The Preservation Technology Podcast

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Preservation Technology Podcast

National Center for Preservation Technology and Training

Welcome to the Preservation Technology podcast, the show that brings you the people and projects that are bringing innovation to preservation.

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Podcast 110: Creating the Mississippi Delta Chinese Heritage Museum

Transcript

This is the Preservation Technology Podcast, bringing innovation to preservation. The Preservation Technology Podcast is a production of the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, a unit of the National Park Service.

Catherine Cooper: I'm Catherine Cooper. I am here with…

Gilroy Chao: Gilroy Chow. I'm currently the president of The Mississippi Delta Chinese Heritage Museum, retired engineer.

Frieda Quon: I'm Frieda Quon. I'm the vice president of The Mississippi Delta Chinese Heritage Museum, and I'm a retired librarian.

Carolyn Chan: I'm Carolyn Chan. I was born and raised in Greenville, Mississippi. I'm an elder among the group now, and I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I have been a classroom teacher.

Randy Kwan: I'm Randy Kwan and I teach at Hinds Community College in Pearl, Mississippi, and I teach film and TV production.

Emily Jones: I'm Emily Jones. I'm the archivist and the curator for the Mississippi Delta Chinese Heritage Museum.

Gilroy Chao: As a museum, Delta State University, and the City of Cleveland, we're able to make available things that reflect the heritage that the Mississippi Delta Chinese have shared for, we think over 150 years, their presence has been here in the Mississippi Delta. Sometimes, with the larger population, and currently saying that there are probably about 500 Mississippi Delta Chinese now, that are remaining or have come in since. But, we're really trying to highlight the history and the culture of the Mississippi Delta Chinese.

Randy Kwan: There's not much known outside of Mississippi on our heritage in the area. So, we basically wanted to preserve our lifestyle and make people more aware of it.

Carolyn Chan: The Mississippi Delta Chinese Heritage Museum is a place to gather the history, and the artifacts that tell the story of the Chinese migration to the state of Mississippi, how they were accepted, maybe in a certain way, a limited way, as they fulfilled the need of providing a place for African Americans to come and shop for their groceries, during the reconstruction period. A place that they felt comfortable with. And, of course, we were restricted as to where we could operate and even immigrate, to the United States. And, only as merchants could we come, the early settlers. And, that was a way that they were able to come to Mississippi.

Gilroy Chao: There was a time when there were Chinese grocery stores across the entire Mississippi Delta. When we say the Mississippi Delta, we're talking about from Memphis to Vicksburg, from the Mississippi river over to the hills of Mississippi. We have actual documented history of grocery stores in each of the Delta towns. And, we talk about Clarksdale having over 25 stores, Greenville having over 50 stores, Cleveland 30 plus stores, and in small towns like Ruleville and Marks, Yazoo City, Chinese grocery stores existing. Some of them side by side, sometimes across the street from one another. And so, we are trying to capture and preserve that heritage of the families, of what they did and how they persevered and worked, overcame obstacles, personal, financial, even within the community, sometimes. That they not only existed, but they thrived.

Emily Jones: Well, I think if we're talking about origin story, just a little bit deeper into that, my perception of it was, first of all, as a grad student. I had gone to Frieda's husband, John Paul Quon, and he had told me then, back what, like in 1999, that he had this idea to create a Chinese heritage museum or a Mississippi Delta Chinese Museum, but it was supposed to be in Greenville. And then, when I came back to work here at Delta State, Frieda and I got to be really good friends. Thanks, Frieda.

Frieda Quon: That's how it started.

Emily Jones: And then, when John Paul Quon passed, it was time.

Frieda Quon: We were so busy, I guess, just living our lives. You know, our parents were here, but we regretfully didn't ask them all the questions that we wish we had. And so, it finally came to a time, and my husband was still alive then, and he realized it. And, he got a grant with Dr. Thornell, who was—

Emily Jones: Provost

Frieda Quon: John got this humanities grant and went about the Delta and interviewed. I mean, this was the nucleus of the interviews that we have that kind of started the museum. And, it was true that initially, everybody thought, oh, we need to put this museum in Greenville, because that's like the metropolis back then. So, that was the thought for a long time.

Frieda Quon: So, anyway, they gathered those interviews. John passed away in 2006, and then I think it was around 2009 or 10, that those of us who remained in the Delta realized, if we're going to do a museum, we need to get together and do this. We met actually up here in the archives. Emily and-

Gilroy Chao: And, everybody shared the vision at the same time. We're actually second generation, because we consider our parents first generation, or grandparents first generation. But, realizing that unless somebody went out and captured this information now, that it would be another layer of information lost. And so, it came together at the right time and had the right skill sets of law, art, architecture. We had the right people in place and we're happy to see them. You got to see that a little bit this morning, as they interact and play that, you know, that's what it takes. It takes a large number of people with different skills and different personalities, to come together and enjoy doing the things that we're doing.

Emily Jones: Yep.

Frieda Quon: And then, as far as setting up the museum, I can remember Emily was calling for things. She would have brochures. Okay. If you have this, this, this, you know, and people, like I said, are thinking of, we need to bring museum quality things. So, we learned from Emily that it can be whatever that's in your daily living. So, we ended up bringing our kitchen table or those apple crates, that my dad, these were boxes that fruit came in and those became my chairs and-

Gilroy Chao: Or Jerome's sculptures.

Frieda Quon: Oh, the art.

Gilroy Chao: The art. That is so unique. It's laminated apple crate ends.

Emily Jones: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Gilroy Chao: And, then he turned them into art figures. How did you learn that? Well, he actually shaped the sausage.

Frieda Quon: Right. He started out shaping pork sausage, and made that into a pig.

Emily Jones: Okay. And see, I thought everybody always had that at their grocery stores. Because, I grew up in Greenville.

Gilroy Chao: And, saw that.

Emily Jones: And, saw that at everybody's deli counter. I thought everybody did that.

Gilroy Chao: You wrap meat.

Emily Jones: Yeah, you make the meat into a face. Now, it sounds weird. But,

Gilroy Chao: But, it worked. The apple crate in the museum, is the apple crate you see, Frieda as a young girl, sitting on, because that was the furniture of the day. And, she didn't think anything of it. I mean, that's where she sat. And now, if you go to Frieda's home, you'll see some fine furniture.

Frieda Quon: We actually bought those chairs. I mean, we grew up poor, but we didn't know it. You know, I mean we had shelter. We had love. We went to church. Went to school, and we worked alongside our parents. Obviously, maybe didn't have a fine car or anything. But, we had all our basic needs and, I don't know, I mean, we never felt deprived.

Carolyn Chan: We need to talk about the history of people and how they get along with each other. And, that's the reason why I got involved at the museum in Mississippi, and with the Chinese American Citizens Alliance. It's a national organization. So, I've been involved with people who were involved with the Chinese American Museum, in Los Angeles, and also, going to the Smithsonian and some of the museums, because of the advocacy trips that we were involved in, in DC. I was exposed to a lot of Chinese culture and felt that our history is very unique in Mississippi, among the Chinese Americans. So, that I came before we actually got our charter for the Mississippi CACA, Chinese American Citizens Alliance, chartered in Mississippi.

Carolyn Chan: We brought an exhibit of what we were doing in Albuquerque. And, it was just sort of a little cardboard exhibit about the history of the Chinese in New Mexico, and in Albuquerque. And so, we come to the meetings to try to help the Mississippi organization get started. And, we actually encouraged them to start talking about having a museum in Mississippi. I think we really wanted it in Greenville, but it turned out it was not the best place to have it. And, I agree now that the best place is in Cleveland, because it is affiliated with the University.

Randy Kwan: For me, I was actually involved with the CACA in Los Angeles. Of course, originally from Mississippi, moved out there in ‘93 or ‘92, and got involved with the CACA out there. And, in 2003, I moved back here. And, through involvement with the CACA out there, Aunt Carolyn and my mom, we basically had created a CACA organization here, or charter here. And then, that eventually led to the involvement with the museum.

Catherine Cooper: What are your hopes for the museum going forward?

Emily Jones: First of all, can I just frame this with, we do not have an official five, ten or fifteen year strategic plan.

Gilroy Chao: Yet.

Emily Jones: We've been talking about making one happen since the board put together. And, I will say, a plan is always good, but being open and flexible to whatever comes through the door, has really worked for us.

Randy Kwan: Hopefully, that the museum will flourish. Through various events that have been on TV and documentaries that have been covering the Mississippi Chinese, I think there's a greater awareness of it. And, it seems to be a greater interest in our lifestyle and our history, which is always great to see. I just hope it keeps growing.

Carolyn Chan: I agree with you. And then, the things that I've seen that's been happening is that, people are now taking their own children and their grandchildren back so they can see, how did my grandma and my grandpa go through all of this? What did they do? What did they contribute? And, they have a respect for what their grandparents and their forebears went through. And, I think that also, people who are not Asian American come, and they cannot believe how we survived this. What did you do to, we had to go through this and we have a respect for you for what you've gone through.

Gilroy Chao: We love the idea that we partnered with Delta State, and with the City. So, that sustainability is always a question mark. We have struggled raising funds. We're pretty good right now. We are always looking to improve and add to the archives and the exhibits. But, sustainable is a goal. Improvement is a goal. There's nothing wrong with what we have, but you can always add to the story. And, the current generation, probably need to talk about that. Some of the descendants and our children and grandchildren.

Emily Jones: I would say, as a board, we are reactionary and try to do our best to field the requests for access to the information. If we were proactive, we would probably give people stuff that they don't want to know, yet. Yeah.

Gilroy Chao: Yeah, yeah. That's a good word, that we are reactive, but enough requests come in that it keeps us very busy.

Emily Jones: I'm very proud of the board. I don't really know how to run a board, but they're very good.

Frieda Quon: And, they're everywhere. They're in Hawaii. They're in New Mexico. Both coasts.

Emily Jones: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Gilroy Chao: Texas, Gary in Virginia.

Emily Jones: And, the local people who can put their feet on the ground here, do.

Gilroy Chao: Susan, Harry,-

Emily Jones: Not often do you see a board that will put the sweat equity in. What I do know of boards is that boards raise money and they advocate on behalf of whatever they represent. This board actually does the work, the heavy lifting, going out and talking to each other and promoting the museum. An effort, a homecoming, a reunion. We don't have a publicity campaign, or a communications program or anything like that. It's word of mouth. It gets things out.

Gilroy Chao: It works. It's working.

Emily Jones: Yeah. I'm very proud of what we have achieved. And, as long as we all keep working together, I think we've got a good feature.

Catherine Cooper: Yeah.

Gilroy Chao: Yeah. The long term plan is, don't let anybody move.

Frieda Quon: If you do, you have to go find us a replacement, huh?

Catherine Cooper: Thank you so much for talking to us.

Carolyn Chan: Nice to talk with you too, Catherine.

Randy Kwan: Same here.

Gilroy Chao: Thanks for coming.

This was a presentation of the Preservation Technology Podcast, produced by the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. For more podcasts like this one, please visit our website.

Dr. Catherine Cooper speaks with board members of the Mississippi Delta Chinese Heritage Museum in Cleveland, Mississippi about the creation, purpose and growth of the museum.

Podcast 109: Expanding the Louisiana Digital Library Collections with the Y’ALL Award

Transcript

This is the Preservation Technology Podcast, bringing innovation to preservation. The Preservation Technology Podcast is a production of the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, a unit of the National Park Service.

Dr. Catherine Cooper: My name’s Dr. Catherine Cooper, I am here with…

Sophie Ziegler: Sophie Ziegler, Head of Visual Programs and Services at LSU libraries.

Leah Duncan: And I’m Leah Duncan, I’m the Digital Collections Librarian at LSU Libraries.

Sophie Ziegler: So, what we want to talk about today is the Y’ALL Award is what we call it and this is an opportunity for LSU Libraries to help smaller cultural heritage institutions around the state have their materials digitized and uploaded to the Louisiana Digital Library.

For a bit of background, the Louisiana Digital library is our state’s front door to our digital cultural heritage. We are the technical home here at LSU, but it’s a collaborative effort between LSU libraries and right now, about 30 other institutions throughout the state.

So, we have archives, and museums and libraries, government repositories, religious collections, etcetera. We work on joint projects, and we have a really good time, and what we’re trying to do with the Y’ALL Award is to make sure it’s as geographically and content diverse as possible within the LDL.

The Y’ALL Award is an acronym for the You Are Louisiana’s Legacy.

Leah Duncan: That is correct…

Sophie Ziegler: …that is correct, we are proud of that. Thank you for asking.

Leah Duncan: There was a lot of worse acronyms that came up as ideas for this Y’ALL Award name. I think I remember the CRAW--the Crawfish Award, which was going to be Creating something…archival materials, I don’t remember but Y’ALL is better.

