Virtual Museum Impressions: Mount Vernon

April 9, 2020

While I was sharing previous blog posts about my impressions of museums I visited, I thought about the museums I have not visited in the past and decided to make a virtual trip to one of them. I remember as a child I visited Monticello, the home of the third president of the United States Thomas Jefferson. My family and I were not able to visit Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington the first president of the United States, while we were in Virginia. Therefore, I decided to virtually visit Mount Vernon and its grounds for today’s blog post. My whole visit was overwhelmingly impressive, and the Mount Vernon Ladies Association’s efforts have proven its significance in our nation’s history will never be overlooked.

I visited every part of George Washington’s house and property including but not limited to his farms, gardens, hired and enslaved living quarters, and a gristmill. Even though I aimed to see everything in one visit, there is a ton of information to soak in so as if I was visiting Mount Vernon in person I would need to plan to make more than one visit to potentially see everything and learn all I could about the mansion. Within the tour, there are videos from both Mount Vernon staff and characters of George Washington, Martha Washington, and the enslaved servants discussing what it was like to live and work on the Mount Vernon property. At each point of the virtual tour, there are cursors that once clicked on it will share more information about an item in the collections and about the historic preservation process.

The Mansion has approximately fourteen rooms that were set up and preserved as if the Washingtons were still living in their home. On the first floor, it contains the more formal parts of the Mansion, including the dining rooms, parlors, central hall, and Washington’s study. Inside the Mansion, there is an entryway called the Central Passage which is the place where visitors who came by carriage through the west front drive (the front of the house) were greeted. The Mansion also has a two-story piazza located on the east front (facing the Potomac River); it was treated as an outdoor room, serving afternoon tea to visitors and family members seated in simple Windsor chairs. Not only there is a view of the Potomac River, there is also a view of the wooded area that was originally an 18-acre deer park. On the second floor, there are six bedrooms and one of them is the Washingtons’ bedroom. On the third floor, includes a number of rooms that were used for storage and living space, and provides access to the cupola. The cupola was added to the Mansion to help cool the house, as it draws hot air out through open windows; by providing a strong vertical axis, the cupola also helps disguise the asymmetry of the west facade, facing the bowling green (the grounds in front of the Mansion). Washington’s home is not the only building on the property.

Washington’s estate also includes more than a dozen outbuildings where more than fifty enslaved men and women learned trades to make tools and textiles, care for livestock, process food, and construct and repair many of Mount Vernon’s buildings, including the Mansion itself. Some of the buildings include the blacksmith shop, smokehouse, stable, spinning house, and many more. There were also four gardens: the upper garden, lower garden, botanical garden, and a flower garden and nursery. Each garden served different purposes including providing food for the Mansion and experimenting with new plants. Washington also had a farm called the Pioneer Farm where enslaved workers put Washington’s innovative farming and fishing practices, hoe fields, cook over a fire, sheer sheep, and harvest crops into practice. Also, on the estate there was a distillery and a gristmill; today, the property has fully functioning reconstructions of the distillery and gristmill where George Washington’s whiskey, flour, and cornmeal were made.

The estate is also the location of the tombs and memorial where the Washingtons and enslaved individuals were buried and are remembered. There are two tombs: the old tomb where the Washington family were originally buried and the new tomb that was constructed under George Washington’s request; then the whole family located in the tomb were relocated to the new one. Also, there is a slave cemetery where the Mount Vernon staff is conducting an ongoing archaeological survey of the Slave Cemetery on the estate. According to their website, they stated about the slave cemetery:

From an archaeological standpoint, the best way to commemorate the lives of those free and enslaved individuals who lived and died at Mount Vernon is to thoroughly document the locations of individual burials on the landscape.

Mount Vernon also has a memorial dedicated to the enslaved individuals which is located about 50 yards southwest of George and Martha Washington’s tomb, on a bluff above the Potomac River.

The previous information I learned about Mount Vernon is only some of what I have learned in virtual tour. I recommend learning more about George Washington and Mount Vernon through not only the virtual tour but also through the education resources available on the official website. What I learned from this tour is the staff at Mount Vernon are continuously dedicating their efforts to preserve its history as well as investigate the untold stories the estate holds.

Links:

https://virtualtour.mountvernon.org/

https://www.mountvernon.org/

Upper Garden Livestream: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lqQi93Ao65Q

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/

Museum Memories: Noah Webster House

May 23, 2019

Here is another entry for the Museum Memories series which are blog posts about my experiences working in the museums. This series began as a Patreon request to help support the blog and website.  In case if one is not aware of Patreon, it is a membership platform that provides business tools for creators to run a subscription content service as well as ways for artists to build relationships and provide exclusive experiences to their subscribers, or patrons. On my Patreon page, one can give requests for the next topic on the blog. To learn more, check out my Patreon page after reading this blog post; the link to the page is here: https://www.patreon.com/lindseysteward.

The Museum Memories post this week is my experience at the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society in Connecticut. According to its website, the mission of the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society is to engage citizens by preserving and sharing history, promoting literacy and advocating greater cultural understanding. It is located in the restored 18th-century birthplace and childhood home of Noah Webster who was the creator of the first American dictionary and the Blue-Back Speller, a teacher, a lawyer, and early abolitionist. The Blue-Back Speller, also known as the Americas Spelling Book, was published for students to use in their classrooms to learn the alphabet and how to spell words. After meeting with the Director of Education and reuniting with a colleague from Connecticut’s Old State House who is now the Executive Director, I was brought in to work at the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society.

