Monday, June 30, 2014

June 2014 Update

Odds and Ends
June was a very slow month, not because there weren't a million things to do, but because I disappeared for a couple weeks for family reasons. I'm still pondering and processing the experience, and as with any adventure I learned some interesting lessons (and witnessed some inspiring museum work) so will probably end up blogging about that in the near future. But I digress.
As many of you experienced, I spent my office time frantically emailing and scheduling site visits and trying to wrap up a number of tasks prior to my departure. Since I'm still suffering from "vacation brain", I won't even try to tell you what these tasks were.

WWII Helmet - safe - no padding
WWI Helmet with Asbestos padding
Important Artifact Safety
There's a lot of chatter about WWI right now and many exciting programs being rolled out by museums around the world. This is awesome. Artifacts are being taken out of storage that haven't seen the light of day in years. Museum staff are handling items that haven't been handled in years, and some of these items have been added to teaching collections so that visitors can handle them as well. This is all well and good, except that certain materials used in these military items are extremely hazardous. Asbestos is one of the biggest problems and it was used in gas masks and the lining of helmets. And unfortunately these are exactly the things that visitors would love to try on or get a closer look at. Do not let anyone wear these items!
One of the things I often mention in workshops and sometimes during site visits is that people are more important than any artifact. The last thing I want to hear about is someone getting sick from handling something they should have left bagged on a shelf. For some fantastic info on how to keep your staff, volunteers, and visitors safe when working with military collections, please visit this link. If you have any other questions about this, please send me an email or give me a call and I can provide further advice on how to address these items in your collection. Thanks to our friends at The Army Museum for the suggestion of issuing this warning and for providing the images of helmets so you know what to look for.

Site Visits
Although I should be in the thick of site visits now, I only managed to get to four sites this month. But that still represents 8 hours of driving and many more hours of chat time at museums. Thanks to the lovely folks I've seen so far. As ever, your hospitality and graciousness and openness remind me how lucky I am to have this job. As I mentioned last month, I'm actively scheduling the rest of the summer visits, so if you want to request a particular week (or have dates that really won't work for you), please let me know. Otherwise I'll just keep working on things in my own random order. I look forward to seeing everyone again and meeting the new kids on the museum block!

Collections Database Info
Since I've been running the roads I feel like this month's update is mostly about our database stats. With all the insanity and travel preparations I didn't get to do any database review work this month. I hate to fall behind like that, but such is life. I'm confident that we'll still finish the project on time (ok, hopefully ahead of schedule) and will keep picking away at the work when I find myself in the office.
Now for the fun stuff. It's obviously summer time because a lot more new info was added this month compared to last month. 977 new records and 1,358 new images were added in June. I love those big numbers! We now have 198,917 artifacts and 85,755 images. We're getting bigger and better all the time.

Here's the regional tally:
Southwest - 102,183 artifacts, 38,368 images
Central - 40,508 artifacts, 18,562 images
Northeast - 29,722 artifacts, 19,369 images
Cape Breton - 26,504 artifacts, 9,456 images

Congrats to the Southwest Region for adding the most records and images this month!

Since we are focusing more on our locally made items, I thought I'd pull one for this month's photography lesson. What's more maritime than a handmade wooden buoy? The colour in this image is very good, but there are a few improvements that could have been made to the background and the use of a scale, etc. But I'm going to focus on one particular issue. The label. Labels are ridiculously distracting in artifact images. Sometimes we want to use them when we are doing documentary photography for internal use (ie conservation photos), but when this is the image that we'll be broadcasting online to the world, we don't want any labels to appear. So please please please, remember to remove your tags and labels prior to photographing an artifact. If you don't, I will call you out on it, especially if your labels include the name of a donor (you really shouldn't do that anyway, so if I catch you we'll be having a much longer conversation).

As a reminder to everyone, since I'll be on the road for most of the summer there will be delays in answering messages and following up on requests. But as you are all aware, my "to do book" never leaves my side so I will get to you eventually. All for now. See you on the road :)

Friday, June 6, 2014

Tribute to Finn Bower

It is with a very heavy heart that I share the loss of a key player in Nova Scotia's heritage community; the inimitable Finn Bower. Finn was one of those people whose reputation preceded her. She was a founding member of the Southwest Nova Curator's Group and one of the longest-serving curators in a community museum. She attended as many workshops and conferences as possible so was very well-known. From what I'd heard she sounded like a giant rather than a petite soft-spoken lady.

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.