Sophie Ziegler: So, we got the Y’ALL Award. It’s an opportunity for cultural heritage institutions around the state of Louisiana to apply to have one of two options: the first being the Mobile Digitization Lab in which folks here from LSU Libraries, we will pack up our digitization equipment, including flatbed scanners and overhead cameras and lighting apparatus and drive over to a host institution and digitize a selection of materials that is identified by the host institution.

The second option is what we call the Open Digitization Lab, where we invite members of other institutions to come and use our digitization space here at LSU libraries.

And the idea with both of these is that LSU has the staff and the equipment to do digitization that we know most other places don’t that we want to deal with, so we are looking for opportunities to share it.

Leah Duncan: Theoretically what I like especially about the Y’ALL Award is that it’s usually larger and more well-funded institutions that have the expertise and technology to be able to create these digital collections, but there are a lot of valuable historic materials held by these smaller cultural heritage institutions, and of course they should keep holding them. Right. So, being able to have a way to present these materials and provide them a way to preserve them digitally is something I’m really proud of.

Dr. Catherine Cooper: When did the Y’ALL project start and what is the duration or how do you see it progressing from here?

Sophie Ziegler: It started right before the pandemic…

Leah Duncan: …oh yeah.

Sophie Ziegler: …yes, as a lot of these things do, it took a while to get the paperwork in order, it took a while to get all the stakeholders on board. We were relying on our neighbors and colleagues from across the country to help us. We spent a lot of time talking with people from the Mississippi Digital Library, who do very similar things with some key differences. And they were very kind enough to show us how they set their project up and all the paperwork that they have etcetera. We talked to people at Georgia Homeplace who does a variation of this, so we were able to rely on them a lot.

And then we did our first pilot of the Mobile Digitization Lab in November of 2019. We got their stuff up online where you can see it now. It was from the Jeanerette Museum in beautiful Jeanerette, Louisiana. It’s up in the Louisiana Digital Library now and then of course, Covid hit so we haven’t done anything since then.

The application remains open. We do have our next project lined up with the River Road African American Museum in Donaldsonville, Louisiana. We’re trying to be very slow to make sure everybody is comfortable with the level of personal interaction that this type of thing takes.

To the future, I feel like all that’s left now is to really smooth out the edges. So, the pilot project allowed us to understand what it takes to get material to a host institution, what it looks like to have our staff in hotels etcetera, local enough that they can get back to the site institution every day at a reasonable time. And we get a lot of those logistics done, it’s going to be tweaked as needed with every new opportunity. But moving forward, we just hope to make it routine.

So, moving forward what we want to do is think about how to de-center LSU from being the center. Right now, this is an LSU project. It is all LSU people going out. It’s mostly LSU people evaluating applications, but the LDL just has again, almost 30 members, so what we really would like to do is think about dividing up the state geographically so that LSU doesn’t necessarily have to drive. For instance, in Natchitoches, we could rely on a member institution closer.

And that’s really what we’re hoping to do. We don’t know what that will look like, whether or not that will look like us investing, us being the LDL community, investing in digitization shops scattered around, whether or not this would like one central digitization lab set up that we can drive around. But that’s our hope is to really bring in more people, to make it more collaborative.

Leah Duncan: And sort of thinking about the future of this project and the afterlife of these collections, we think a lot in the LDL about collections as data. And we are recently part of a grant project that focused on collections as data and thinking about how to make your collections available as data and to create workloads and use cases around that.

So, a big part of my job is basically trying to get people to do cool things with our collections, whether that’s digital humanities projects or teaching or various types of, again, like data analysis around our collections.

One thing I think a lot about is no one can do anything with a collection, especially computationally, that’s not there yet. So, the content of what’s available in your digital library really does affect the scholarship and the teaching of the future as we move forward. And we saw that a lot during the pandemic. We had to do a lot of adjustments when our institutions closed down, to facilitate courses and instructors who were relying on our archival materials to help them pivot towards using digital archival materials. So, the more sort of diverse content that’s available, the more diverse and representative teaching and research that can be done in the future, and I get excited about that.

Dr. Catherine Cooper: Are there particular areas you would like to see the LDL expand toward?

Sophie Ziegler: Yeah, so there are a couple different ways to think about this. One of the ways that we tend to phrase it is, if we think about the Louisiana Digital Library as a representation of Louisiana, Louisiana would look a lot whiter than it is, it would look a lot older than it is.

Leah Duncan: More urban than it is.

Sophie Ziegler: We know from working in institutions what people are likely to scan and put into a digital library. So, you’ve got a lot of photographs of people shaking each other’s hands on the steps of a capitol, like we do. We have a lot of politicians, we have a lot of well-to-do families, but what we don’t have is a lot of everyone else who lives here and has always lived here.

So, we’re thinking about African American centric collections in which they’re actually centered, right, and not represented as enslaved individuals. We’re thinking about all the other groups that are here and have been here for generations and just don’t tend to make it into the local repository.

So again, if you think about something like the Louisiana Digital Library, it’s always going to be a selection of a selection. We’re always working with what’s already been collected by somebody and then on top of that, what repositories consider important enough to put the resources in to scan.

So, what we’re hoping to do is, if we can take on the burden of the digitization and leave the selection to the host institution. Then what we’re hoping to do is put people in the position where they don’t have to be making this cost benefit analysis. Rather they can just say, “This is what we’d really love to have up, this is what’s really important to our community.” And then those of us coming in from LSU can be the ones who actually take on the burden of doing the work itself.

This is to make the LDL a better representation of Louisiana and this is to make the collections within the LDL fuller so that you can do more things with it as Leah was saying. But this is also just an existential issue in the sense that we’re losing ground and we’re more likely to be hit by a hurricane every single year.

We’re in a race to hold onto our cultural heritage and almost all of our institutions, for one reason or another, whether it be funding or hurricanes and flooding. I think it remains to be seen in the deep future as to whether or not digitization is actually the way, a long-term solution in any way to this, but I think in the short term, it gives us a certain focus and a certain urgency to this type of work.

Dr. Catherine Cooper: Have there been other applications that have come in, are you looking for more people to apply?

Sophie Ziegler: Yeah, we’re definitely looking for more people to apply. We weren’t pushing it during most of the last year for Covid reasons. We started pushing it just a couple of months ago with conference presentations and other outreach forms, specifically to the archives and museum communities here in Louisiana.

So, we’re definitely taking applications. We’re trying to keep the application as minimal as possible. We do ask that applicants think about the material that’s either completely owned by them or that they have rights to post the materials online.

We prioritize collections that represent geographies not currently represented in the LDL or communities not currently represented and we are willing to help think out how much can be digitized over the course of a week. Which again, is one of the harder things.

So, one of the big things we want to say is that we’re always happy to talk to applicants at any point during it. Our contact information is available on the application. If anybody starts and has questions, we do hope that they’ll reach out to us. If anybody is thinking about applying, we’re always happy to talk about projects and try to do the best that we can to make it a successful application.

It’s set up as an award right now for a number of reasons. That’s not because we don’t want to give it out. We have it set up as an award in the hopes that there will be a lot of internal reflection on anybody that applies. So, we want the partner institution to tell us what’s important about their collection that should be digitized. So, we ask them to think about their community that they serve and to think about what they would be really, really upset about, what would be the most detrimental to their community should there be a fire or a flood at their shop.

So, it was setup as an award so we can have that type of structure where they can answer those types of questions for us in advance. And also because we think, and we’ve been told by Mississippi Digital Library and other people we talked to, the award is sort of a nice way for the partner institution to sort of brag. We’re thinking about maybe having plaques and again just to make sure that everybody is really feeling good about the project.

I think a good place to leave this, at least from my point of view, would be to reiterate that the Louisiana Digital Library is a joint effort. A lot of the work going on in it is community building work. It wouldn’t be any good for those of us at LSU, which is just one member of the Louisiana Digital Library, to decide that this is important work. Instead, what we’ve been doing is spending a lot of time building capacity among all the members of the LDL and hearing about what everybody has in their collections, what everybody would like to see the LDL become and all to move in the same direction. Because nothing we’re saying here is novel. I mean Mississippi has had a digitization project like this for exactly the same reason for years and so many other states also.

It’s not that it’s novel, I think what’s so exciting is that it’s actually happening and it’s happening in a very intentional way where we’re naming what we’re trying to overcome. We want a digital library that is more inclusive because we have such a beautifully diverse state and I think we’re doing everyone a disservice if we’re not able to represent that.

Dr. Catherine Cooper: Thank you so much for talking about this project and I look forward to seeing where it goes.

Sophie Ziegler: Thank you so much for having us. This was a lot of fun.

Leah Duncan: Yeah, that was fun.

This was a presentation of the Preservation Technology Podcast, produced by the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. For more podcasts like this one, please visit our website.

Catherine Cooper speaks with Sophie Ziegler and Leah Duncan at the Louisiana State University Library about their work on the Y'ALL initiative to increase the diversity of the Louisiana Digital Library holdings.

Podcast 108: Setting up Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park with Chris Collins

Transcript

My name's Dr. Catherine Cooper. I am with Superintendent Chris Collins from Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park for today's podcast. Chris, thank you so much for joining us.

Chris Collins: Oh, Catherine. Thank you so much for having me.

Catherine Cooper: Tell us about Ste. Genevieve and how it became a National Park. It's relatively new. Isn't it?

Chris Collins: Very new. Yes. I will tell you a little bit about the town and a little bit about the National Park Service in town. Ste. Genevieve Missouri is a small farming town in the middle Mississippi River Valley. It's about 60 miles southeast of St. Louis, with a very long history. In fact, it's the oldest European settlement in present day Missouri founded by French Canadian settlers sometime around 1750. Ste. Genevieve's claim to fame is that it contains the largest extent collection of a rare form of French Colonial vertical log architecture. In fact, it's the largest collection in the United States and maybe even in North America.

So the story of Ste. Genevieve and the National Park Service goes back several decades. And so I had to put a lot of thought into all of those interactions. And it really started back in the 1930s with Charles Peterson. He was a historic architect for the Park Service and as a part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal initiatives, he and his team started the Historic American Building Survey program, or the HABS program, which documented America's architectural heritage.

And so Peterson and his team spent a lot of time in Ste. Genevieve documenting the houses that we are aware of to this day. And that was the Park Service’s first venture in Ste. Genevieve. Then in the 1950s, another Park Service employee by the name of Ernest Connelly, worked with The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America to help with the first restoration of any of the historic homes in Ste. Genevieve and that was the Bolduc House. Sometime in the 1970s, the US Army Corps of Engineers conducted an archeological survey of the Old Town site and that's approximately three miles Southeast of the current town site. The town was moved sometime after 1785 after a series of horrific floods all but destroyed the Old Town site. The research by the US Army Corps of Engineers and their findings sparked the interest of the National Park Service.

And in 1978, the National Park Service set out on a reconnaissance survey to determine if there was national significance, suitability, feasibility, and a management requirement to set up a unit of the National Park Service in Ste. Genevieve. And I believe in 1980, that report was completed and delivered to Congress and the findings were to move forward at some point with a special resource study to extrapolate on their findings, to really get to the heart of whether or not it made sense for a National Park Service unit here in Ste. Genevieve. After 1980, the Park Service didn't have a huge hand in Ste. Genevieve until the 2000s.

In 1985, the HABS survey received additional funding. They came back and they updated some of the work that they started in the 1930s. And then we see in 1993, there was a massive flood in Ste. Genevieve. It threatened several of the historic houses here, and that really brought national attention to the city and the need to preserve the town. It resurrected a new wave of preservation that really took hold in the town throughout the 1990s and 2000s. And through those efforts, we see this renewed interest to create Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park.

So in 2005, after many local stakeholders went to Congress and testified for this need, Congress passed the Ste. Genevieve County National Historic Site Studies Act and that directed the National Park Service to conduct a special resource study. Finally, in 2016, so about 10 years after that, the special resource study was complete, and it was delivered to Congress. Those findings stated that in fact, the area was significant and suitable for inclusion in the National Park Service. And then in 2018, the park was authorized by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018. The caveat there is that it included a provision that agreements and sufficient property would be required before the park would actually be established.

Catherine Cooper: What does the specific designation of a National Historical Park mean? And does that have implications for the site?

Chris Collins: That's a really good question. It's one that I grapple with myself and I've asked several people about this, because I've worked at a few NHPs in my career, and I've also worked for some National Historic Sites in my career. What I've finally figured out is that they're very similar, but the difference really comes down to instead of a smaller footprint, maybe just one distinct site, a National Historical Park has a larger physical footprint like a campus. And it usually also means that there's some increased complexity, either in the treatment of the resource or with the history that's being interpreted. And that's really what I've found is the difference between a National Historic Site and a National Historical Park.

Catherine Cooper: So at what stage did you become involved with Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park?