I began working at the Noah Webster House after I graduated from Central Connecticut State University with my Masters degree in Public History, and I continued to work at Connecticut Landmarks in addition to this position. I taught school programs in colonial dress that were on site and at schools in Connecticut. Museum Teachers who taught school programs at the Noah Webster House received a binder of lesson plans. When I started I utilized the binder to get background information to use in programs, and I followed veteran museum teachers for a few programs to see different ways they executed the programs. Also, I went through the clothing supplies to see which costumes would fit and once I found the right outfit I continued to wear it in each program I taught.

Before the school groups arrived, we discuss as a group what station each of us would like to start then each museum teacher is given a schedule with times we should spend at each station (that we adjust based on when the school groups arrive). At the start of each onsite school program, teachers, chaperones, and students are greeted by the museum teachers and Director of Education and they are introduced to what they should expect during the program. Then students are split into groups and are sent with each museum teacher to the station. During the program, we follow the rotation based on where we started and follow the route until we visited each room so we do not end up in the same room at the same time. What we teach in each room for the most part depended on what program is scheduled for that morning.

The programs I taught during onsite school programs at Noah Webster House that were the most popular were Sampler of Early American Life and A Day of Living History. In the Sampler of Early American Life program, students have the opportunity to explore the historic house and learn about colonial clothing, foods, and medicines, while also trying their hand at 18th-century “women’s” and “men’s” work in each of the rooms of the house. Teachers also have the opportunity to add on either the Colonial Schoolhouse or Hearth Cooking to their students’ experience. In the museum part of the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, there is a reproduction of a one-room school house that each museum teacher including myself bring students in to talk about and demonstrate what going to school was like back in the 1700s. Also, we have a recreation of an 18th century kitchen we use to have students help create flatjacks and the museum teachers cook the flatjacks over the hearth.

In the A Day of Living History program, students research and play the roles of families who lived in Noah Webster’s neighborhood in 1774. When students arrive at the house, we each play a role of who they were back in 1774 and the museum teachers as their 18th century counterparts tell them that Mrs. Webster would like some help with chores to prepare for that day’s dinner (or lunch in the 21st century). The students moved around the house as they did chores, attended school, learned how to dance, play games, and cooked their lunches they will have at the end of the program. One of my favorite aspects of this program, and the Sampler program, is cooking over a hearth because it allows the students to see how their hard work pays off when they share what they made together; each group has the opportunity to add ingredients to vegetable stew and hoecakes, and churn butter to spread on top of the hoecakes.  Everyone, including teachers, museum teachers, and chaperones, gets an opportunity to try vegetable stew, hoecakes and butter. Also, I always got a kick out of playing my 18th century counterpart not only because I can work on utilizing my old acting skills but when I was assigned to the counterpart she was a 50 year old widow who took care of her son and his children; at the time I was in my 20s so the kids would always get confused when I talked about my grandchildren, and I would be laughing on the inside.

I also traveled to schools in Connecticut to teach pre and post visit programs so we would know how much the students know before coming and after their visit. Plus I taught a colonial  summer program that would last at least a week where kids learned colonial crafts, completed chores, cooked corn chowder, play games, explored Noah Webster’s house and garden, and learning about farm life at Westmoor Park including taking care of barnyard animals. My experiences have been valuable to me as I look back on my time at the House. I learned more skills including learning how to cook more recipes over a hearth and colonial dancing, and these skills I still remember today (it is good to know that if the power goes out and I don’t have a gas oven I will know how to cook over a fire).

If you have any questions about my experience, please contact me on my Contact page.

To learn more about the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, please visit their website.

Resources:

https://noahwebsterhouse.org/

https://www.patreon.com/lindseysteward

Museum Memories: Connecticut Landmarks Historic Houses in Hartford

April 25, 2019

In previous blog posts, I started a series of posts sharing memories of museums I have worked at. This week I am continuing this series to share my memories at Connecticut Landmarks where I started to work from towards the end of graduate school to when I moved to Long Island. Connecticut Landmarks, originally known as Antiquarian and Landmarks Society, is a state-wide network of eleven significant historic properties that span four centuries of New England history. It’s mission according to their website is to inspire interest and encourage learning about the American past by preserving selected historic properties, collections and stories and presenting programs that meaningfully engage the public and our communities. I worked as an educator and tour guide of two historic houses in Hartford, the Butler-McCook House & Garden and the Isham-Terry House.

The Butler-McCook House & Garden was home to four generations of a family who participated in, witnessed, and recorded the evolution of Main Street between the American Revolution and the mid-twentieth century. At this historic house, I sold admission, gave an introduction to the history of Hartford and the family who lived in the house, and provided a tour of the first and second floor of the house. There are a number of things I have enjoyed sharing about the house; for instance, there is a Bierstadt painting of an Italian village which reminded Reverend McCook and his wife of their honeymoon. Also, I loved sharing and listening to audio recordings of Frances McCook, one of Reverend McCook’s children, who shared memories of living in Hartford, in the house, and her family. Frances was the last living member of the McCook family who lived at the house, and she put in her will that the Antiquarian & Landmarks Society will own the house after her death. In the recordings, for instance, she talked about watching the snow come down with her siblings during the Blizzard of 1888.

In addition to sharing the information about the house with visitors, I also taught school programs, assisted with set up in gallery for monthly Cultural Cocktail Hour, and guided visitors through the garden during the Garden Gala. During my time at the Butler-McCook House, I was a part of the team that worked on revamping the tours by picking a theme of the house and researching the theme for a more engaging visitor experience. Each of us picked one theme to research on our own to present to the rest of the Connecticut Landmarks team, and I chose the Industrial Revolution and its impact on Hartford and the family.

