Monday, April 25, 2022

Curating Chemung County's Cool Collection

 By Monica Groth, Curator

The job of a Museum Curator is to safely handle, document, and house an institution’s object collection and design exhibits through which those objects can educate and inspire visitors. I am extremely excited to be joining the dedicated staff at the Chemung County Historical Society as I fulfill this role and I write now to introduce myself to you all!

I come to Chemung County from Aurora, New York, a small village in Cayuga County where I spent my summers finding shards of pottery, rusty nails, and fossils in the lake, gorges, and cemetery by my home. Many years ago, while thinking myself a true archaeologist and with treasures in hand, I visited my local Historical Society at a young age to proudly present my finds. This is when I discovered the purpose and promise of Historical Societies and Museums: to preserve the history of our lives and our homes—the everyday and the unique things that make us who we are and our county what it is to us.

One of my main tasks here at the Museum has been processing new donations whilst exploring the Museum collections. In doing this work I’ve discovered that much of the collection was donated by people very like the younger me. A 16-pound Civil War cannonball donated by Thomas Mallow was found by his father, Glenn Mallow Jr., while digging a WWII victory garden on the site of the Prison Camp. An Eagle Bottling Works Bottle, donated by Elaine Harrington, actually dates to the 1880’s and bears a newspaper clipping suggesting it was unearthed by a curious boy in the town of Chemung.

The donors to our Museum have given many fascinating objects that memorialize the lived experiences of themselves, their families, and their homes. Anne Beattie donated the clothes her parents wore on their wedding in 1939. Larry Bowman donated a collection of gifts received from Horsehead’s sister-city, Bato-Machi, Japan by the 1993 delegation. Betty Clauss donated her husband’s 1960-1964 US Air Force Uniform.

All these donations and more help the Historical Society fulfill its mission, and those donated in 2021 will be on display in the “New to the Vault” exhibit this summer!

A peek into the diverse collections: telephones, typewriters, assorted ladies' fan, shoes, and hats!

I love working as a curator because it allows me to get up close with these historical artifacts and the stories surrounding them. Before working here in Chemung County, I studied at the Mystic Seaport Museum, Connecticut and the National Museum of Bermuda. Some of the coolest maritime objects I studied at these Museums include a whaling harpoon-gun, used on the island of Bermuda; a 200-yr-old figurehead, once mounted on the bow of a ship; and a barometer which used shark liver oil to predict the weather!

I am looking forward to the many interesting objects and stories I’ll be showcasing here at the Chemung Valley History Museum. Visitors are always welcome and I’m eager to meet the community whose stories I’m now privileged to know. Keep exploring. And if you are willing to donate, come on down to the History Museum and add to the amazing collection!

This exhibit case, the newest addition to the Mark Twain's Elmira exhibit, features Mark Twain's quill pen, an c.1890 inkwell, and his thoughts on the area in his own words

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