Chris Collins: I was selected for the position of park Superintendent and as the first employee of the park in the fall of 2019. And I started on the job in January 2020—before the park was established, we were just authorized at that point. When I started on the job, I didn't even have space for an office in Ste. Genevieve. We had one historic property, the Bauvais-Amoureux House, which does not have modern amenities, heat, air conditioning. It does have electricity, no internet. So I started with my office at the Old Courthouse at Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis. We did have another acquisition in progress, and in late February 2020, the park closed on the Jean-Baptiste Valle House. And it did have some modern amenities. It did have some administrative space that allowed me to finally set up shop in the community.

And so at first, a large part of my responsibilities were just working with local stakeholders, developing those relationships. Also, trying to figure out with my supervisor, our regional office, and the Washington office: okay, so what did the Secretary mean by we needed agreements and adequate properties in order to establish the park? I was really hired to get us across that finish line and so that took a good 10 months by October 30th, 2020, we were established and we became the 422nd unit of the National Park Service.

Catherine Cooper: What are the challenges of setting up a new National Park?

Chris Collins: Yeah, first and foremost, I just needed some office space just to have meetings, to do paperwork. I needed internet. I needed a desk. I had never worked on a brand new unit where I was the first employee. I don't think I realized everything it took. I'd always stepped into some empty shoes where there was already a cadence in place, relationships that were established that were pretty easy to figure out and move forward. But I started from scratch. So just aside from all the logistics, it was really about those relationships, meeting the community stakeholders, setting expectations. They had waited decades for the Park Service to get here. I think they felt like the minute I was hired, I would just hit the ground running and I knew where to go and I knew what was expected of me in the Park Service.

That was a huge challenge. It was a learning curve, it was daunting. And in fact, there were other nonprofits and government organizations in town that had already taken on that role of tackling preservation and interpretation of the resources and history. And so we were the new kids on the block. And so there was a lot of pressure to shine. There was also that sense of urgency like I said, they thought, “You know what you're doing, we've been waiting for you for decades. You've been planning for decades, right?” No. We're just starting now.

So there was a lot of pressure on me to really show the community that we were worthy to assist and care for their special place. There are a lot of passionate opinions here in this town. And so I really had to figure out where to focus my priorities, where the priorities for the new park should be. So setting the pace was huge, but it's also extremely rewarding. As well as it being exceptionally taxing at times for all the challenges and hard work, the successes and the progress, I think are the most rewarding and fun parts. I've had the pleasure to be involved in a lot of firsts at this park and I didn't realize how fun it would be to be the first to find this or that.

And so there are a few things that really stand out. It was a lot of fun to work with the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training on the analysis of the makeup of the historic fabric of some of the houses, we didn't know what we'd find. So that was really cool to see how that works. It was amazing working on our first historic structures report. The Bauvais-Amoureux House historic structures report is complete. There's actually a standout moment for that project, and that was when the contractor discovered a missing truss beam from the attic that at some point in that house's 229-year history had been repurposed and turned into a floor joist. So the excitement when we all ran down to the Cabo and we were shining our flashlights on that architectural mark, it was just, I don't know, it was a moment with just that energy and excitement that everyone felt. I think you were here that day.

Catherine Cooper: I was there that day.

Chris Collins: And I think you were just as excited as we were. It was so cool. And I think there's one standout moment of everything that I've observed or been a part of since I've been here. One of our park rangers gave a program to one of the descendants, an Amoureux descendant. And I think we were all a little teary-eyed and moved when at the end of the program, he said, “That's why I've been waiting for the National Park Service. That's what I've been waiting to hear.” And wow, what a moment to be there when you have a descendant say that to the park ranger, who's so nervous giving a program about his family.

Catherine Cooper: Right.

Chris Collins: It was amazing.

Catherine Cooper: What are your hopes for Ste. Genevieve going forward?

Chris Collins: There's a running inside joke amongst the staff at the park that we talk about all the time and it’s “the potential”. I think maybe it's probably a huge motivator for the staff of all new parks. I mean, the potential, the things that you can do and the things that you can be a part of. And we've had a number of conversations about that kind of elaborate like, well, what does that mean? What is the potential? So some things that stand out to me that we really hope to get to is increased community engagement, continuing to develop those relationships, strengthening those relationships, getting those stakeholders, those descendants involved in what we do in Ste. Genevieve. So the acquisition, the preservation, and the restoration of the cultural landscape, it's changed so much in the past 230 years.

So working on that is exciting, providing inclusive and relevant interpretation. Really telling those untold and underrepresented stories, that's important to the staff at this park. And so it excites me when we can start to do that. We're really excited to build a robust and a far reaching education program. We want to spread the word, reach youth about the park’s history. We also look forward to developing a park museum program about exhibits, archeology, curation of artifacts. Something that's important to me is providing increased accessibility for visitors with physical and cognitive needs. That's a huge challenge for historic properties.

So thinking of ways and maybe thinking outside the box for ways that we can make that happen; it's all about figuring out that delicate balance between resource protection and visitor enjoyment. And so spending a lot of time thinking and concentrating on that. And then maybe lastly, I get really excited about recruiting and building a staff of dedicated and passionate employees. Having a staff that's as excited about this place as I am is really important and it keeps me motivated and engaged.

Catherine Cooper: So you are no longer the only staff member?

Chris Collins: Thank goodness. No. We're now a staff of four and hopefully, we'll have a few more budget increases and we can keep growing over the next few years.

Catherine Cooper: Thank you so much for talking with us today. The park is open for visitors?

Chris Collins: The park is open seven days a week, nine to five central.

Catherine Cooper speaks with Superintendent Chris Collins about the establishment of Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park

Podcast 107: "Why Keep That?" Examining WWI through Memorabilia

Transcript

Podcast 107: "Why Keep That?" Examining WWI through Memorabilia

Dr. Catherine Cooper: My name's Dr. Catherine Cooper, Research Scientist at NCPTT. Today, I'm speaking with Stacie Petersen, Director of Exhibitions and Registrar at the National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri, about the “Why Keep That?” exhibit. Stacie, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

Stacie Petersen: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me today.

Dr. Catherine Cooper: Could you tell us about the WWI Museum and Memorial and your role there?

Stacie Petersen: Yeah, so we are located in Kansas City, Missouri in the downtown area, so right across from Union Station next to Crown Center, the international headquarters for Hallmark. And our groundbreaking actually was a hundred years ago this month. We broke ground in 1921 and opened to the public in our original form in 1926. So we are the only collecting institution in the world looking at the global story of World War I. We are kind of beat out a little bit by the Imperial War Museums over in London, but of course they got into the war a couple years ahead of us. And they just had across the English Channel, while we had an ocean and half a continent.

Stacie Petersen: I am Director of Exhibitions and Registrar, so that's really kind of two sides of my job. As Director of Exhibitions, I oversee the logistics and the schedule for the museum's exhibitions. So that includes concepts, the work of bringing in contractors, construction, installation, basically bringing it to the public. The Registrar side is working with the collection itself: digitizing it, making it accessible to the world on our online collections database, as well as paperwork, things like loans, insurance, shipping, customs, those sort of things.

Stacie Petersen: “Why Keep That?” is an exhibit that looks at what our museum collects and why we're keeping those sort of things. Because as you're going through the exhibit, you'll see different items, like menus and receipts. Really, when you think of military, of World War I, you're thinking of our large items, such as our guns and uniforms and machine guns and those larger objects. While within archives, it's a very diverse situation in terms of what is kept, because of course the story of World War I is more than just the military aspect.

Stacie Petersen: You also have the lives of those soldiers and service volunteers and service women that served and they went on tours. So we have tickets from train rides out when they were on leave and menus from different concerts they've gone to or programs and events like that. So with “Why Keep That?”, it was looking at, again, why are we keeping these objects? And what is the process of making the determination of bringing them into the Museum and Memorial's collection? We went through our collection and went, "Okay, what is unique? What is something that someone will look at and be like, 'So I am no longer a hoarder because I keep that sort of thing as well. And if the museum can keep it, I can now keep it as well'." So again, going back to those very day-to-day situations of maybe scraps of paper that they've sketched a prosthetic medical device on in order to support a limb, or tickets, memos. We have other unique things, like this huge chart that's called the Barometer Chart of Feelings that was produced by a woman in England, looking at her emotional wellbeing during the war. And it's literally a graph barometer chart of her highs and lows throughout the entire experience of World War I.

Stacie Petersen: This exhibition really is strongly pulled from our ephemera collection. So typically what we catalog as ephemera is all those little things that people collect as mementos of remembrance. So within this exhibition, we're looking at those mementos. So it might be a birthing ticket that shows, "This is the hammock I slept in on the ship ride over." Or also in that same frame is a birthing ticket of a Gold Star Mother who went on pilgrimage overseas. And you see two very distinct cards, because the hammock, very basic. It's like “Hammock B, tier three”, this is where you go. It's a piece of cardboard. While the birthing ticket for the Gold Star Mother is shaped, it has a hard ring for the hole so you could put it on a string. It's very decorative on front and back. So it was created to be a memento to keep.

Dr. Catherine Cooper: This sounds quite a bit like what you would see in scrapbooks. Are these loose objects or were they in collections?

Stacie Petersen: So in this particular case, these were all loose objects. They were things that we did not have to remove from photo albums or scrapbooks. Now, when objects come into our collection, while we say we have 3D objects and archives, the archives is not what we would consider your stereotypical archive. Really our archival collection is housed and stored more similar to a museum collection. So every piece of paper gets an accession number or object ID number. It's cataloged down to that level because of how our collection is used. So these are objects that you would see in a scrapbook, but luckily for us, they were not inside one.

Dr. Catherine Cooper: So you've mentioned that this has been a collecting museum for a hundred years now, essentially. Has the collection protocol changed since the inception?

Stacie Petersen: So we have been collecting for a hundred years, and our shift really for the most part has not changed because our focus has always been World War I. So luckily for us, we've been very defined in that period of 1914 through 1919, 1921 and a smattering of select years after that, depending upon what was happening, such as the Gold Star Mother Pilgrimages, which happened later in the twenties into early thirties. And of course that's lucky for us, because we don't have this willy-nilly collection. But now, our focus has shifted a bit in that we have to be now a lot more selective. We have a lot of uniforms. So if someone wants to donate their grandfather's uniform and he was a private in the Army, more than likely, that's not something that we need to add to the collection because we already have other examples of that.

Stacie Petersen: But at the same time, this means we can now focus our energy on collecting more specific areas in terms of 3D objects. So we're looking at women's service, especially women Marines, and collecting initiatives of people of color, African Americans, Native Americans, anyone that served within those entities. But also looking at the Indigenous populations of Europe, Australia. So expanding our focus from just the general service man to more of those global participants that are not widely represented in our collection at this time.

Dr. Catherine Cooper: And does the collection also expand outward from not only the people actively participating in the war, but the people who were affected by it at home during those years?

Stacie Petersen: We include some of those stories of the homefront. And of course when we say homefront, a lot of people think, "Oh, United States," because that's where we are. But of course homefront expands to also Germany, France, Belgium, because those were the homefronts of the foreign entities that weren't involved in the war. So we do collect as much as we can of their stories as well. And in some cases, they might be told through the eyes of someone we have in our collection. For example, off the top of my head, I can think of a gentleman, his name is Arthur Standing. He was a conscientious objector, so he didn't fight in the war, but he was sent overseas to serve as a volunteer and he worked a lot in those French villages. So we have a scrapbook and mementos of his that tell their story through his lens though.

Dr. Catherine Cooper: Is there anything in particular that surprised you in people interacting with this new exhibit?

Stacie Petersen: The one object I can think of in particular is a poster that's featuring African American Stevedores. And it is one of our examples of showcasing African American servicemen in a positive light. The imagery in it is reflective of service, of their work. And a lot of people see that and think, "Oh, that's not stereotyped to what you would see of imagery from the teens of people of color." So a lot of people are surprised by that, but they're also surprised by how we gathered that into our collection. It was not actually what we had originally intended to take. We took the rest of the collection that had been donated to us and this poster was found folded up in the back of a scrapbook. And as we were going through the collection and processing it, we found it folded up, unfolded it and went, "Whoa."

Stacie Petersen: And it's also a poster that I've, at least so far online, have only found one other example of at the New York Public Library. And we have a copy that was signed by the artist, including a letter that was talking about how he created it and why he created it. There's a few examples on our website underneath the exhibition page, but this is all available via our online collections database at our website, which is theworldwar.org. If you don't have an interest in World War I now, I challenge you to do a study of World War I and try to find something that's not of interest. There's so much that can be traced back to the history of World War I. So the Civil Rights Movements, the Suffragette Movement, daylight savings times, we just all went through that, can be traced back there. Even if you wear a trench coat in your daily life now here in the fall, that comes out of World War I, as well as even the technology that's running your cell phone. So there's a story in line that can interest nearly everyone in World War I.

Dr. Catherine Cooper: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today. I hope that folks will come visit you, either in person or virtually.

Stacie Petersen: Yeah, we are open now and through Memorial Day, every Tuesday through Sunday. And between Memorial Day and Labor Day, we're open seven days a week.