The purpose of the theme I chose for a new tour was to show the Industrial Revolution had an impact on the city of Hartford especially on its residents including the Butlers and the McCooks. I chose five key objects that will support the theme and its purpose including Tall Case Clock which was made approximately 1750 by Benjamin Cheney, and this is an example of a locally made piece that was made before the Industrial Revolution to show the differences between craftsmanship and factory made items. Another example of a key object was the Mill Ledger C, 1818-1826 which was John Butler’s, one of the family’s ancestors’, ledger which recorded payments to men and women who labored in his paper mill; this revealed what the employees were paid for their labor in early industrial work. After selecting key objects, I chose key documents and photographs then created a tour outline highlighting the narrative relevant to the Industrial Revolution theme. While I worked at the Butler-McCook House, I also provided tours and worked programs for the Isham-Terry House.

Isham-Terry House, the lone survivor of a once vibrant Hartford neighborhood, is a time capsule of the genteel lifestyle of turn-of-the century Hartford once owned by the Isham family filled with objects of historical, artistic and family significance including antique furnishings, decorative arts, rare books, and the Terry clocks made famous by their great uncle Eli Terry. Like the Butler-McCook House, there are so many things that I found both interesting and enjoyed sharing with visitors. In this Italianate house, I loved pointing out the high ceilings not found in a lot of modern homes today and each room held numerous treasures that were well-preserved thanks to the two sisters  Julia and Charlotte Isham, who like Frances McCook left the house to the Antiquarian & Landmarks Society after they passed away. One of my favorite rooms was the library with so many books and an impressive fireplace; it once had the Isham’s pet bird that they once kept in their fridge after its death and the sisters decided one day to go to the cemetery to bury the bird with their family and have a picnic. Another room I admired was once a ladies’ sitting room that was converted into the sisters’ brother, Dr. Oliver Isham’s, doctor’s office, and once he died the sisters basically locked the door which meant it was for the most part preserved as it was while Dr. Isham was alive. While I was at Isham-Terry House, I not only gave tours of the house, I also assisted with holiday tours, and a lecture and tour for nursing students.

Both of these historic houses have unique stories to share and I recommend visiting these places if one has the opportunity to do so. These houses also are a part of my journey as a museum educator where I both learned a lot about the significance of local history and practiced what I have learned from graduate school in museum education, history, and historic preservation. Each experience I have had has taught me so much, and I hope to carry on the lessons I’ve learned through current and future endeavors.

Resources:

https://www.ctlandmarks.org/

https://www.ctlandmarks.org/butler-mccook

https://www.ctlandmarks.org/isham-terry

Museum Memories: Stanley-Whitman House

February 21, 2019

A couple of weeks of ago I wrote about my memories of an internship I did with Connecticut’s Old State House. To continue the series of museum memories of my career, I started a museum educator position at the historic house museum, Stanley-Whitman House, in Farmington Connecticut while I was earning my Master’s degree in Public History at Central Connecticut State University. Stanley-Whitman House, according to their website, is a living history center and museum that,

teaches through the collection, preservation, research, and dynamic interpretation of the history and culture of early Farmington. Programs, events, classes, and exhibits encourage visitors of all ages to immerse themselves in history by doing, acting, questioning, and engaging in Colonial life and the ideas that formed the foundation of that culture.

It is located in the historic center of Farmington, and centered on the ca. 1720 National Historic Landmark house which is furnished with period antiques to reflect the everyday activities of Colonial life in Connecticut. Outside the house, there are period raised bed gardens, an apple orchard, and heritage stone walls. In 2004, the museum added a building that houses public service areas including a modern classroom, a period tavern room, post-and-beam Welcome Center, research library, exhibit gallery, and collection storage area.

While I was working as a museum educator at the House, I got to wear a costume in which I taught education programs for school groups between kindergarten and fifth grade. The programs I taught focused on educating students about life in the Colonial era and about the Native American life in Colonial Farmington. Each program had different stations the students spent time learning various aspects of colonial life, and rotated throughout the house and history center. For older students, I taught them how to cook recipes and I demonstrated how the food was cooked over the hearth.

During these programs, I learned early on about the importance of flexibility. School buses do not always arrive on time so when school groups arrive late myself and other educators have to modify our lessons to make sure the students get as much out of the program as possible. I also learned about how to handle the unexpected. When a group of fifth graders were acting up during a cooking lesson and after a number of times we told them to behave, one of the students got hurt as a result so I quickly raised my voice so the entire group can hear me tell everyone to stop what they were doing. As I continued my career, I understood there will be times unexpected things will happen and I would need to be able to be quick on my feet to handle the situation.

In addition to educating school groups, I also worked on a couple of projects that not only contributed to the Stanley-Whitman House but also fulfilled my requirements in the Master’s program. For instance, I took a Curatorship course and one of the requirements was to create an exhibit for a museum or gallery with classmates. A couple of classmates and I decided to work on an exhibit for the Stanley-Whitman to go along with their symposium In Plain Sight which focused on the history of slavery in Connecticut before the 1790 census. We used the resources available in the Stanley-Whitman House’s collections in the lower levels of the history center to research the slaves who lived in Farmington. According to the summary I wrote about the project, once we completed the research

The next steps for the exhibit were discussed during one of our group meetings after we shared what we found in our research. For instance, we discussed editing the biographical information found before creating the text panels. Then we discussed the possibility of adding some photographs related to slaves in Farmington and where they lived in the town. Once the exhibit is set up, we will be able to fulfill the Stanley-Whitman’s house mission for the symposium and our experiences in curatorship.

