Thoughts, musings, events, conservation treatments, fundraising updates, and all else that the staff experiences! Including behind-the-scenes observations from interns and photographs from the Museum's collection.
|Posted by Melissa Houston on September 27, 2013 at 8:00 AM||comments (0)|
This year I participated in the #AskACurator day. This event had over 600 museums from over 30 different countries available on Twitter to answer questions. Some interactions were direct but other people posted general questions for anyone to answer. Just as I would answer one question, 24 more would appear with the hashtag and I was in complete social media overload! Here are a few of the more interesting questions I answered:
@DrDonnaYates: Everyone should be showering @BarnumMuseum with great #AskACurator questions! Do you spend more time presenting objects or the man?
@SpinsterAunt: @BarnumMuseum Did the whale really boil alive in its tank at the American Museum fire in NYC in 1865?
@CurateReynolda: What object from your collection has given you goosebumps recently? #askacurator
@TinctureofMuse: Hello curators! Do you read reviews of your exhibitions? Do you change anything because of a review? #AskACurator
@BackusPageMuseum: #AskACurator what's the oddest item you've accessed into you collection?
@JillianJ: @BarnumMuseum @AskACurator Guess on the lighter side, have you seen Barnum the musical and did you like it?
It was never ending and always engaging. People asked philosophical questions, history questions, simple questions, and hard questiosn. And as I watched the ticker go mad throughout the day, one post caught my attention:
@polarmuseum: Collection on fire? We'd save Capt Oates' sleeping bag, Parry's barrel organ and the last letters of Scott's Polar Party #AskACurator
I had to pause and frantically engage in conversation with the Polar Museum because we too have a sleeping bag from a polar adventure! The story on their sleeping bag is that Capt. Oates, who was sick and freezing to death with the rest of his expedition party, wanted to save his friends from caring for him so one night he got out of his sleeping bag and walked into the polar abyss. Our sleeping bag is from the rescue of the Greeley expedition by the USS Bear. Greeley and his men were researching and barely surviving for three years in the North Pole. When he was rescued, there were only 6 men out of the 25 original party members still alive. From talking with the Polar Museum, it would seem that very few of these polar artifacts survive today. Ours was donated just years after the 1881 expedition to the Bridgeport Scientific Society and has been at the Barnum Museum ever since! But in the words of @polarmuseum, "moulting reindeer skin is a conservation nightmare!" Can't wait for #AskACurator day next year.
|Posted by Melissa Houston on September 20, 2013 at 10:05 AM||comments (0)|
Let's admit it, when meeting someone new your first question is often "what do you do?" And by that, the questioning individual means "what is your job?"
When I answer "registrar" I am met with blank stares or sometimes a question about college grades and transcripts. So my tagline for being a registrar has become "I research and catalog artifacts." This is true of my position because we are a small institution and I have the luxury of researching. But for many museum registrars there are too many very complicated, very legal, and very important documents that they handle on a daily basis and so "paperwork" is our job.
Every artifact has an accession file which includes not only a deed of gift but also an object card, related research, conservation reports, and a record of loans. Some museum's have enormous collections that are loaned frequently. Loan documents are very important legal documents that establish ownership as well as perimeters for the borrower. Imagine borrowing the Mona Lisa without proper paperwork... suddenly the woman is smiling in my bathroom instead of the Louvre! All of these documents provide information on the safe handling of the artifact and are important for the curator, researcher, visitor, and registrar alike.
I must say my favorite part is acting as a detective. When someone seeks information on an object, the first place to look is the object's file. If there isn't additional research on a pair of opera glasses and their maker, for example, I must track down that information. Why do we have opera glasses in our collection? Did Barnum own them or use them? How did the owner find these opera glasses? What could have brought the glasses to Bridgeport? Was there an opera house in Bridgeport that PT Barnum could have, would have attended? It is always fascinating to see the connections between our materials and our history!
|Posted by Sebastian Dumoulin on August 23, 2013 at 11:00 AM||comments (0)|
|Posted by Sebastian Dumoulin on August 2, 2013 at 9:20 AM||comments (0)|
P.T. Barnum traveled the world, and on one of his trips he happend to land in Paris. While in France he atteneded the auction of a deceased Russian prince's belongings and decided to partake in the bidding. The prince had unfortunately put his "Coat of Arms" on many of the items that were to be auctioned off, and due to this, no one was buying them. Luckily for Barnum, he was facinated by the china set and successfully bought them. By doing so, Barnum "adopted" the deceased Russian prince's "Coat of Arms".
For the past two weeks I have been on a mission to find out more information on the deceased Russian prince and/or his family. Why would Barnum want another "Coat of Arms" when there is already a "Barnum Coat of Arms"? It's a very interesting story, and one that I plan to get to the bottom of. But first, anyone fancy a cup of tea?
|Posted by Sebastian Dumoulin on July 12, 2013 at 9:10 AM||comments (0)|
P.T. Barnum’s second wife, Nancy Fish, donated Pa-Ib, a 4000-year-old Egyptian mummy, to the museum on August 15, 1894. We recently received over 200 high-resolution images of Pa-Ib and the sarcophagus, which were taken by the folks over at Yale. It is amazing to see, in great detail, all the different features and elements of the mummy.
My job was to go through these 200 images and pick out about 30 that summarized the entire experience as a whole. After numerous painstaking hours (total exaggeration), we picked the best 32 photos that we believed represented Pa-Ib and her journey. Here is one of my favorite photos of Pa-Ib.
|Posted by Sebastian Dumoulin on July 5, 2013 at 9:15 AM||comments (0)|
Happy Belated 4th of July to everyone! Due to the holiday, there was not a lot going on at the Museum this week, however, today is a very special day! Born on July 5th, 1810, P. T. Barnum turns 203 years old today! Although he doesn't look a day over 107....