Dr. Catherine Cooper, Research Scientist at NCPTT, speaking with Stacie Petersen, Director of Exhibitions and Registrar at the National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri, about the “Why Keep That?” exhibit.

Podcast 106: Examining Hélio Oiticica’s Pigments

Transcript

Kevin Ammons: Welcome to the Preservation Technology Podcast, the show that brings you the people and projects that are bringing innovation to preservation. I’m Kevin Ammons, with the National Park Service’s National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. Today we join Catherine Cooper as she speaks with Cory Rogge, the Andrew W. Mellon Research Scientist at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Menil Collection. In this podcast, they talk about Cory’s work examining the pigments and works of Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica Catherine Cooper: I'm here at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston with Cory Rogge, the Andrew Mellon research scientist at the MFA Houston and the Menil Collection. Cory Rogge: Hello. Catherine Cooper: And today I wanted to ask you about the Hélio Oiticica collection that you have here that you've been working with. Cory Rogge: So we have an amazing Latin American arts collection at the MFAH. And in the early 2000s our Latin American arts curator, Mari Carmen Ramírez, reached out to the Oiticica family because she was interested in doing a show on Hélio Oiticica, who had died in 1980. He was born in 1937. Oiticica was a Brazilian artist and he kind of came of artistic age at the very end of the concrete art movement in Brazil. And here, concrete doesn't mean like concrete sidewalks. Concrete means constructivist, more like Mondrian. So very geometrical, very rigid paintings. And Oiticica was really interested in art, but he quickly became bored with the two-dimensional aspect of things and launched his art into three dimensions, all the while being very interested in color. And Oiticica's father was a scientist, an engineer, and an entomologist and a mathematician, and Oiticica actually worked in the museum where his father worked. And so he kind of, despite being an artist, had a scholarly or a scientific approach to what he was doing. And he kept amazing journals and he kept his paints. And so as part of this exhibition, our Mari Carmen and our then head of conservation went down to Brazil, brought the artworks back for treatment, but also brought all of the extant studio materials that were still with Oiticica's family. And at that point there wasn't a scientist here in Houston. So the paint sat—on a cart—for years. Until I showed up and got asked to look at them as part of a Getty project on concrete art in Los Angeles. And we were interested in them because number one, they're a record of what he used, which is interesting of itself. Also, unfortunately a lot of his extant artwork burned in a fire in Rio. And so these paints are the only records we have of what was on his art. And they give us insight into what the colors of his art should be. And then Oiticica also kept journals: he kept diagrams for his artwork, he kept recipes of what the color mixtures were that he was using on a given piece of art. They weren't always very accurate in that he measured out his amounts in spoons. So we had a soup spoon and a teaspoon and a coffee spoon. And in his notebook he'll say, "This color of yellow is made by mixing one soup spoon of this with one coffee spoon of this and a teaspoon or two of that." So we don't know the volumes that were involved really, but we can guesstimate. So now what we're interested in doing is taking the paints, figuring out what the pigments are, and then figuring out what the binding media is and then seeing how that relates to what his recipes were because he wasn't mixing his paints by taking pigment and mixing it with oil. He was mixing his colors by mixing different amounts of other paints and we don't always know what was in the other paints and he'll say, "I mixed a soup spoon of this brand of paint’s Vermilion red with this teaspoon of an orange paint with this." We won't know what the Vermilion really is, so we're trying to pick that out as well. So long story short, those are the paint collections and that's how they came to live in Houston. Catherine Cooper: Have you been able to see the convergence of his documentation of a work with one of the few that still exist with the artists' paints that you have? Cory Rogge: Sadly, we haven't really because all of the paints we have that we can tie to a specific artwork are related to artworks that either burned or we don't have access to. We have in our collection, one Oiticica object. In English, it's called a spatial relief or Relevo Espacial, for Oiticica. And it's a bright orangey yellow object. It looks almost like it's a piece of origami folded together, although it's made out of plywood and about three and a half feet long. It was meant to float in space and you're meant to walk around it and appreciate the color as an object. And this object has, in some areas, eight layers of paint on it and one of those paints appears to be the same as one of the paints in our studio collection. And that paint, interestingly enough, is labeled for another artwork. It's supposed to actually be associated with Núcleo, or Nucleus. And so now we can say that probably these two objects were sister objects. They were maybe being made together in his studio at the same time. And that gives us insight into the fact that he wasn't making only one thing at a time and he was thinking about these different constructs in space at the same time. Catherine Cooper: Is there a correlation with the pigments that you have and the journal articles and his changing art style and expression? Cory Rogge: Wow, complicated question. So he went through a bunch of different series as he broke out of strictly two dimensional art, and the first series to really do that he called Inventions and these were square paintings that hung off from the wall. They were offset so they leapt out into space just a little bit. And we have four paints related to the Invention series and these are all bright, brilliant reds in tone. The next series we get into are the Spatial Reliefs and the Nuclei and here he backs away from red, he starts going into the yellow colors and then from there he jumps off entirely into three dimensional objects that you can handle or that you can wear or that you can walk into or around and manipulate. And so he really, at least color wise, he makes a break from the inventions which are largely bright red into these yellow-oranges that he tends to favor later on. In terms of pigments, I guess we find differences from what he wrote and what he used and that he would say things in his journals like "This pigment isn't very stable, this other yellow pigment would be better", but in fact we find the one that he thinks is less stable in a lot of his artwork so he doesn't always practice what he preaches. And then in terms of binding media, most of what we have are oil paints. He manipulates them a little bit. He mixes in some commercial paints that are alkyds and faster drying than oils, but he's not being like other Brazilian artists at the time, like Lygia Clark, who were using really modern paints like nitrocellulose automobile lacquers. Even though he's being very nontraditional in how he uses them and the objects that he's making, he's still using really traditional materials. Catherine Cooper: Where do you hope to take this research or is it mostly completed for this past exhibit or is it hopefully going to inform future conservation or future work with the family? Cory Rogge: I'm slowly in the process of writing this all up, but there are 139 different studio material things that came. Most of them are paints, but we have some powdered pigments and some varnishes and some media that he used. And right now I'm in the process of trying to correlate all of what a given paint has in it with what his journal articles might say. And then what we've learned is that his objects are sometimes more complex than he indicated in his journals. So for an object he might say, "Oh, I made three paints for it, or four paints for it." But in our collection we have 21 so we know that he layered his paints. Are these iterations, did he manipulate the color, but change the color ever so slightly—evolve the color as he went along. Were these paints really all on a given object? We don't know, but because so many of his artworks burned and we have the journals, the family has been reproducing them. And so this information we have will inform them in those reproductions because they'll be able to better understand that his paints and his objects were not a single flat tone of color. The surface color was influenced by the layers below and so they're much more vibrant an object than the reproductions are. Catherine Cooper: Does the depth and complexity of the pigments relate to conservation problems as these objects age? Cory Rogge: So we have issues with, with our object, the fact that he has tried to make plywood act like paper. Plywood doesn't bend like paper, so you can't get those creases. So he had to force the wood into bends and turns that it doesn't want to make, and so some of the seams are opening up and that's causing paint loss. He had actually intended to make more of these kinds of objects and gave them up because they were so very hard to construct. In terms of the stability of his materials, he actually used really stable materials for the most part. So we're not having too many issues with his objects fading for instance, as far as we can tell. Because so many of them lived in environments in Brazil that had relatively poor climate control, there have been issues caused by expansion and contraction with the wood, which can cause paint loss. And then also just dirt in the environment. Museums filter their air to keep dust and grime and pollutions out and other institutions and places don't have that benefit. Catherine Cooper: What about Oiticica’s art—for people who are unfamiliar with it—what should people know? Cory Rogge: He was one of the most inventive artists out there, and he really kind of revolutionized what was thought of as art. For centuries art was on paper, art was a painting, it was hung on a wall. And he thought that color was an object and he wanted to make these color objects, he called them, that were interactive, that allow people to see color and experience it in a way that nobody else had. And so we have American artists like John Cage or Robert Rauschenberg who are doing art that's breaking the boundaries of moving beyond painting into interactive exhibits, into interactive occurrences, happenings, and Oiticica was doing that at the same time. And so he's really, he's changed what art is. He made a series of objects called parangolés, or capes, and they were meant to be worn and danced around the streets and in Samba dances. And so he's doing performance art, right, and making objects for that. Catherine Cooper: For any of those performance art pieces still existing, are they being treated in performance or are they stationary now? Cory Rogge: They are stationary. But for the exhibit here, the foundation and family permitted reproduction ones to be made that the public were allowed to wear and to dance with the way that Oiticica would have wanted. Catherine Cooper: The intersection of the integrity of these objects and conservation of them is always an interesting question when they're in use. Cory Rogge: Yes. And he made a series, another series of objects called bólides which translates into firecracker and here he wanted people to interact with color in the form of pigment. And so there are boxes that can be opened that have pigments in them or there are jars that have pigments in them. You can put your hands in them and stir the pigment about and sift it like grains of sand. And in a museum environment we can't let people do that because it would go everywhere and some of the pigments aren't necessarily good for your health to be doing that. So we do walk a line—we can explain how they're meant to be used and there are photographs of him using it. But we chose in that case not to ask the family if they can be reproduced for the public to use. It's really been an interesting project because it's made me learn a lot about Brazilian paints that I didn't know and the paint industry in Brazil. Oiticica was kind of transnational in that he also lived in the U.S at two different points, and he lived in London and he wrote letters to people. He and Lygia Clark had an extensive correspondence, so you could go back through and get a real sense of him as a person and his real philosophical take on what he was doing and talking about the psychology of stuff. And then you have his wonderful journals and then you get to learn a little bit of Portuguese for reading them. The more you read about it, the more interesting he really becomes as a person and unfortunately the conversation is one sided, right? He's talking to me from the past. I can't- Catherine Cooper: Ask him. Cory Rogge: Exactly, but I think he would have been a really interesting person to have been a friend. Catherine Cooper: Thank you so much for talking with us today. Cory Rogge: It's been a pleasure. Kevin Ammons: Thank you for listening to today's show. If you would like more information, check out our podcast show notes at www.ncptt.nps.gov until next time, goodbye everybody.

Cory Rogge, the Andrew W. Mellon Research Scientist at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Menil Collection. In this podcast, they talk about Cory’s work examining the pigments and works of Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica

Podcast 105: Conservation and Community Use: the Collection Access Program at the Museum of Anthropology