Another example of a project I worked on for the Stanley-Whitman House and as a requirement for my Master’s program was a capstone project as a final requirement for earning my degree.

I created a lesson plan according to the requirements of Teaching with Historic Places which uses historic places in National Parks and in the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places to enliven history, social studies, geography, civics, and other subjects to help teachers bring historic places into the classroom. According to the abstract I created for my capstone project

It focuses on eighteenth century New England women and it takes a specific look at the lives of two women who lived in the Farmington, Connecticut, Mary Steele Smith and Susannah Cole Whitman. Both were economically comfortable, two white New England women who were members of the First Congregationalist Church, but the lesson includes background information about the history of Farmington and about women of different social and economic status to inform students that not every individual who lived during the eighteenth century lived the same way Mary and Susannah lived. This lesson plan will aid school-age children in becoming more aware of the study of Early American women’s history and its significance to the overall local and American eighteenth-century history.

After I completed the project, I submitted it to the committee for approval and I gave a copy for my academic advisor to keep for her records and for the director of the Stanley-Whitman House at the time.

My experiences at the Stanley-Whitman House were important to me because they were a part of the beginning of my career as a museum educator and the lessons I learned here I carry throughout my career. All of my memories at the museums I work with guide me through my career and help me become a better museum professional.

Announcement: After next week, I will not be posting new material for the blog because I am going to focus more on my wedding planning since my wedding is a month away. I will try to share previous posts when I can.

Check out:

http://www.stanleywhitman.org/

In Plain Sight: http://stanleywhitman.org/Calendar.Details.asp?ID=484&Cat=Visit https://www.nps.gov/subjects/teachingwithhistoricplaces/index.htm

Patron Request: Museum Impressions, Abigail Adams Birthplace

Added to Medium, September 13, 2018

This post is made possible by the contribution from Patreon, a membership platform that provides business tools for creators to run a subscription content service as well as ways for artists and writers to build relationships and provide exclusive experiences to patrons. Is there a museum you would like me to write about? Do you want to talk about a book you are currently reading? Head over to my Patreon page to find out how you can support the website and blog.

After writing about my impressions of Plimoth Plantation, I was asked to write about my impressions about another museum I have visited during my childhood. I visited the historic house, the Abigail Adams Birthplace, while I was a teenager. The Abigail Adams Birthplace is owned by the Abigail Adams Historical Society in North Weymouth, Massachusetts. She was also the wife of the second President of the United States, John Adams, and the mother of the sixth President, John Quincy Adams. This visit was one of the significant visit to museums while I was growing up because it proved to me that my passion for history and museums is not a phase I would move on from; it would become a lifelong passion.

In my post about Plimoth Plantation, I pointed out that my passion for history and museums began with visits to museums like Plimoth Plantation. The living history museum was not the only museum I visited during my childhood. A lot of the museums I visited were with my family and with school field trips. When I went with my family, we used library passes for free or reduced admission to museums. There was an example of a visit to a museum that we happened to come across.

My mother, sisters, and I were driving through Weymouth to meet with family who lived in the area. On our way to a family gathering, my mother and I discovered the Abigail Adams Birthplace and because there was no parking lot we immediately pulled over to take a quick tour of the house. My sisters at the time were not as keen to see it so they decided to stay in the car. I remember there were a lot of trees surrounding the house and a small sign that indicated it was the birthplace of Abigail Adams. I remember thinking that we were lucky the house was open and that we were allowed to take a tour of the house. One of the guides told us the history of the house, and my mother and I soaked up the information we were given. We did not realize how much time had passed until my sisters eventually decided to come into the house. All of us did not stay for too long since we still needed to reach our family’s house for our family gathering. Since my visit there, I explored the website to see what the Birthplace is like today.

Other than the exterior of the Birthplace is painted differently than what I remembered, I discovered that the property surrounding the Birthplace did not change too much since I last visited the place. There were still a number of trees surrounding the house and a cemetery next to the house. It has been years since I visited the place so I do not know how much of the interior has changed. Based on the few pictures I came across, the interior seemed to be even more wonderful than I remembered. The pieces of furniture and various objects reflected the time period Abigail Adams lived in the house, and still gives me the sense of nostalgia I felt when I explored the house and other museums for the first time. This sense of nostalgia is combined with the knowledge I gained on history and public history, and I see the potential of the Birthplace and appreciate the Abigail Adams Historical Society’s efforts as it moves forward to preserve the home and maintain its relevance in the 21st century. When I explored the website, I was happy to see information and resources provided to capture visitors’ interest in Abigail Adams and the house she grew up in.

In addition to the biography of Abigail Adams, there are quotes from the letters she wrote to her husband John Adams. Also, there is also an archives of news related to the Abigail Adams Birthplace from the renovation work in 2012 to the 200th commemoration of Abigail Adams’ death that will take place on October 28, 2018. The website also gives a brief history of the Birthplace from when it was built in 1685 to its renovation in 1947 when the Abigail Adams Historical Society took ownership of the property. Between 2012 and 2013, there was a modern renovation on the Birthplace which was made possible by the Weymouth Community Preservation Committee grant, and the website included a video and a slideshow of the modern renovation process.

With this modern renovation, it opens up to the opportunities of more year round programming. I think that it is great the renovation took place since when I visited the Birthplace I was lucky that the house happened to be open on that day and I do not remember if the guides gave us information on when their open hours are for a future visit.