Barnum was born in the small town of Bethel and slowly but surely grew up and became the man that we all know today. Without many of his accomplishments, and yes failures, i am sure that life as we know it would be very different.
So from all of us here at the P. T. Barnum Museum, we wish you Happy Birthday Mr. Barnum!
|Posted by Sebastian Dumoulin on June 28, 2013 at 10:35 AM||comments (0)|
This week the Barnum Museum team welcomed two new faces for a few days. With open arms, the Museum welcomed Kasey Grier and Neil Harris; both are here to help with a special project.
Kasey Grier is the Director of Museum Studies at the University of Delaware and Neil Harris is Professor Emeritus of History and Art History at the University of Chicago. Neil is also the author of the definitive biography of P. T. Barnum, “Humbug: The Art of P. T. Barnum”.
Kasey and Neil are working with the Barnum Museum to help with the “NEH (National Endowment for the Humanities) Grant” for the digitization of the core Barnum collection. They are here to help with the first phase of the process, which is to determine the most significant artifacts and archival items to digitize for the museum. With the help of myself, Adrienne Saint-Pierre (Collection’s Manager) and Melissa Houston (Registrar), Kasey and Neil dove into the collection.
It was an interesting experience to work with Kasey and Neil, two very knowledgeable people, and I learned a great deal by working with them. And of course, no week would be complete without a little work with the inventory…but I won’t get into that again. Until we meet again!
|Posted by Sebastian Dumoulin on June 21, 2013 at 10:10 AM||comments (0)|
This past week has been packed with tasks, both small and large. Ranging from the inventory of more stacks, to researching facts for future tweets. At any point throughout the past few days, there have been multiple people doing multiple things. The tasks I have been working on include aiding in the inventory of Stack 13, finding some good ideas to tweet, researching circus performers and organizing the dreaded Mummy folder.
Stack 13 is filled with more items and artifacts from Bridgeport, yet more importantly many of the items have to do with “The Barnum Institute of Science and History”. There are a lot of documents pertaining to the members of the Institute and also documents detailing different events and happenings that took place at the Institute.
One of my newer tasks has been to research “fun-facts” about Barnum and about his life, and put them into 160 character phrases for twitter. This is a lot harder than it looks because all of Barnum’s stories and such are very long. We have a book in the back room with hundreds of stories that Barnum wrote down, and most of them are very funny, however they are just impossible to condense.
Two of the other tasks I have undertaken are organizing the Mummy folder, along with researching circus people that performed in Barnum’s circuses. There is a lot of stuff happening in the museum, a lot of juggling of projects and multitasking. But that just makes everything so much more interesting, there have been a multitude of times where I have worked on a few items at the same time, and somehow ended connecting them all together. That’s part of the magic of working in a museum, especially one dedicated to Barnum.
|Posted by Sebastian Dumoulin on June 14, 2013 at 10:10 AM||comments (0)|
Week four has come to a very soggy end, however it has been unbelievably educational as well. This week I focused on inventory, mainly on that of the shelving units located in our back office. There are 15 shelving units, each with 4 or 5 shelves on them, and on each of those shelves there are boxes upon boxes of different items. My task has been to help the staff locate all these items, figure out where they are supposed to be, and update the inventory list with what is missing or has been moved.
Needless to say, it is a very hard process. Each box can have anywhere from 10 pieces of silverware, to 200 individual photographs, and it is our job to go though each and every item and make sure it is in it’s right place. At times it almost felt that the shelving units had it out for us, there were so many of them. The unit I was working with yesterday was dedicated to Bridgeport, CT. Two of the shelves were filled with items made in Bridgeport that could be found in homes anywhere from 50-150 years ago. These items consisted of old “Underwood” typewriters, “G.E.” toasters and even a fluting iron. The other shelves on this unit contained boxes of old sewing machine parts, photographs of the “Wheeler & Wilson” sewing company, along with some pictures of historic Bridgeport.
It is definitely an experience working with all of these historic items, creating an inventory, just going through them all and realizing that people took these pictures or used these machines, decades ago. It is a feeling that I won't forget. 'Till next week!
|Posted by Sebastian Dumoulin on June 7, 2013 at 10:10 AM||comments (0)|
Hey everyone! I am Sebastian and I am one of the new interns here at the Barnum Museum. This is my third week of interning and I finally believe I am getting the hang of everything. There is a cornucopia of information just waiting to be researched and I dove right in. With the Museum unfortunately not technically up and running, there is a lot of “behind the scenes” work that needs to be done. Over the past few weeks, the largest task I have undertaken is learning how to give tours. With the help of Marian, our resident “Barnum Genius”, I have been taking down the facts and am able to competently give tours around the “People’s United Bank Gallery”, which houses a large portion of our Barnum artifacts, paintings, and other accessories.
Another task I have learned how to complete is cataloguing items that we receive from donors or museum transfers. But before I could do this, I had to learn the ancient art of handling museum artifacts. One does not simply walk into a museum and pick up an item, you need to put on special gloves, work at a “bubble-wrapped” table and be very, very, very careful. At first it seemed a little daunting handling any item that I had to catalogue, but after a few deep breathes I was able to catalogue my first piece. Now, I have catalogued almost a dozen artifacts and I feel much more comfortable the entire process.
Stayed tuned over the following weeks for more posts from me while I completely plunge myself into museum life!