’re the only ones to do this work and if someone else can do it better. It’s especially tough at historic sites and house museums–they typically have the most complex collections management issues of any museum. Not only are they caring for Continue reading →