Transcript

Kevin Ammons Welcome to the Preservation Technology Podcast, the show that brings you the people and projects that are bringing innovation to preservation. I’m Kevin Ammons with the National Park Service's National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. Today we join Catherine Cooper as she speaks with Heidi Swierenga, Senior Conservator at the Museum of Anthropology--frequently called MOA--in Vancouver, British Columbia. In this podcast they talk about MOA's Collections Access Program. Catherine Cooper: The first question I want to ask you is what is the Collections Access Program at MOA and why is so important for MOA’s collections in particular? Heidi Swierenga: The Museum of Anthropology is, what we would call in Canada, a medium size institution, and we have about forty thousand objects in the collections now from cultures from around the world. The Collections Access Program is the work that we do within the institution to connect the cultures from which those objects came from to the objects themselves. It can take a couple different forms. Probably the most significant part of that program is the people that come into the museum. We host quite regularly elders gatherings, or community gatherings, sometimes school gatherings; different types of groups from different communities will come in to spend time with the belongings that they’ve selected. So, a typical visit might be twenty elders coming down to see forty objects. And let’s just say it’s a basketry collection. So we might pull all those basketry pieces, put them in one of our research rooms, and then they have the day to work with them, and speak about them, and handle them. The other type of collections access that we do is when we bring belongings out to communities for use. And most of my experience is around use in a Potlatch. Often that means that something might be danced, or presented, or processed as part of the business that goes on in the Potlatch. Catherine Cooper: How did this program develop, and have you noticed it change as a part of the Truth and Reconciliation process that Canada has recently gone through? Heidi Swierenga: It’s actually a program that has, I think, evolved naturally and very slowly. When we talk about when did this all start, we go all the way back to the early 1980s when then Senior Conservator, Miriam Clavir, had her first request to lend out one of the older pieces for use in a Potlatch. And at that time in the early 80s this was a very, very different and new thing. For her as she talks about it, it challenged her and her professional training, because conservators are trained to make sure that an object lasts for future generations. And using something, even though it may be done gently and safely, there is always a risk that damage might occur. And prolonged use will inevitably change the look, or the aesthetic presentation of something that’s used. So, for her, it started a decades long conversation about that balance between preservation and use, that now we as conservators are very, very familiar with. But that first loan turned into the next loan, that turned into the next loan, and the next loan. And now we do quite a bit of it. And the second part of your question, how has this changed since the Truth and Reconciliation and the TRC, for people that might not be familiar with it, is the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was established to look at the residential school system, and the abuse and the damage and the fallout from that over several generations. One of the big things that came out of the Calls for Action was, how have we, as an institution, met the directives of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights on Indigenous People. It was a challenge, and UNDRIP has been around for a long time; it forced a lot of us to say, “Have we thought about it? What have we implanted in terms of policies and procedures, that have addressed the primary directive?”—Which is that Indigenous people have the rights to say what’s going to happen about their cultural belongings, and the right to control the information about those cultural belongings. And I think what we did is realize that we may have been doing what we thought was a pretty good job at working with our Indigenous communities, but we were being very passive about it. Yes, we were approving loans. Yes, we were facilitating these requests, but we were still doing it in a way that was convenient for us. I think since the Calls for Action came out, we have taken on a more proactive stance, and we as an institution have recognized that we have the responsibility to make sure our program provides the resources and funds so that people can have the ability to travel to come see us. It’s a limited pot but at least we went after it and we made sure we’ve got resources there so that we can offset the costs associated with coming to the institution, or we can fully cover the costs that are associated with the insurance that is required when you travel a belonging out to a community. And it’s a priority for us. It is absolutely the number one priority for many of the people who work in the institution. Catherine Cooper: How does the Collections Access Program, and particularly the loan of objects, balance the conservation ethics of preservation and use? Heidi Swierenga: I think it does very well is the short answer. [laughs] Catherine Cooper: Yeah. Heidi Swierenga: And maybe I can come at it from how we deal with the requests. So, when a request is made, let’s just say it’s a request to borrow a headdress from a family member that has the rights and privileges to either wear that headdress or have somebody dance it on their behalf at their Potlatch. It is not such a complicated process, but it’s a process that involves several different people. So, conservators would be involved, a curator would be involved, the individual that’s made the request, and possibly the dancer who might be dancing that piece. And together, we’ll work out whether or not the piece is strong enough to be danced. Basically, what are the risks involved? Heidi Swierenga: And together as a group we’ll say, yeah it is strong enough, or we can’t quite attach the rigging that’s required in order for it to be attachable to the person who’s dancing and therefore safe, or we can, or maybe together we have to do some modifications to the piece in order for it to be strong enough to dance, or look in a way that is respectful for it to be danced. So, for one example, myself, working with the late Kwakwaka'wakw artist and hereditary chief Beau Dick, modified a headdress only after he was satisfied that it was safe enough to be danced. When we first looked at it together, it was carved out of beautiful, thin hemlock wood and it, was cracked in several places. He thought it was going to move around too much during dancing and was worried that it would deteriorate further, and he said, “Whoa, maybe not, maybe we should look at something else.” And I was able to say, “You know what, I think I might have a really simple fix for that.” And my conservator brain was saying, it has to be simple, it has to be observable, and it has to be reversible. And I was able to do it quite easily just using tinted Japanese tissue paper and wheat starch paste. Once I did that, it was super, super strong and solid. And Beau said, “Yeah, that’s great. Now what I need to do is, re-carve the missing elements,” because he couldn’t present it in a way that he felt wasn’t respectable both to the object as well as the owner. So, he recreated the missing elements, painted them and then passed them back to me to stitch the whole thing back together again. So, it was a perfect balance, in my mind, because we were both able to get at the point where we knew it would be safe. Yet we had to make changes to it in order for it to be safe. So, it’s not just preserved in its original form, it’s now different, and it’s showing the process that it went through. It’s showing the Potlach it went through, it’s showing that it was danced again, and it was able to still do the job that it was originally created to do, which was to show a certain privilege that the family wanted to show and be witnessed at that Potlach. Catherine Cooper: How has your work as a conservator changed as these programs and initiatives have developed? Heidi Swierenga: I would say that my personal process has changed quite a bit, and one story I can tell that illustrates this is… I was going to through some documentation for some belongings that are owned by a family who was going to be hosting a Potlatch. And when I went back to the file, I saw this memo that I had written when I was just freshly hired at the museum, so going on twenty years ago. And this memo was in response to the first request for the loan of a particular headdress for the first Potlach that this family had had in several decades. And the memo that I wrote I feel now was appalling. It wasn’t really, but it was me as the young conservator who knew the best thing to say, and who knew exactly what had to happen, that well, yes, I think that it could be loaned but it couldn’t be used, it could only be presented because of a number of different issues. And it was in fragile condition and maybe that would have been the end result, but my quick answer was, “No, I don’t believe it’s possible.” Now, that’s never how it would happen. Now, I would say, “I’m not sure. Why don’t you come in, let’s take a look at it together, see what you think?” And I would offer some thoughts, and they would offer some thoughts back, and together we would come up with a plan. But I read that memo and I thought, “My God, well I’m going to have to burn this. Nobody can know what I said.” And actually, I showed it to a colleague, and they said, “No, this is great, this shows how much we’ve changed, this shows how much our practice has evolved.” And for me really, it shows how much I have learned from the different artists, dancers, and community members who I’ve worked with, who have taught me how to go about doing this properly. And I am grateful for all of those lessons, and grateful that I have something to go back to, to show my own students and say, “Look, this is one approach, and this is how you might rethink that and approach it in a different way.” Catherine Cooper: So, what are some of the challenges of creating a program like this? Heidi Swierenga: Well I think the most important challenge to overcome is the understanding that it’s important and the prioritization of this type of work over other things. Within every institution, that is such a challenge in itself because there are so many different priorities. Also, another challenge would be the connections to the communities for institutions that maybe didn’t have such strong connections. I think the other big challenge for us, and it’s one that we’re still dealing with, is how do you get the information out? And that goes pretty deep. It’s not just letting families know that they can come and access the collections here, but families might not even know that their belongings are here. Many things have been taken from communities in different ways, a lot that was done within a period of oppression imposed here by the Canadian federal government and throughout the world. And family members may know that their belongings were taken or sold, but they may not know where they went. So, part of this is trying to facilitate that research process as people try to discover where their material culture now resides. The Reciprocal Research Network that was co-developed, MOA being one of the partners, is one platform that we support and that helps with that. We also feel it’s important to make sure that our own home collection is digitized and accessible online through our collections Access System. But that’s just one thing. How do you get the information out about the grants that you do hold? And what we’re learning also is, how do you write about it so people make sure they know that this information is for them? Kevin Ammons: Thank you for listening to today's show. If you would like more information, check out our podcast show notes at www.ncptt.nps.gov until next time, goodbye everybody.

Heidi Swierenga, Senior Conservator at the Museum of Anthropology--frequently called MOA--in Vancouver, British Columbia. In this podcast they talk about MOA's Collections Access Program.

Allison Titman "Running a Small Museum during the Pandemic"

Transcript

Kevin Ammons: Welcome to the Preservation Technology Podcast, the show that brings you the people and projects that are bringing innovation to preservation. I’m Kevin Ammons with the National Park Service’s National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. Today we join Catherine Cooper as she speaks with Allison Titman, Executive Director of the American Helicopter Museum and Education Center in West Chester, Pennsylvania. In this podcast they talk about how the pandemic has affected small museums.

Catherine Cooper: Thank you for joining me today.

Allison Titman: Thanks for having me, it’s great to be here.

Catherine Cooper: I’d like to start with asking you to introduce yourself and the museum.

Allison Titman: Sure. I’ve been at the museum a little under a year. It’s a really cool place and has about 35 helicopters on display outside and inside. When we’re open and not in the conditions of a pandemic, several of those helicopters are actually interactive because we want people to understand—as much as they can without taking flight—what it’s like to really sit at the controls and to pilot a craft like that. We also offer helicopter rides, have special events for holidays, do all the fun museum type activities that everybody else does.

Prior to being at this museum, I was actually at the American Alliance of Museums as an Accreditation Program Officer, where I worked with museums of all types and sizes as they prepared for, and then achieved, accreditation. And in case all of that isn’t enough work, I’ve also been involved with the Small Museum Association for about ten years. I am currently the President Emeritus of the Board.

Catherine Cooper: How is small museum defined in the United States?

Allison Titman: I would get that question all the time when I was the one fielding emails for SMA and my answer generally is, if you feel like your museum is small, then it is small. People throw around different definitions based on budget and staff size; it used to be under 250,000 dollars annual budget, now I hear more under half a million, something like less than five staff members or less than ten, but it’s really hard to define. So, what I say is a small museum is one that feels like it doesn’t usually have the resources it needs to meet its goals but figures out innovative ways to meet them anyway.

Catherine Cooper: You have mentioned that we are currently in pandemic times, how has that affected your museum?

Allison Titman: Well like every other museum, we’ve had to close. We closed on March 13th [2020] and are still closed, though we’ve just been notified that museums in our region will be able to open over the next few weeks. During that closure, myself and the one other full-time person transitioned to working from home.

Unfortunately, I did have to furlough my six part-time staff members because without earned revenue, we just weren’t able to sustain our usual staffing levels.

During the closure, we’ve been working to maintain operations in terms of finances and the essential tasks we have to do to keep the place running. I’m also trying to take advantage of this time to do some behind the scenes work on how we use technology and other systems to make sure that we’re streamlining our work as much as possible, so that when we go back, our lives are hopefully a little easier. I’m also, like every other museum, applying for all the various funding opportunities to help us get through this crisis. And I’ve had to work on a phased reopening plan, looking at what kinds of cleaning and disinfecting procedures and safety protocols we’re going to have to institute to open safely and then putting those on paper, so that our staff and our volunteers and our visitors all feel safe reentering the facility.

Catherine Cooper: Could you tell us any details about that plan, sort of how it fits in with the phased reopening of your region or museum practices that everyone has been discussing?

Allison Titman: Sure, so it’s a combination of information from my region, information from federal sources like the CDC, and then thinking about how our museum works and how to integrate those things into our operations. And I think all Directors and all operations staff members and other people with similar responsibilities have been cobbling together the same things. It’s challenging to take a set of CDC protocols on cleaning and disinfecting and then think about how that applies at my 30,000 square foot building, 15,000 square feet of which is a big gallery full of helicopters, but which also has a museum store, staff offices, two commercial tenants, a theater space, an archives, a library and I’m sure other people are grappling with the same things. Our most popular spaces are our kids’ helipad area and then our interactive helicopters. Both of those spaces are meant to be really heavily hands on. They’re supposed to engage all ages, but especially those learners who might not be reading yet but who can really experience things using their other senses. We use helicopters as a gateway to STEM education, and we feel like those hands-on experiences help to make that connection between helicopters and aviation to larger concepts for people of all ages. So, we have had to think through what spaces have to close because they’re just too high touch we can’t keep them open, versus what we can keep open if we make sure to clean more heavily, and to make sure that people understand really what the experience is going to be like in the new normal that we’re all having to deal with.

Catherine Cooper: From speaking with colleagues who work at other small museums, how similar or different have their pandemic experiences been from yours at the American Helicopter Museum and Education Center?

Allison Titman: My friends and colleagues have really had a variety of experiences. For me, I’ve been at the helicopter museum less than a year, so I was still in a phase of doing some organizational transformation in terms of our goals and our programming and what we were really trying to put in place to build on for the future. So, I have colleagues whose institutions are more settled who have solid programs in place, who have been able to make really impressive pivots into virtual programming. Friends are doing things like virtual story times, and turning an education program that was previously in person into a zoom-based experience. And then being able to reach out to institutions like local libraries that are looking for virtual programming and partner with them.

I used to be on the Board of the Greenbelt Museum in Greenbelt, Maryland and as they think about reopening, they’re seeing a phased approach, where the first thing they bring back is their walking tours of Greenbelt. That’s an outdoor experience that people can engage in more safely, whereas the museum itself is a house from the late 1930s that’s less than 1000 square feet. So, you can’t put too many people in there at one time at this point. So, people are really thinking through what kind of existing programming they have and how to pivot to make it fit our current conditions. And then we’re all dealing with some uncertainty around the future. Whether that’s financial uncertainty, whether it’s not knowing if visitors are going to come rushing back to our institutions when we reopen or whether it’s going to be a trickle at first. And then how people will respond as we have to make adjustments over time. If we can’t have our signature events or if we have to really reduce our capacity, will our audiences understand why and really work with us to follow the safety protocols we feel like we have to put in place.

Catherine Cooper: How can members of the public help small museums at this time?

Allison Titman: So, during the pandemic I got a new phone system at the museum because we had a traditional system where the phones rang to our desks, which didn’t work when we weren’t at our desks. So now the museum’s phone rings through to my cell phone, and I’m the frontline staff picking up all the calls.

So, the first thing the public could do that would be really helpful is just to be understanding. I know that there are people who really want to get out of the house, and who really need a place to take their bored kids now that their summer breaks have started, but some museums just aren’t permitted to be open yet, and some are still putting their safety practices and protocols in place and aren’t ready.

So, members of the public should just keep an eye on museums’ Facebook pages, websites, anywhere they’re posting information to see when they’re reopening, if they’ve had to adjust their hours, if they’re asking people to buy tickets online in advance. It’s really helpful if people take a second to plan their visit and to look up the information before making a phone call or before just showing up. And then if the public really care about an institution, it’s great if there is a way for them to financially support that museum. If they can’t do that, can they share the museum’s Facebook post, or forward the emails, or tell their friends how long they’ve been a member of the museum and what a great experience that’s been? So, whether people have dollars or can just extend the museums reach, that’s all really helpful right now.