I hope that as they move forward in providing more programming, there would be information about field trips and provide more resources. The Abigail Adams Historical Society seems to be going in that direction because there are pages available to provide this information but they are left blank. They also engage with audiences on their Facebook page promoting their programs as well as sharing programs of their colleagues in other historical societies.

The Abigail Adams Birthplace website revealed that their open hours are typically on the weekends from 1pm to 4pm. It is five dollars per adult and one dollar for children under twelve years old. Private tours are also available and need to be planned two weeks in advance.

There is so much potential in this Birthplace, and based on what I see so far Abigail Adams’ childhood home is on its way to preserving its relevance in the 21st century.
If you can, please see this house for yourselves!
Resources:
http://www.abigailadamsbirthplace.com/

To Capture or Not to Capture: The Long Debate About Photography in Museums

Added to Medium, May 17, 2018

For as long as I can remember, I have come across a number of signs in museums that express their values in taking pictures within the exhibits. Museums post various signs such as “no photography”, “no flash photography”, and “no selfie sticks”. As a museum professional, I have received numerous responses from visitors who asked why they cannot take pictures, and a lot of them also began lengthy discussions about whether or not photography should be allowed in museums.

When I gave tours at the Butler-McCook House and Isham-Terry House, I have on occasion had to remind visitors of their no-flash photography policy. The reason why we told visitors about our policy is because almost everything in both of the houses, which were built in the 1780s and 1850s, are original to the house from the structure to the furniture, and from the silverware to the toys. Since the majority of the items in the houses are original to the families that lived in them, we want to protect and preserve the items for future visitors to enjoy. There are some visitors who respected the policy while others asked questions and expressed their thoughts on photography in museums.

It is tempting to take out a camera or phone to take pictures since one is able to capture the experience. At the same time, one can argue that it distracts from actually experiencing the visit to the museum.

In the New York Times article “At Galleries, Cameras Find a Mixed Welcome” by Fred A. Bernstein, he discussed the mixed reactions to photography policies. Bernstein revealed that some like Nina Simon support having cameras in the museum. According to the article, Bernstein revealed Nina Simon, executive director of the Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz, California, believed people rely on their cameras as extensions of their senses and that

In Ms. Simon’s view, “Museums should prioritize providing opportunities for visitors to engage in ways that are familiar and comfortable to them” — and that means using cameras.

Simon does bring up a good point in giving visitors opportunities to engage in ways that are familiar and comfortable to them; as we move forward into the future, technology has open up ways people can interact with artifacts including but not limited to interacting with them on the museum website and sharing their pictures on social media outlets.

Bernstein also pointed out that there are individuals who shed light on why not allowing flash photography in museums is not an adequate policy. His article shared a statement made by Mervin Richard, who is the chief of conservation at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Richard stated he had personally examined studies of the effects of light exposure on art and he concluded that there was little risk, and said the fear of the flashes damaging the art came from when people used flashbulbs (which could explode).

While the previous article’s discussion focused more about art, it did not include discussion about history museums and historic sites. The article “Why is taking photographs banned in many museums and historic places?”, written by Jay L. Zagorsky, focuses the discussion on historic places and museums.

Zagorsky shared five reasons that were used to answer the question posed in the article’s title. The first reason is camera flashes, which emit intense light, are believed to hurt paintings and the patina of delicate objects but research conducted by the University of Cambridge suggested that the use of flash poses little danger to most museum exhibits. The second reason is eliminating cameras improves the visitor experience since visitors, according to the article, are more likely to enjoy their experience when less visitors are stopping to use selfie sticks and causing traffic jams.

The third reason shared in Zagorsky’s article is by preventing photography ensures the gift shop maintains a monopoly on selling images. In other words, when photography is not allowed inside the museum or historic place the gift shop’s books, posters and postcards are the only legitimate source for high-quality images of a famous painting, statue or room. The fourth reason is it is believed by banning photographs this boosts security to prevent thieves from visually capturing and pinpointing weaknesses in alarm systems and surveillance cameras; it can be argued that uploading digital photographs to the internet is not more likely to boost museum security than compromising it.

Finally, the last reason shared in Zagorsky’s article is taking photographs often violates copyright protections. One of the arguments presented in the article was,

Copyright is more of an issue for modern artwork, especially when the piece is loaned to a museum. Museums don’t own the copyright of loaned paintings or sculptures since it resides with the owner or the original artist. However, today it is relatively easy to check if an image is being sold on the internet or used for unauthorized commercial purposes to ensure the copyright holder is paid their due.

A lot of the reasons presented in the article had counter arguments that makes it hard for museums to continue photography bans. Another thought I believe was a good point I think museums should consider is what Zagorsky shared; he stated

How can some museums generate more revenue and still satisfy our desire to take photographs? One simple model I first saw in the Natural History Museum in Rwanda is to charge a photography fee. Patrons can take as many pictures as they want as long as they pay upfront for the privilege.

I think museums should at least consider this idea since museums could not only protect copyrights and generate revenue but it would also allow visitors to capture their experience with the museums especially images that may not be included in gift shops.

Each museum has their own views about photography in its exhibits, and this debate would probably not be settled anytime soon.

What are your opinions about cameras and photographs taken by visitors in museums?

Resources:
https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/15/arts/artsspecial/art-museums-photography-policies-vary-widely.html
http://theconversation.com/why-is-taking-photographs-banned-in-many-museums-and-historic-places-66356

 

What are the Best Practices for Historic House Museums?

