• Part of a roofline shows from one building. Trees with fall color leaves on them fill most of the photo. A lamp-post is near center of the photo.

    Harpers Ferry Center

Implementing a Historic Furnishings Report

The "Recommended Furnishings" section in an HFR is a list of objects a park superintendent has approved for use in the recreation of a historic scene. The list can be divided into two sections: (1) objects in a park’s collections available for exhibit, and (2) objects to be acquired.

There are two kinds of objects that can be acquired: historic objects and reproduction objects. Historic objects are "old" in the sense that they are contemporary to objects recommended in a plan. A recommendation for an “1840s Pennsylvania Windsor side chair” means a furnishings curator will look for a chair of that vintage, source and form for sale in a shop, a dealer cooperative, or an open-air market of many sellers. Reproduction objects are modern facsimiles of historical objects. A recommendation for an "1840s Pennsylvania Windsor side chair (reproduction)" means the curator producing the exhibit will contract with a Windsor chairmaker for a modern chair replicating the vintage, source, and form of the historical prototype.

The same distinction can be drawn for other objects: textiles, ceramics, metals, glass, and leather, or for objects composed of more than one of these materials. If a historic object is recommended, a curator will look for it; if a reproduction object is recommended, a curator will have it made.

Harpers Ferry Center has reference materials such as our own 1200-item trade catalog collection and trade catalogs on microfiche from the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum. These catalogs depict contemporary objects from the mid-18th century to the present. They help document objects recommended in historic furnishings reports. HFC curators use these and other historic sources for developing historic furnishings reports and for acquiring objects recommended in them.

The Production Process

Staff from HFC will carry out the following tasks:

  • read an approved Historic Furnishings Report (HFR) to make sure that it is clear and consistent
  • meet with park staff on a site visit
  • discuss production options, including phasing in production to accommodate project budget
  • examine spaces to be furnished to ensure that the spaces will be properly prepared to take objects (paint, carpet, lighting, wallpaper, etc.)
  • examine the collection to help determine conservation needs
  • discuss staffing and security
  • discuss scheduling
  • coordinate work with staff from park, region, HFC and the Denver Service Center
  • discuss barrier types and their placement
  • organize objects by category and type (to help with buying)
  • designate a Contracting Officer’s Technical Representative (COTR)
  • identify original objects to be reproduced, secure permission to copy them (if necessary), develop scope of work specifications, and locate craftspeople to reproduce them
  • oversee all aspects of requisitioning objects
  • locate and acquire objects on the project’s “want list”
  • ensure objects are processed through the Registrar’s Office at HFC
  • arrange for conservation treatment of objects acquired
  • arrange for packing and shipment of objects for installation on site

Installation of Historic Furnishings

The ultimate goal of any furnishings project is the installation of objects to create an accurate furnished historic exhibit. Whether intended for a domestic interior, machine shop, store, military barrack, or ship’s wardroom, objects must be installed carefully and securely to ensure an accurate historic scene. Installation is a team effort. A curator is responsible for acquiring objects suitable to the exhibit; a registrar for ensuring the acquisitions are documented; a conservator for ensuring objects are stabilized and that the conditions of installation are proper for long-term preservation of objects; and site staff for ensuring the area to be furnished is properly prepared.

Good organization makes an installation easier. A curator will arrange for painting, wallpaper hanging, and the laying of carpet in advance of the rest of an installation. A registrar will pack individual objects according to their placement in a furnished exhibit and will post inventories of box contents inside and outside a box. This step ensures objects are transported to their proper location with a minimum of handling. With the registrar, furnishings curators will unpack and examine objects; furnishings curators will then place objects in their proper locations. They will not discard packing materials until they are absolutely sure that all objects are accounted for. Some objects may be particularly fragile. These will be handled and installed by a mountmaker or conservator specially trained and equipped to install them. After installation of objects, the furnishings curator may supervise installation of barriers and runners to help protect objects on exhibit.

When all objects have been installed, a furnishings curator will often walk the site interpretive staff through the completed exhibit to help explain what has been acquired and the relevance of those acquisitions to the exhibit. The furnishings curator might explain, for example, that a desk has been furnished to appear untidy, since photographic evidence showed that desk was untidy in its original, historical use. Similarly, the rationale for the placement of military equipment might become clearer to interpreters when a furnishings curator explains contemporary military usage.

In any construction project, even one carefully planned and carried out, there are often tasks not completed at the end of the schedule. These unfinished tasks constitute what is known in the construction trade as a punch list. HFC staff will ensure that this list is compiled and that entries on the list are taken care of.

It is important to include post-installation photography in production estimates. HFC can hire a professional photographer to record the newly furnished areas. Post-installation photographs serve several important purposes. The first is baseline documentation of an exhibit to assist a site curator in measuring deterioration in the condition of the exhibit. These photographs also document the exhibit arrangement, in case the exhibit is changed after installation. Finally, park staff can use the photographs on websites, for outreach, and in interpretive programs.

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