Friday, June 6, 2014
Tribute to Finn Bower
I met Finn three months into my work with ANSM, when the Shelburne County Museum hosted one of my Collections Enrichment workshops. We had talked on the phone and by email a bit to figure out logistics, and by the time I actually got to Shelburne Finn made me feel like we'd been friends for years. Maybe it was because she had been at the museum for so long or maybe it was just her personality, or maybe a little of both, but it really felt like she was welcoming me into her home rather than her workplace.
I sometimes wondered if we would be at odds over digitization work, but I needn't have worried. Finn was of the generation of ledgers and paperwork, spending her time handwriting beautiful records that often included little sketches of the artifacts. The care and detail that she would put into her documentation was impressive. She would freely admit that she wasn't very comfortable with computers or digital cameras, but she always paid close attention when I would visit and show her the latest database changes or digitization techniques. She absolutely understood their importance and that we were opening some wonderful new doors to community engagement and online activities. So she championed other museum staff to become the experts in these areas. She knew the content, and they knew how to get it digital. She welcomed assistance and was always ready to participate in a special project. She thrived on opportunities to learn and improve things at the museum.
I sneakily scheduled my 2011 site visit to coincide with her final days on the job, and spent my time wandering the buildings with her, picking her brain. The knowledge she had of her community, and specifically the museum collection, was amazing. The pride she took in her work was unmistakeable. She could tell you where every artifact came from and why it was important; what story it told. She could tell you about every research request she'd received, and about visitors who left an impression for one reason or another. She was not only willing to spend time with visitors and answer their questions, but it was obviously a sincere joy for her to do so. It's no wonder she left such an impression with authors, researchers, and tourists alike. Her memory was impressive. Not only could she explain why something in the museum was done a certain way, she could tell you at which workshop she learned the techniques, even if it had been 20 years since she attended that particular workshop. I know that what she shared with me was just a tiny drop in the bucket of her knowledge, but spending those few hours with her and hearing her explanations had the director and I writing pages and pages of notes.
The high esteem in which she was held was very obvious at Finn's surprise retirement party. Over 40 people attended and even more sent regrets and best wishes. The Shelburne Historical Society presented Finn with a parting gift of a lovely bench for her garden. She was clearly thrilled and overwhelmed by it all. She told me that they had done too good a job keeping the party a secret; that a staff lunch the day before was all that she had been expecting. Thinking back to that conversation and the respect that was expressed at this party, it is no wonder that similar sentiments have been expressed since her passing. People have remarked on the same things; her impressive intellect, wonderful warmth, and nurturing nature.
After her retirement party I mused that Finn was the Shelburne County Museum and I couldn't imagine it without her. As with all things, life goes on and the museum has of course continued with its work. But whenever I visit Shelburne it feels like Finn is still there. I still expect her to come around every corner and greet me in her lovely melodic voice, to tell me about the latest exciting donation, fascinating research request, or interesting visitor. Her 31 years of curating can be seen and felt in every room in every building. She has left an indelible mark and a great void. She will be greatly missed.