Added to Medium, May 11, 2018

I thought about more recently about my past experiences in the museum field, specifically in historic house museums. Like all museums, historic house museums take a lot of time and resources to run. As museum professionals, we search through various resources and have discussions among colleagues to figure out the best practices for our museums. I am particularly going to discuss best practices in historic house museums.

Each historic house museum has their own unique stories and artifacts to share with its visitors. I worked at a number of historic house museums in the past, and each have not only their own stories and artifacts but they also have slightly different missions from one another. The historic house museums I was a museum educator for are Stanley-Whitman House, Noah Webster House, and Connecticut Landmarks’ Butler-McCook House and Isham-Terry House.

The Stanley-Whitman is a living history center and museum that teaches through the collection, preservation, research, and dynamic interpretation of the history and culture of early Farmington. This museum facility is centered on a ca. 1720 National Historical Landmark house, furnished with period antiques to reflect the everyday activities of Colonial life in Connecticut. In 2004, public service areas of the museum, including a modern classroom, a period tavern room, post-and-beam Welcome Center, research library, exhibit gallery, and collection storage area, were constructed to assist in fulfilling its mission.

The Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society is located in the restored 18th-century birthplace and childhood home of Noah Webster, the creator of the first American dictionary and “Blue-Backed Speller”, a teacher, lawyer and early abolitionist. Its mission is to engage citizens by preserving and sharing history, promoting literacy and advocating greater cultural understanding.

Connecticut Landmarks is a state-wide network of eleven significant historic properties that span four centuries of New England history. It’s mission is to inspire interest and encourage learning about the American past by preserving selected historic properties, collections and stories and presenting programs that meaningfully engage the public and our communities. The two historic house museums I worked at were the Butler-McCook House and the Isham-Terry House, located in Hartford.

The Butler-McCook House & Garden, the only 18th-century home still remaining on Hartford’s Main Street, is a time capsule of Hartford’s past and the history of one family. For 189 years the Butler-McCook House & Garden was home to four generations of a family who participated in, witnessed, and recorded the evolution of Main Street between the American Revolution and the mid-twentieth century.

Inside the house, Connecticut Landmarks preserves the house with all the changes that took place over time. The house has original furnishings ranging from Connecticut-crafted colonial furniture to Victorian-era toys and paintings to samurai armor acquired during a trip to Japan. These objects were accumulated over the course of almost two centuries by members of this extraordinary clan, which included physicians, industrialists, missionaries, artists, globetrotters and pioneering educators and social reformers.

The Isham-Terry House is a time capsule of the genteel lifestyle of turn-of-the century Hartford. Dr. Oliver Isham purchased the 1854 Italianate house for his medical practice and as a home for himself, his parents and his three sisters in 1896. The footprint of the house remains the same as it was when it was built in 1854 with the three-story rectangular tower added in 1883.

This mansion has 15 rooms that are adorned with crown moldings, ceiling medallions, lincrusta wall coverings, hand painted walls and ceilings, gilt mirrors and valances, stained glass windows, elaborate gas-light chandeliers and many original kitchen and bathroom appliances and fixtures. It is filled with objects of historical, artistic and family significance including but not limited to antique furnishings, decorative arts, rare books, and the Terry clocks made famous by their great uncle Eli Terry.

All of the historic house museums I have worked for and visited focus their missions on community and education. While I have not visited all historic house museums in the country, I know that each one not only has a unique narrative but all historic house museums have to consider many factors that effect how they are run.

For instance, historic house museum professionals have to discuss interpretive planning. Interpretive planning, according to the book Museum Administration 2.0, is about deciding which interpretive messages will be carried throughout the organization, via exhibits, educational programs, marketing, and other forms of communication. At the Butler-McCook House, I was part of the team that worked on interpretive planning projects to brainstorm ways we can draw more visitors in while aligning the interpretive plan with the mission.

There are a number of steps that need to be taken when museum professionals work on the interpretive plan. According to my experience and in Museum Administration 2.0, a number of museum leaders and educators must collaborate to develop an interpretive plan which allows policy, planning, and process to flow out of the themes and messages the plan presents. I met with other museum educators, the executive director, an interpretive specialist, and site administrator to discuss the framework of the plan as well as the interpretive themes. Also, we discussed geographic and audience demographics from previous years. Museum educators were then asked to pick an interpretive theme to brainstorm ideas of new exhibits and tours using the narrative and objects in the collection related to the chosen theme.

Other considerations include but not limited to house maintenance, accessioning and deaccessioning objects in the collections. Also, historic house museums especially ones I have worked in have to figure out what to do with dangerous objects in its collections. I came across an article written by Jessica Leigh Hester called “The Most Dangerous Things You Can See in Museums” which listed a number of museums from around the world with the specific dangerous objects described underneath each museum mentioned in the article.

When I was working at the Butler-McCook House and Isham-Terry House, there were a number of items in the collection that would be considered too dangerous and each one had a solution to be sure they are not exposed to museum professionals and visitors. For instance, both of the houses had medicines used by members of both families who were physicians. Each of these were placed out of arms reach either in a closet behind glass (at Butler-McCook House) or in a cabinet (at Isham-Terry House).

Museum professionals at historic house museums have numerous things to consider, and would need assistance from colleagues and other resources. Last week I discussed how museum professionals find resources and the significance of these resources to assist in running museums. I discovered a website called Sustaining Places which is a site that has resources for small museums and historic sites which cover everything from administration to collections, and from curatorial and exhibitions to education and programming. Also, in addition to other resources from books and museum organizations, there are professional networks especially through the American Alliance of Museums. The American Alliance of Museums has a historic houses and sites network which was organized to create and maintain a welcoming network of museum professionals dedicated to the interpretation and preservation of important public histories, architecture, and culture.

