Historic House Keeping: A Hands-On Professional Development Experience

July 18, 2019

On previous blog posts, I shared my experiences in participating in professional development programs including conferences and seminars. I participated in another program that would not only help me refresh my skills as a public historian and museum professional but could also help several museum professionals who are responsible for collections. Also, by sharing my experience in professional development programs it will also help individuals understand the challenges museum professionals face to maintain our collections for the public to enjoy and appreciate.

This past Monday I participated in a Historic House Keeping all-day seminar provided by the Greater Hudson Heritage Network in New York. Greater Hudson Heritage Network serves the museum and history communities as a catalyst to advance professional standards and practices, build the capacity of organizations to meet their missions, and create a network of effective and professional stewards of regional history and culture now and in the future. It serves member cultural organizations, their staffs, their boards, and their communities in New York State and beyond, offering consultations and assistance, a resource network, and professional development opportunities to advance the work of historians, historic house museums, heritage centers, historic sites, archives, and libraries. The workshop I participated in was one of the examples of programs Greater Hudson Heritage Network offers.

Before I took this workshop, my previous experience with historic housekeeping was at the Connecticut Landmarks historic houses in Hartford. At the houses, I assisted in cleaning the floors, carpets, and the collections within the house including but not limited to furniture and toys. I also unpacked and set up holiday decorations that were in the collections to use during the holiday season. For summer tours, I helped set up the family trunk used for their summer trips to Niantic and laid out their wool bathing suits on the bed they once wore when they swam in the summertime. I decided to take this workshop to both refresh my memory of historic housekeeping but to learn more about techniques that I should utilize when I take on my next historic housekeeping project.

Historic House Keeping took place at the Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport on Long Island. The Vanderbilt Museum, located in Suffolk County, includes the Eagle Nest Mansion once owned by William K. Vanderbilt II. He established a trust fund to finance the operation of the museum and deeded it to Suffolk County, New York, upon his death in 1944. Suffolk County opened the museum to the public in 1950.

During the full-day workshop, I learned the proper, hands-on methodology of collections care by working directly with collections which equipped myself and other attendees with the knowledge and skill sets necessary for cleaning, handling, and storing collections, along with the tools to teach our volunteer base these critical skills. Participants received a lite breakfast, networking luncheon, resource packet, and cleaning toolkit. The day began with introductions to Before we began our sessions, we had an opportunity to participate in an hour-long tour of the Mansion.

We learned a lot about the history of the Eagle’s Nest Mansion and the history of the Vanderbilt family. Each room we visited within the Mansion gave us a glimpse at the life of William K. Vanderbilt II through the estate that memorializes his legacy. Once we completed the tour, we were separated into three groups to start the first session before our lunch break. After the lunch break, we went to our next two sessions in our groups. While we did listen to their tips and had the opportunity to ask them questions, we were able to move and handle table settings, pack textiles, clean the carpet and objects, and clean silver based on the tips we were given. When we completed the three sessions, the three groups came back together to work together on a couple of storage and cleaning sessions. Also, we learned about various archival boxes that are recommended for various types of collections.

I enjoyed the full-day workshop not only because it was a great way to network with museum and history professionals, but we worked with session professionals on hands-on projects. We were able to practice our skills so we would know what to do when we are faced with these situations. At the end of the program, we were given cleaning kits of our own that included materials we used during our sessions and information we can refer to later during our own historic housekeeping. The main purpose of each session we participated in was how to prolong the collection items for preservation and for people to learn more about the past. If we do not practice these steps in preserving our collections, we will lose all of the physical connections to the past more quickly through decay. By participating in this workshop, I feel that I am better prepared for cleaning and preserving historic houses.

Discussion Questions: What techniques do you use in historic housekeeping? As a visitor of historic houses, what are your impressions of how the collections are displayed?

To learn more about the places I referenced and Greater Hudson Heritage Network, check out the links below.

Resources:

http://www.greaterhudson.org/

https://www.vanderbiltmuseum.org/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/04/25/museum-memories-connecticut-landmarks-historic-houses-in-hartford/

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