I think right now, we’re all trying to figure out what the future looks like. And we’re having to think about the short term because that’s where our heads are, that’s where we’re all working. Either our museums have just reopened their doors or they’re working towards that, decisions are having to be really immediate.

What I think is coming, and we’re starting to have to grapple with, are the longer-term implications of this pandemic and what the lessons we take away from it are.

When I worked in accreditation in 2018, we were still seeing museums who had not rebounded to their pre-2008 recession levels. So, cataclysmic events like this affect museums for years and years and years. But on the bright side, these kinds of events give us a good opportunity to plan for the future. What can we put in place now or over the next year or two years, that will help us weather the next crisis? How do we build more sustainable institutions and how do we become more resilient? And I don’t say that lightly, I know it’s not easy. I know that small museums in particular, but all museums in general, tend to feel under resourced and to feel like it’s really today that they can handle and the future that has to wait. But I think that if we can learn from this crisis, that we have to plan and we have to put a strong foundation in place, we can at least take something positive out of what has been a fairly negative experience.

And if nothing else, at least it shows that we are all in this together. It really is museums across the globe that have had a hard time and it’s been wonderful to see people talking to each other. We might be stuck at home, but we have access to people across the country and across the world and our museum professional organizations have really stepped up to offer helpful resources. So, the American Alliance of Museums, AASLH, ASTC, all of the museum umbrella organizations and then the disciplines specific organizations, have really tried to help their members and the field at large.

So hopefully, no one feels like their museum is struggling through this alone.

Kevin Ammons: Thank you for listening to today’s show. If you would like more information, check out our podcast show notes at www.ncptt.nps.gov until next time, goodbye everybody.

Allison Titman, Executive Director of the American Helicopter Museum and Education Center in West Chester, Pennsylvania. In this podcast they talk about how the pandemic has affected small museums.

Discussing the Display of Mummies with Curator Gina Borromeo

Transcript

Kevin Ammons: Welcome to the Preservation Technology Podcast, the show that brings you the people and projects that are bringing innovation to preservation. I’m Kevin Ammons, with the National Park Service’s National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. Today we join Catherine Cooper as she speaks with Dr. Gina Borromeo, Curator of Ancient Art at the Rhode Island School of Design Art Museum. In this podcast, they talk about Gina’s work on redesigning the RISD Museum’s Egyptian Art exhibit and the museum’s decision to rehouse the mummy, Nesmin, in his sarcophagus.

Gina Borromeo: The redesign and reinstallation of our Egyptian mummy—and that is of a Ptolemaic money of a priest named Nesmin—Nesmin and his coffin has been at the RISD Museum since they were acquired in 1938. Since that time, they have always been on view separately; the mummy on one side and the coffin on the other. I would say that in the past couple of years, we have had certain programs and projects in the museum that began to question whether it was okay for us to continue to display a human body in the museum. These projects were based on a discussion called Double-Take where we invite two different experts to discuss one object from two points of view. During that discussion, which happened between a professor of criminal justice and an anthropologist, it was brought up that the idea of displaying a mummy in the museum was problematic and specifically, the displaying of a human being in an art museum.

That was also followed closely by a project made by a RISD MFA student who had a program here that spoke all about the display of black bodies in particular. Here, he was really asking the question whether we would show a mummy if it were not of an Egyptian, weather we would feel equally free about displaying a white body. In addition to that, there was a Brown BA thesis that discussed various displays of mummies in the United States. I think these three programs together made us rethink our approach to this display. Some of the questions they raised were: “Is a human body of work of art?” Then another one was, “Does the human body belong in an art museum? And if so, should it even be on view?” Then they brought up the fact that we would probably not display other human remains in an art museum, particularly Native American human remains because of NAGPRA considerations in this country. They pointedly asked, “Well, what makes it okay to show an Egyptian body?” I think we had to come face to face with the questions, or actually the realities, that we have always seen Egyptian mummies on view in museums so much so that they have become normalized and we began to question that idea. Is it in fact okay to continue to do so just because it’s become normal? I think we started thinking that, well, no. Just because Nesmin no longer had descendants who could speak on his behalf, didn’t mean that we had permission to continue to show his body in this very public context. Also, it became clear to us that we could still continue to talk about Egyptian religious traditions and even Egyptian religious beliefs about death and about the afterlife, but didn’t have to show the mummy anymore. In fact, the coffin itself could stand in as the object from which we could educate our viewers about all these issues.

Catherine Cooper: It sounds like there were a number of different aspects that you had to mediate in redesigning the exhibit. How did you handle those different voices?

Gina Borromeo: Well, first of all, this was a very difficult decision and one that I did not want to make alone. So, I engaged other members of the museum staff in this discussion, certainly the director, the deputy director, our conservators, our registrars or installation staff and even other curators, as well as outside experts, outside Egyptologists and anthropologists, were part of this discussion process. In the end, the major points of consideration were continued care for the mummy and the coffin. We wanted to make sure that whatever we decided to do would not damage the mummy any further or the coffin. We have to remember here that these have always been on view separately. Essentially, that wooden coffin has not held the weight of Nesmin’s mummy since the 1930s and we were really afraid that the wood had become brittle. There were cracks throughout the coffin. We were really scared. I don’t think that’s an overstatement of the situation. We were scared to put the weight in and we were afraid we would further damage the coffin. It was interesting because our conservator, brilliant conservator, Ingrid Newman, decided that perhaps we should place little tissue bandages across the cracks of the wooden coffin so that when we put the weight of the mummy back in, we could see whether those cracks would tear the tissue paper and if so, that meant that we were causing damage to the wood and that the wood may not be able to take the mummy’s weight anymore. Fortunately, that did not happen, but I have to tell you that when we were putting the mummy into the coffin, a lot of us were holding our breaths and there was a visible sigh of relief when we discovered that in fact, the coffin was stable enough and could still hold the weight of the mummy and that essentially, it was still good for its original purpose.

I would say that a second consideration in our decision was also consideration for museum visitors because while I would say a great majority of our visitors are school children come to the museum to see the mummy, it is a highlight actually if they’re sixth grade experience here in Rhode Island, they come to the museum to study ancient culture; so ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. They have come to expect to see Nesmin in the museum. We had to let people know that we would no longer be showing him, but I have to tell you about something else that I think not a lot of people know and that there have been instances where our visiting public, and I’m speaking specifically about these sixth graders, there’ve been instances where their encounter with Nesmin is their first experience, their first vision really, of death. For some children, this has been a traumatic experience. I have heard of teachers who have had to take children out of the room because they were so shocked and disturbed by seeing a dead body in the museum. These are things that I think the general public doesn’t know about, but I felt very strongly about the fact that we had to think about our museum visitors. The RISD Museum, I don’t know if you’d know it, but it is a small museum, so we don’t have a space that we could segregate with a notice outside that says, “You are about to enter a room with human remains.” I think visitors can just be roaming around the museum and immediately, before they know it, be face to face with the mummy and the coffin of Nesmin. So this is a way of also, not shocking people into that experience if they were not prepared for it. Also, we worried about the coherence of the display. Because we would be taking the mummy off view, we had to deal with a whole other side of the case, and we’re talking about a custom made climate controlled case here that was quite expensive and that we could not make modifications to really. We couldn’t move the support, we couldn’t move the stainless steel framing supports that held the shelf for the mummy and the coffin. So we had to think about what we should put on the other side and we were able to find painted mummy portraits from the Roman period to put on the other side. But I would say that if I had my choice, I would really prefer to lower the coffin a little bit right now because you really can’t see the top of the decoration on the coffin, but we had to deal with the limitations that we had and not being able to make modifications to the case.

Catherine Cooper: In rehousing Nesmin and changing the display, it was also an opportunity for further education of why this display had changed and why RISD has Nesmin, and you were able to work that into the display, correct? Gina Borromeo: Once we made the decision to put Nesmin back in his coffin, we focused on how to make our decision process transparent to our visitors because I think it’s a really good illustration of how museums decide to do things. We decided to make videos that when you visit the museum you can access, and we decided to make these videos so that they addressed specific questions that we thought people would want to know about. The first question and the first video deals with, “What do you see on the coffin?” Essentially, what can we learn from the text and images that are on Nesmin’s coffin? Then the second video addresses how Nesmin got from Egypt to Providence in 1938, so his history of ownership and where we think he might have been excavated and how he passed from one private collector to another before he eventually made his way to RISD. Then the third, and I think perhaps the question that is most interesting to a lot of people is, is a body of work of art? This basically answers the question of why we chose to put Nesmin back in his coffin. We had invited an anthropologist and an Egyptologist to talk about how ancient Egyptians viewed bodies and mummies and how that has changed from antiquity through today. Basically, touches also upon the history of the display of mummies in museums. That was very interesting. I would say for the most part, I’m really happy with the way that display turned out and really quite happy with the videos. But should things change in the future, I know that what we did could easily be reversible and we can improve on these videos, so I leave that open. I hope that we could make this display even better for our visitors. Catherine Cooper: Have you gotten any feedback that you’d like to share on how people have received the change to the exhibit? Gina Borromeo: When people realized they could no longer see him, at first there was, I wouldn’t say an outcry, but people were asking questions, “But why? But why?” And gradually, now, over time, people have said, “Well, Oh goodness. Those are actually valid questions. I’m glad that the video is here to help me understand why you did what you did.” So I guess that’s positive feedback. In this display, we really felt a responsibility to the mummy of Nesmin and the coffin, so we took such care with it. We were concerned about making sure that we did not cause harm to the mummy of Nesmin and the coffin that we in fact, practiced the move several times before we actually did it. Our manager of installation, Steven Wing, made a model of the mummy that was about his size and weight and we wrapped it in linen as we would eventually wrap Nesmin. Then with members of the installation crew and with the conservators, we practiced lifting him out, lifting him from his shelf. We did this so we could identify where possible issues might arise and so that we could find solutions together about we have to support him more specifically here, and we have to lift this part up just a little more when we put him into the coffin. At the time we actually made the move, it was done in one smooth movement. These decisions, obviously it was not taken lightly, but we tried to prepare as much as possible for the move of Nesmin back into his coffin. I like to think that he is finally now in his intended resting place and that he is finally getting the rest that he’s so, so deserved and that we had temporarily interrupted. Now, he is back in the coffin and resting quietly we hope.

Catherine Cooper: Thank you so much for sharing that process with us.

Gina Borromeo: Thank you, Catherine, for allowing me to do so.

Kevin Ammons: Thank you for listening to today’s show. If you would like more information, check out our podcast show notes at www.ncptt.nps.gov. Until next time, goodbye everybody.

Dr. Gina Borromeo, Curator of Ancient Art at the Rhode Island School of Design Art Museum. In this podcast, they talk about Gina’s work on redesigning the RISD Museum’s Egyptian Art exhibit and the museum’s decision to rehouse the mummy, Nesmin, in his sarcophagus.

Dr. Jennifer Kramer, “Shake Up: Preserving What We Value”

Transcript

K. Ammons: Welcome to the Preservation Technology Podcast, the show that brings you the people and projects that are bringing innovation to preservation. I’m Kevin Ammons with the National Park Service's National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. Today we join Catherine Cooper as she speaks with Dr. Jennifer Kramer, who holds a joint position at the Museum of Anthropology--frequently called MOA--and the Department of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. In this podcast they talk about Dr. Kramer's recent exhibit, “Shake Up: Preserving What We Value,” which explores earthquakes from a variety of perspectives including First Nations narratives and teachings, and the seismic upgrades that the museum will undergo.

C. Cooper: What is the Shake Up Exhibit and what was the impetus for creating it?

J. Kramer: The Museum of Anthropology is about to undergo seismic upgrades of a significant portion of our building called the Great Hall to protect against seismic movement of the earth. As a result, the curators were tasked with telling our public what was coming, and what to expect, and what they could learn about the process when they were physically cut off from being in the Great Hall.

The Great Hall is this soaring space of glass filled with totem poles from the First Nations of the Northwest Coast and other monumental sculptures. So, we wanted to prepare people about what they were missing seeing, but also make them understand why it was so important that we preserve what we value.

C. Cooper: When designing this exhibit around these seismic upgrades, how did you and your team decide which narratives to include and how to balance them?

J. Kramer: I co-curated this exhibit with Curator of Education, Dr. Jill Baird, so it was definitely a team effort. With her interns in the Department of Education and also with help from other curators in my department, because we have four curators that work with First Nations Northwest Coast peoples here in British Columbia.