Not all historic house museums are alike, and it is important for all museum professionals to learn and decide what methods work best for their organizations.

If you work in a historic house museum, what resources have you come across on historic house museums?

Resources:
https://www.ctlandmarks.org/
http://www.stanleywhitman.org/
https://noahwebsterhouse.org/
Genoways, Hugh H., Lynne M. Ireland, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, Museum Administration 2.0, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017.
https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/most-dangerous-museum-objects
https://sustainingplaces.com/
https://www.aam-us.org/professional-networks/historic-houses-and-sites-network/

What is the Benefit of Museum Partnerships?

Added to Medium, February 9, 2018

In previous blog posts, I have talked about how important it is for museum professionals to collaborate. Museums can also benefit in forming partnerships to work on projects to bring in more visitors and awareness to our organizations. We can learn a lot from each other on how to draw visitors’ attentions. I was inspired to write about museum partnerships based on my recent experience in meeting with another museum professional and planning visits between two museums. Also, I saw various articles written about partnerships formed for greater purposes for the community.

The articles I came across pointed out that partnerships come in different sizes and ways for their community. Seema Rao has talked about different types of museums and how there is potential for museums to create partnerships that will benefit all parties. Also, museums can also come together to promote their programs, lectures, exhibits, and other events to discuss the importance of art and technology. Another article I came across was an article in an early childhood educators’ journal that discussed why museums are beneficial for young children and how early childhood educators can utilize museums’ services.

In her article, called “What Can Museums Learn from Each Other”, Seema Rao pointed out that in order to maintain and increase audience members “museums of all kinds should be looking to others to see what is working.” Rao discussed what art and science museums have to offer, and the benefits of having art and science museums work together. She stated that “Art museums have already seen the power of interactives, and environmental installations. Science museums could learn from art museums on ways to draw adults.” While there is potential for art and science museums to collaborate, there is also potential for history museums can also learn from art and science museums on drawing more visitors into our organizations.

History and historic house museums assimilate art and science topics in their programs especially school programs. When I worked in history and historic house museums, I have taught school programs that talked about what paintings can tell us about what life was like in the 19th century. Also, in historic house museums specifically I have taught students how to cook 18th century recipes by using mugs since there were no measuring cups to accurately measure ingredients for a chemical reaction. Museums can form partnerships to learn from each other about bringing visitors in and sharing knowledge about topics.

As an Education Committee member at the Three Village Historical Society, I joined the rest of the committee to visit a museum in Connecticut to see what they had about volunteering and the exhibits they have in their spaces including a small section about the Culper Spy Ring. We met with the Director of Education who showed us around as well as answered questions we had about volunteers and developing volunteer programs. We continue to make connections with the museum to share with them our resources about the Culper Spy Ring.

Museums can also come together for educational purposes such as the relationship between art and technology.

There are fourteen Boston-area arts and culture institutions are teaming together to show how technology has affected our relationship to art. Each of these organizations planned a series of exhibits and panels between now and July. For instance, the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum has an exhibit called ‘Cool Medium: Art, Television & Psychedelia, 1960 – 1980’ through March 11th; the exhibit explores color television’s relationship to art of the era and its connection to mind-altering substances and spirituality. In Tufts University’s Art Galleries, artist Jillian Mayer creates furniture specifically designed to support human bodies as they interact with cellphones, tablets and computers.

Museums can be appealing to all ages especially young children, and partnerships between museums and early learning institutions recognize they can help children reach their full potential. The NAEYC, an organization that promotes high-quality early learning for all children, birth through age 8, by connecting practice, policy, and research, publishes a journal series called Young Children and one of their editions talked about the importance of creating partnerships with museums.

In the March 2016 edition of Young Children, an article called “Creating Meaningful Partnerships with Museums” discusses why museums are beneficial for both young children and early childhood educators. They argued that museums have much to offer young children, and described in detail how children at various age levels including but not limited to infants, toddlers, and preschoolers benefit from what museums offer.

According to Sarah Erdman, who wrote the article, teachers working with infants have seen firsthand how babies respond to stimulus such as high-contrast objects and bold images. By bringing infants to museums, they would be exposed to museum collections which have a wide variety of sizes, colors, textures, and movement. Also, museum exhibits can help advance language development and teachers are encouraged to talk to babies using rich and varied vocabulary. Finally, museums can be flexible in giving time for infants and their adults to interact with exhibits and because of this they may be explored at a time and pace suitable for infants and often have spaces set aside for baby care.

The article also discussed how toddlers can benefit from interacting with museums exhibits and programs. Museums can speak directly to a toddler’s ability to connect with concrete objects, and the variety of objects can also help toddlers understand that familiar objects such as houses can come in many shapes and sizes. Like infants, toddlers need flexibility and museums are able to accommodate for teachers to create experiences that work for their classes.

As a museum professional who is working in a children’s science museum, Erdman’s arguments are to my knowledge accurate since kids at the Maritime Explorium learn STEM lessons through hands-on activities and events. The Maritime Explorium’s preschool program, Little Sparks, shows children how fun learning can be while they develop the skills they need to reach their full potential.

We should continue to reach out to other museums and organizations to keep our institutions going strong.

What examples of museum partnerships have you experienced or read about? What benefits and challenges have you faced when maintaining partnerships?

Resources:
https://brilliantideastudio.com/art-museums/what-can-museums-learn-from-each-other/
www.wbur.org/artery/2018/02/07/art-tech-collaboration-exhibitions
https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/mar2016/creating-meaningful-partnerships-museums

Museum Education’s Canon: A Focus on Museum Education in Historic House Museums and Science Museums

Added to Medium, October 5, 2017

The September edition of Museum Education Roundtable’s Journal of Museum Education attempts to answer the question it presents throughout the Journal : “Does Museum Education Have A Canon?”

To answer this question, one has to keep in mind that it is not easy to come up with the definitive definition of museum education cannon. There are many different types of museums that exist in the field, and various things that they focus education programming on. All museums have this in common: museum education departments have the challenge of figuring out the right balance of taking into consideration visitor wants and their highlighted objects and/or exhibits when planning their programs.

Journal of Museum Education “Does Museum Education Have A Canon?” has a number of articles discussing the main topic. For instance, Hannah Landsmann’s “Who’s Speaking?” describes the development and implementation of a program at the Jewish Museum in Vienna called “Enfach so? So Enfach” or “It’s that easy? Yes!” students are asked to photograph works that interest them, either because they like the works or because they do not; the program allows students to be the arbiters of what is a central and important object for discussion, shifting the valuation of objects to the visitor-oriented action.

Merete Sanderhoff’s “The Canon, the Web, and the Long Tail” discussed about releasing images of artworks into the public domain that creates a new possibility for the public to challenge the canon or create their own based on access to previously inaccessible images. This means that what people find both interesting and useful is defined not through art educators nor curators but through their own engagement with the works.

Carolyn Halpin-Healy’s “Well-Chosen Objects Support Well-Being for People with Dementia and Their Care Partners” discussed a series of programs called the Arts & Minds programs which aim to promote the well-being for people with dementia and their care partners. Ultimately, the choice of artworks for both contemplation and dialogue is contingent on intersecting criteria that also take into account symptoms of dementia, accessibility, participant interests and the inherent qualities of the art.

As seen in the previous examples the main focus of this edition was on art history canon, but the guest editors did point out that the questions posted in the Journal extend to other museums as well as art museums.

My experience in the museum education field provides some examples that answer the Journal’s question. I have some experience in the art history field but my main experiences have been in historic house museums and a children’s science museum.

An example of working with art history in addition to 19th century history is my work at the Long Island Museum. Like what was discussed in Halpin-Healy’s article, the Long Island Museum has a program that focuses on engaging individuals with dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other mental capacities called In the Moment program. Each program encourages discussion which inspire participants to remember their past memories. The programs are adjusted based on the what is on exhibit and what the groups are interested in. For instance, a group may be interested in visiting the museum’s Carriage Museum to learn about the parts of the carriage by feeling the parts and discussing what they see, and they use the things that inspire them to discuss about their own personal past.

While I was at historic house museums in Connecticut, each of the historic house museums find the balance between the focus on objects and appealing to visitors. There are many historic house museums in this country, and each one has to figure out how to adapt to visitors needs using the objects in its collections. For instance, Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, the Butler-McCook House in Hartford, and Noah Webster House in West Harford have unique narratives that tell a piece of Connecticut history.

Each location has objects displayed in their rooms that illustrate what life is like in the past. The discussions in group tours and school programs encourage visitors to not only engage with but to also make connections with the exhibits and activities that will make the experience personal. A lot of ways that are used in history house museums, especially the ones I worked in, used period costumes to help visitors step back in time to understand history on a more personal level.

Stanley-Whitman House, a living history center and museum that teaches through the collection, preservation, research, and dynamic interpretation of the history and culture of early Farmington, programs focuses on colonial history using objects in the rooms. Each museum teacher wears period costumes while using items such as cookware to describe what individuals in the 18th century ate especially in Farmington.

Butler-McCook House is the only 18th century house standing on Main Street in Hartford, and is a time capsule that preserves Hartford’s history and the family’s history. While the house primarily focuses on the McCook family during the late 19th century and their artistic and intellectual interests, the school programs are adapted to the needs of the visiting groups. Public group tours and school groups that walk through the house are encourage to discuss their personal experiences of hanging out at home and they learn more about the McCook family lifestyle at home which would create personal connections to the history presented in the home. Visitors understand the similarities and differences of what home life is like between themselves and the McCook family.

Noah Webster House engages citizens by preserving and sharing history, promoting literacy and advocating greater cultural understanding. School programs focus on both 18th century American history and the history of Noah Webster who created the first American dictionary by using objects to immerse themselves in what life was like in 18th century West Hartford (or West Division as it was called then).

Science museums also have to address museum education canon in their programming. At the children’s science museum I work in, Maritime Explorium, we encourage students and visitors of all ages to participate in hands-on activities and projects. that promote STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) learning. Each week has a different main focus that encourages children to experiment, have fun, and learn the connections of these activities to the understanding of STEAM. For instance, one of the focuses was the science of harvest that focused on apples.

In this focus, apples are used to create star prints on paper using paints. Also, kids experiment with the browning process of apples. Kids use different liquids such as lemon and lime juice to see how well they can prevent apple slices from turning brown, and therefore make the apples last longer. By using apples, kids not only have fun with apples but also understand how the preservation process can be used to make fruits last longer.

Based on my experiences, I would say that museum education does have a canon. Museum education canon focuses on making educational experiences not only engaging for visitors of all ages but make a lasting impression that encourages return visits.

How would you answer this question: does museum education have a canon? What examples have you seen in museums that prove museum education does (or does not) have a canon?