It was a learning curve for Jill and I to learn about what causes earthquakes and how they can be mediated. We had to do our own research on protecting historic iconic buildings, of which the Museum of Anthropology is one. It was designed by Arthur Erikson, a Scottish-Canadian architect, who is quite famous for his modernist buildings. But in this case, he was very much also inspired by First Nations longhouse and big house construction and also was inspired by having a building that fit within the land. This is always an important message from the Museum of Anthropology, that we sit on the ancestral, unceded territory of the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓-speaking Musqueam people.

So, while the architecture is modern, it might seem like it’s a different trajectory than seven thousand plus years of inhabited history for the Musqueam people. There’s actually a tactile relationship with the architecture. So we wanted to preserve the iconic architecture, we wanted to preserve, of course, these incredibly important First Nations totem poles, which tell long standing histories between people, their territories, their ancestors, and how they came to live and steward the land upon which they draw their resources.

But we also realized that it was a bigger story than so-called western science about how do you preserve a material building using—and this is what we’re doing, we’re using something called base isolation, which I have learned a bit about. But what we also realized was beyond the science, the engineering, the architecture, we realized there was so much knowledge within the Indigenous communities who live on the Northwest Coast about how you survive an earthquake and a tsunami. And we realized that there are multiple ways of knowing and being prepared for what now we think of as these ultimate disasters, but we realized there was knowledge to be learned from talking to Indigenous communities.

So, Jill and I basically looked at the totem poles we had represented in the Great Hall and said, let’s try to do an overview from the north of British Columbia—so we chose a Haida Gwaii Haida artist, Kwiaahwah Jones. From relatively the south, so we chose Tim Paul, a Hesquiaht Nuu-chah-nulth elder from Vancouver Island. And we chose someone sort of in the central coast from the Kwakwaka’wakw community, from the Nelson family, Frank Baker and K’odi Nelson. So we basically asked them, as this kind of north to south representation, of their cultural teachings about earthquakes and tsunamis. And that was where the exhibit exploded. In a wonderful way.

There is actually only one physical belonging, or otherwise known as a treasure maybe, in this exhibit. It’s a Ninini Kwakwaka’wakw Dzawada’enuxw earthquake mask. Ninini means earthquake. And it has been in our collection since the 1950s, sold directly from the widow of someone that had owned the rights to dance Ninini as part of his box of treasures in Kingcome Inlet, Gwa’yi, a Dzawada’enuxw Kwakwaka’wakw man.

What was exciting about this exhibit is first, we became involved in figuring out—so just from this one physical object—we did research to figure out whether there were living community members who were attached to this mask that had been in our collection for seventy years. And we were able to find a family that owned that connection and still had that right to dance Ninini. And we were invited to a potlatch in Alert Bay, British Columbia in October 2018, to watch a different version of this mask be danced and we recorded it. We were given permission to record it and show it as a five-minute film. But then due to establishing that relationship with that family, they got closer to the mask in our collection and the following year, a different member of that family, who held that inheritance, asked that the mask that was in MOA’s collection, go up to Alert Bay to be danced in his memorial potlatch in October 2019. And so, we now have footage of that and what it is, is showing that this cultural heritage, this material heritage is not from the past, that it has ongoing meaningful significance. It’s a small exhibit but it’s scattered in multiple locations and it covers a tremendous amount of information about what causes earthquakes, tectonic plates, the Ring of Fire, vernacular architecture that worked with protecting buildings from earthquakes like the longhouses on the Northwest Coast. We also share chronologies of earthquakes around the world, beginning with the last major subduction zone Cascadia earthquake that hit the Northwest Coast in 1700. So, another sort of larger, underlying reason is we know from science and from records around the world that subduction zones, so underwater tectonic plates that suddenly slip causing mammoth sort of scale eight or nine earthquakes, happen about every 250 – 500 years. So, we are definitely due for one here in Cascadia. And so, this was getting that message out.

C. Cooper: How will these seismic upgrades help protect both the building and the contents of the Great Hall?

J. Kramer: Now, caveat, I am not an architect, but I have spoken to our building people to understand. Base isolation is a platform which has this ability to move sideways during an earthquake in order to allow the energy of the earthquake to go out sideways instead of forcing the totem poles and the other monumental sculptures in the building to fall down due to vibration. So it releases the strength of the vibrations.

What we learned was that, we’re going to have to actually take down the building completely in order to put in this base isolation and then rebuild it. It was somewhat of a shock to us all, but it will be a safer construction if we start from scratch, and it will be built to exactly Arthur Erickson’s vision. But I want to add that the seismic upgrades made us realize not just that we were preserving the iconic building or even preserving tangible material culture, but also that we were working on preserving intangible knowledge, intangible heritage that was part of the mission of the museum.

And so, respecting all of that knowledge about how to be prepared for disasters from First Nations on the Northwest Coast, was also part of what we were preserving, what we all valued. And so, we were making those different knowledges from the west and from Indigenous people with thousands and thousands of years of history on the land, come together, to work together and that was exciting.

C. Cooper: Because of the pandemic, quite a bit of this material has gone up on MOA’s website. How did you decide what portions to put up on line, and will they remain up beyond the physical exhibit?

J. Kramer: When we all went into lockdown in mid-March, everyone at the museum moved very, very quickly to plan how we could share the work we do at the Museum of Anthropology with the larger public. One advantage of virtual access is it can be from anywhere in the world if you have the bandwidth. So, in some ways, we’re thinking this is a complete sea-change in how a museum does the work it does. I doubt we’re going to take down what we’ve already put up. It isn’t about forcing people to come and pay door admission in order to hear these stories about earthquakes, see these dances about earthquakes and longstanding family relationships to specific lands, territories, and resources, songs. I imagine they will stay online.

We did a three-hundred and sixty virtual degree tour of the Museum of Anthropology Great Hall that people can go online and experience for themselves. Because I imagine once we get the hoarding wall up, which is supposed to happen in the fall, it probably will be closed to the public for 18 months at least. The Shake Up exhibit will obviously remain.

C. Cooper: This “Shake Up: Preserving What We Value” exhibit is one of two exhibits that are planned to discuss natural disasters. Can you speak of it to how this exhibit will interact with or converse with the other exhibit?

J. Kramer: I can’t say that we actually planned it this way. It was a lucky happenstance, and especially if you add the pandemic into dealing with global disasters. But the two exhibits do work very nicely together. Our Curator of Asia, Fuyubi Nakamura, has been planning an exhibit called, “A Future from Memory: Art and Life After the Great East Japan Earthquake.” She’s been working with artists that have done contemporary responses to what the 2011 great east Japan earthquake meant and has ongoing meaning. Also, the remnants of what was found from the tsunami, photographs that were lost to people’s families. I know she went, and they had thousands and thousands drying, trying to connect them back to their families. So, it’s been a grand preservation effort of reconnecting individuals to their personal history, but also a country figuring out how to deal with this disaster. And I would read a statement that she made that I think is really important as to how it connects to Shake Up. She said, “A Future from Memory will show that this disaster is not simply about a region, Tohoku, or a country, Japan, rather this event has global relevance. Fishing boats from Tohoku arrived on the shores of the Pacific Northwest, reminding us that we are connected by the same ocean and are mutually responsible for our environment.” She put that wonderfully, but it also is what we were thinking about when we did Shake Up. That we’re all in this together, the Ring of Fire circle, the world and so we are all mutually responsible for our human relationship to the earth. It’s about making us all think about the land beneath our feet and how we move forward into the future, knowing that we know there’s going to be another disaster.

C. Cooper: Thank you so much for sharing this exhibit with all of us.

J. Kramer: Thank you. It’s been wonderful sharing it with you.

K. Ammons Thank you for listening to today's show. If you would like more information, check out our podcast, show notes at www.ncptt.nps.gov. Until next time, goodbye everybody.

Today we join Catherine Cooper as she speaks with Dr. Jennifer Kramer, who holds a joint position at the Museum of Anthropology--frequently called MOA--and the Department of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. In this podcast they talk about Dr. Kramer's recent exhibit, “Shake Up: Preserving What We Value,” which explores earthquakes from a variety of perspectives including First Nations narratives and teachings, and the seismic upgrades that the museum will undergo.

Celebrating the 19th Amendment with Stories from the Lucy Burns Museum

Transcript

Kevin Ammons: Welcome to the Preservation Technology Podcast, the show that brings you the people and projects that are bringing innovation to preservation. I’m Kevin Ammons with the National Park Service’s National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. Today we join Catherine Cooper as she speaks with Laura McKie, the creator and current director of the Lucy Burns Museum at the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton, Virginia. In this episode they talk about the women who picketed the White House in pursuit of women’s right to vote, and how these suffragists fit into the larger history of women’s suffrage in the United States

Catherine Cooper: What is the Lucy Burns Museum and why is it in Lorton?

Laura McKie: It is there for a very special reason. The prison that was built in Lorton was for the District of Columbia; in 1910, they built a men’s workhouse and in 1912 they built a women’s workhouse.

A few years later, 1917, women from the National Woman’s Party began picketing the White House in support of women’s right to vote. They were on duty in front of the White House with banners but silently standing from January until the beginning of the summer of 1917.

Up till that time, in that winter and spring, Woodrow Wilson, who was then President, was not concerned apparently about these suffragists. But right around the middle of the summer, he became more and more upset with having them there. He asked the commissioners to ask the police chief to get rid of the women. He did not want them in front of the White House. So, arrests began. At first the women were sentenced to a couple of days in the DC jail, but since they kept coming back—this didn’t stop and the women appeared every day, every day—these sentences got heavier. They were frequently offered the opportunity to pay a fine, but no one did. They chose to take the jail sentence.

So, beginning in late summer of 1917, suffragists who were arrested began to be sent down to the women’s workhouse in Occoquan. They were sent there up to November of 1917. The last group of women came in mid-November of 1917 and they were treated horribly. While they were there, they were roughed up, they were forced to be in cells, which at other times they hadn’t been. Lucy Burns, who was one of the arrestees, was chained to the cell bars with her hands over her head all night long and that was typical of what was done.

They asked for permission to be political prisoners, but they were denied that. So, they decided to go on a hunger strike. The warden did not want them to die and become martyrs to the cause, so he ordered that they be force fed. Force feeding is not a very pleasant activity: it involves putting a tube down a person’s nose, down past their throat into their stomach, and then using a funnel, raw eggs and milk were poured down into the woman’s stomach. From what was written by those who were involved, it’s a very painful process. And they did that three times a day and, in the meantime, while they were doing this, they would walk by with plates of fried chicken, apple pie, coffee and stand outside the cells, hoping the women would give up. They couldn’t see each other at this point, and they were told that all the other women had given up, but they hadn’t. So, they were using every kind of psychological and physiological things to make the women quit. But they didn’t.

Eventually, it was found out that the women were at the workhouse because they had basically been smuggled down. So, there were 32 women there and after about a week, a lawyer came down and wanted to see them. He was denied the opportunity to see them, but he got a writ and came back and was able to see the women and saw what terrible shape they were in. He then went to the courthouse in Alexandria to a federal judge and arranged for the women to be brought there on a writ of Habeas Corpus. It was a challenge to get the women there because they were in such fragile condition, and we have photographs of some of them coming out of the jail and they looked terrible.

That particular incident was so powerful, they were written up in virtually every newspaper across the country in great detail. Names were listed and how they were treated and so on.

This combined with all the other activity that was going on in support of women’s suffrage, basically forced Woodrow Wilson to go to the Congress and ask them to pass an amendment. After five tries, they actually did in 1918. Then the amendment was sent around to the states for ratification and it was ratified in August of 1920. And that’s why we are now celebrating the 100th anniversary of the enactment of the 19th amendment.

We honor the women at the workhouse for what went on in 1917 because it was so influential. And many people have said it was a turning point in the views that people had of the suffrage program.

Catherine Cooper: How is the story of the Occoquan Workhouse unique in the suffrage story in the United States and how does it fit in to the other aspects?

Laura McKie: Well, a lot of things were going on in women’s activities around the turn of the century. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who had been so in front of the movement, were passed away by the turn of the century and a new group of women came in. And they began to be active all over the United States and they proceeded in a variety of ways. The National American Woman’s Suffrage Association felt that it was most important for them to work at the state level and to go state by state. The group that Alice Paul and Lucy Burns formed was an outgrowth of that. You’ll hear me use those names, Lucy Burns and Alice Paul, frequently because they were the ones who spearheaded the activity in front of the White House. No one had ever picketed the White House and especially no woman had ever done anything like that before. It was considered outrageous.

Lucy and Alice were the co-founders, but we named the Museum after Lucy Burns because she was the only one of the two to actually be imprisoned at Lorton.

Catherine Cooper: What objects or elements did you have to work with when putting the museum together and can you tell us a bit about how they’re displayed?

Laura McKie: We relied primarily on photographs. The Library of Congress has wonderful photographs from the period of the activities of the women in front of the workhouse, of groups being attacked by visitors who were surrounding them, having their signs pulled down and stomped on, being shoved around, it became a messy thing. In the exhibit, many of these pictures are blown up to larger than life size.

In addition to that, we have three beautiful larger-than-life size statues of Lucy Burns, Alice Paul and Dora Lewis. Dora Lewis was chosen because she represented one of the older women who were involved with the project. The oldest woman who was imprisoned was 72 years old and the youngest was 19.

The only real objects that we have on display that directly relate to the suffragists are the jail log books, and we’re fortunate enough to have the three logbooks that cover the dates from 1916 to 1918. These are great, heavy books, probably five inches thick and they weigh about 20 pounds each. But inside of those books in carefully written script—the script is beautiful—are the names of everyone who was arrested in the district, day by day, hour by hour, what they were charged with, where they came from, and what the disposition of their charge was; if they were sentenced, what they were sentenced to, and if they were released.

This is the place where all of the names of the women who were arrested are listed and includes the 72 women who were sent to Lorton to the workhouse. It also includes the other women who were sent to DC jail. The one that we have on display is open to the page that has the most suffragists names on it. Lucy Burns’ name is there. It lists and details all the things that happened to her while she was there. Many of them listed the name of the place where they resided as Cameron House. And Cameron House was like an office-boarding house right in Lafayette Square for women who had come to town to stand in front of the White House and picket. Women came from all over the country, but it was also Alice Pauls’ office.

Catherine Cooper: For visitors to the museum, what are the main things that you want them to take away.

Laura McKie: So, I really want them to know the bigger story, starting with the group who met in Western New York in 1848 and the intense involvement of so many thousands and thousands of women, leading up to the 1920 amendment. It was amazing. It was the largest organization that the United States has ever had. The vast majority of women who were working toward the suffrage amendment were white women. They did come from all classes, however. But black women were not included. It was a conscious decision made on the part of the leadership. They wanted to get the South behind the project of getting the vote and they felt if they brought black women into that process, that the South would turn against them. So, they consciously decided not to include them. However, African American women across the country were very, very active and working towards the vote. However, their view was a much broader view than the white women. The white women were narrowly focused on one thing, getting the vote. The African American women had a much broader social agenda, because although African American men had been given the vote in the 15th amendment, they, in many parts of the country were not allowed to vote under the very strict Jim Crow laws that were then in effect. So, the African American women who were working towards suffrage, wanted to enlarge the vision to include men, but also to include the social aspects of the black community which were then so terribly benighted. So, African American women were there but not nearly so obviously.

One African American woman and her daughter did, in fact, picket the White House. She was not arrested, so she’s not on our list of people. Her name is Mary Church Terrell and she’s a very, very fascinating woman who lived in Washington DC, and in her autobiography, she writes about her experiences.

The second thing to take away in my opinion is to recognize that women were willing to die for the vote, because people have died from going on hunger strikes. They went into this situation and went to jail willingly because they felt their sacrifice was sufficiently important for everyone and they were willing to do it. So, we need to honor that bravery, that commitment by voting and voting locally, voting statewide and voting nationally.

In 1920, not everyone in the United States could vote. Even though women had been given the right to vote, Native Americans couldn’t vote, Asian Americans couldn’t vote, citizens of District of Columbia and of the territories of the United States could not vote. It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, that everyone in the United States who was a citizen over the age of 18, could vote. So that’s the last message that I tend to throw out to people as they leave the exhibit is, vote.

Catherine Cooper: Thank you so much.

Laura McKie: Been a pleasure. And I hope that folks will visit us digitally if not in person. We do have a website. It is workhousearts.org/LucyBurnsMuseum.

Kevin Ammons: Thank you for listening to today’s show. If you would like more information, check out our podcast, show notes at www.ncptt.nps.gov. Until next time, goodbye everybody.

Today we join Catherine Cooper as she speaks with Laura McKie, the creator and current director of the Lucy Burns Museum at the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton, Virginia. In this episode they talk about the women who picketed the White House in pursuit of women’s right to vote, and how these suffragists fit into the larger history of women’s suffrage in the United States

Discussing the Display of Mummies with Curator Gina Borromeo

Transcript

Kevin Ammons: Welcome to the Preservation Technology Podcast, the show that brings you the people and projects that are bringing innovation to preservation. I’m Kevin Ammons, with the National Park Service’s National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. Today we join Catherine Cooper as she speaks with Dr. Gina Borromeo, Curator of Ancient Art at the Rhode Island School of Design Art Museum. In this podcast, they talk about Gina’s work on redesigning the RISD Museum’s Egyptian Art exhibit and the museum’s decision to rehouse the mummy, Nesmin, in his sarcophagus.

Gina Borromeo: The redesign and reinstallation of our Egyptian mummy—and that is of a Ptolemaic money of a priest named Nesmin—Nesmin and his coffin has been at the RISD Museum since they were acquired in 1938. Since that time, they have always been on view separately; the mummy on one side and the coffin on the other. I would say that in the past couple of years, we have had certain programs and projects in the museum that began to question whether it was okay for us to continue to display a human body in the museum. These projects were based on a discussion called Double-Take where we invite two different experts to discuss one object from two points of view. During that discussion, which happened between a professor of criminal justice and an anthropologist, it was brought up that the idea of displaying a mummy in the museum was problematic and specifically, the displaying of a human being in an art museum.

That was also followed closely by a project made by a RISD MFA student who had a program here that spoke all about the display of black bodies in particular. Here, he was really asking the question whether we would show a mummy if it were not of an Egyptian, weather we would feel equally free about displaying a white body. In addition to that, there was a Brown BA thesis that discussed various displays of mummies in the United States. I think these three programs together made us rethink our approach to this display. Some of the questions they raised were: “Is a human body of work of art?” Then another one was, “Does the human body belong in an art museum? And if so, should it even be on view?” Then they brought up the fact that we would probably not display other human remains in an art museum, particularly Native American human remains because of NAGPRA considerations in this country. They pointedly asked, “Well, what makes it okay to show an Egyptian body?” I think we had to come face to face with the questions, or actually the realities, that we have always seen Egyptian mummies on view in museums so much so that they have become normalized and we began to question that idea. Is it in fact okay to continue to do so just because it’s become normal? I think we started thinking that, well, no. Just because Nesmin no longer had descendants who could speak on his behalf, didn’t mean that we had permission to continue to show his body in this very public context. Also, it became clear to us that we could still continue to talk about Egyptian religious traditions and even Egyptian religious beliefs about death and about the afterlife, but didn’t have to show the mummy anymore. In fact, the coffin itself could stand in as the object from which we could educate our viewers about all these issues. Catherine Cooper: It sounds like there were a number of different aspects that you had to mediate in redesigning the exhibit. How did you handle those different voices?

Gina Borromeo: Well, first of all, this was a very difficult decision and one that I did not want to make alone. So, I engaged other members of the museum staff in this discussion, certainly the director, the deputy director, our conservators, our registrars or installation staff and even other curators, as well as outside experts, outside Egyptologists and anthropologists, were part of this discussion process. In the end, the major points of consideration were continued care for the mummy and the coffin. We wanted to make sure that whatever we decided to do would not damage the mummy any further or the coffin. We have to remember here that these have always been on view separately. Essentially, that wooden coffin has not held the weight of Nesmin’s mummy since the 1930s and we were really afraid that the wood had become brittle. There were cracks throughout the coffin. We were really scared. I don’t think that’s an overstatement of the situation. We were scared to put the weight in and we were afraid we would further damage the coffin. It was interesting because our conservator, brilliant conservator, Ingrid Newman, decided that perhaps we should place little tissue bandages across the cracks of the wooden coffin so that when we put the weight of the mummy back in, we could see whether those cracks would tear the tissue paper and if so, that meant that we were causing damage to the wood and that the wood may not be able to take the mummy’s weight anymore. Fortunately, that did not happen, but I have to tell you that when we were putting the mummy into the coffin, a lot of us were holding our breaths and there was a visible sigh of relief when we discovered that in fact, the coffin was stable enough and could still hold the weight of the mummy and that essentially, it was still good for its original purpose. I would say that a second consideration in our decision was also consideration for museum visitors because while I would say a great majority of our visitors are school children come to the museum to see the mummy, it is a highlight actually if they’re sixth grade experience here in Rhode Island, they come to the museum to study ancient culture; so ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. They have come to expect to see Nesmin in the museum. We had to let people know that we would no longer be showing him, but I have to tell you about something else that I think not a lot of people know and that there have been instances where our visiting public, and I’m speaking specifically about these sixth graders, there’ve been instances where their encounter with Nesmin is their first experience, their first vision really, of death. For some children, this has been a traumatic experience. I have heard of teachers who have had to take children out of the room because they were so shocked and disturbed by seeing a dead body in the museum. These are things that I think the general public doesn’t know about, but I felt very strongly about the fact that we had to think about our museum visitors. The RISD Museum, I don’t know if you’d know it, but it is a small museum, so we don’t have a space that we could segregate with a notice outside that says, “You are about to enter a room with human remains.” I think visitors can just be roaming around the museum and immediately, before they know it, be face to face with the mummy and the coffin of Nesmin. So this is a way of also, not shocking people into that experience if they were not prepared for it. Also, we worried about the coherence of the display. Because we would be taking the mummy off view, we had to deal with a whole other side of the case, and we’re talking about a custom made climate controlled case here that was quite expensive and that we could not make modifications to really. We couldn’t move the support, we couldn’t move the stainless steel framing supports that held the shelf for the mummy and the coffin. So we had to think about what we should put on the other side and we were able to find painted mummy portraits from the Roman period to put on the other side. But I would say that if I had my choice, I would really prefer to lower the coffin a little bit right now because you really can’t see the top of the decoration on the coffin, but we had to deal with the limitations that we had and not being able to make modifications to the case. Catherine Cooper: In rehousing Nesmin and changing the display, it was also an opportunity for further education of why this display had changed and why RISD has Nesmin, and you were able to work that into the display, correct?

Gina Borromeo: Once we made the decision to put Nesmin back in his coffin, we focused on how to make our decision process transparent to our visitors because I think it’s a really good illustration of how museums decide to do things. We decided to make videos that when you visit the museum you can access, and we decided to make these videos so that they addressed specific questions that we thought people would want to know about. The first question and the first video deals with, “What do you see on the coffin?” Essentially, what can we learn from the text and images that are on Nesmin’s coffin? Then the second video addresses how Nesmin got from Egypt to Providence in 1938, so his history of ownership and where we think he might have been excavated and how he passed from one private collector to another before he eventually made his way to RISD. Then the third, and I think perhaps the question that is most interesting to a lot of people is, is a body of work of art? This basically answers the question of why we chose to put Nesmin back in his coffin. We had invited an anthropologist and an Egyptologist to talk about how ancient Egyptians viewed bodies and mummies and how that has changed from antiquity through today. Basically, touches also upon the history of the display of mummies in museums. That was very interesting. I would say for the most part, I’m really happy with the way that display turned out and really quite happy with the videos. But should things change in the future, I know that what we did could easily be reversible and we can improve on these videos, so I leave that open. I hope that we could make this display even better for our visitors. Catherine Cooper: Have you gotten any feedback that you’d like to share on how people have received the change to the exhibit? Gina Borromeo: When people realized they could no longer see him, at first there was, I wouldn’t say an outcry, but people were asking questions, “But why? But why?” And gradually, now, over time, people have said, “Well, Oh goodness. Those are actually valid questions. I’m glad that the video is here to help me understand why you did what you did.” So I guess that’s positive feedback. In this display, we really felt a responsibility to the mummy of Nesmin and the coffin, so we took such care with it. We were concerned about making sure that we did not cause harm to the mummy of Nesmin and the coffin that we in fact, practiced the move several times before we actually did it. Our manager of installation, Steven Wing, made a model of the mummy that was about his size and weight and we wrapped it in linen as we would eventually wrap Nesmin. Then with members of the installation crew and with the conservators, we practiced lifting him out, lifting him from his shelf. We did this so we could identify where possible issues might arise and so that we could find solutions together about we have to support him more specifically here, and we have to lift this part up just a little more when we put him into the coffin. At the time we actually made the move, it was done in one smooth movement. These decisions, obviously it was not taken lightly, but we tried to prepare as much as possible for the move of Nesmin back into his coffin. I like to think that he is finally now in his intended resting place and that he is finally getting the rest that he’s so, so deserved and that we had temporarily interrupted. Now, he is back in the coffin and resting quietly we hope. Catherine Cooper: Thank you so much for sharing that process with us.

Gina Borromeo: Thank you, Catherine, for allowing me to do so.

Kevin Ammons: Thank you for listening to today’s show. If you would like more information, check out our podcast show notes at www.ncptt.nps.gov. Until next time, goodbye everybody.

Today we join Catherine Cooper as she speaks with Dr. Gina Borromeo, Curator of Ancient Art at the Rhode Island School of Design Art Museum. In this podcast, they talk about Gina’s work on redesigning the RISD Museum’s Egyptian Art exhibit and the museum’s decision to rehouse the mummy, Nesmin, in his sarcophagus.

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