Monday, January 29, 2024

The Great Move

 by Phoenix Andrews, Curatorial Assistant

How do you move over 500 objects? 12 weeks ago, I joined CCHS to work on a project we nicknamed “The Great Move." The project, the relocation of items from an offsite collections facility, has involved time, access, and information. 

The first visit to the collections facility was a bit overwhelming. Seeing the physical objects in person was a very different experience than just reading a list of them. My role was to help determine which items would go where. It would take multiple trips to the facility, each carefully arranged ahead of time. While some trips allowed us to pack up small objects and bring them back to the museum, other trips resulted in setting items aside to be relocated later that would need a moving truck.

First glance at off-site storage

When determining whether an object should be kept here at the museum or can be moved off-site there are various factors to consider, but they can be simplified into a few categories, like material, condition, and amount.

There are two big questions to consider when it comes to evaluating object material. First, is the object fragile and/or likely to deteriorate? Second, does the object contain hazardous materials? If an object is fragile or likely to deteriorate, such as fabrics, unprotected wood, and rusting metals, it means they are more sensitive to deterioration. They require close observation to make sure they are in the exact climates needed to preserve them. In that same vein, if an object is made of a hazardous material such as mercury, lead, or arsenic, it is important that it is in an environment that doesn’t cause any adverse reactions or cause any deterioration.

Not all objects the museum receives are in good or original condition. Conditions determine whether the object needs frequent monitoring, something that staying in the museum can offer. Any objects affected by erosion or with broken or missing pieces are going to be more susceptible to further damage. Some objects have what is called an ‘inherent fault.’ An object in this condition is at heightened risk of deterioration and can fall into one or more of the following categories: short-lived materials, structural nature, and history. Short-lived materials are anything that was not created with long-term stability in mind; Cellulose acetate film is a good example of this. If cellulose acetate film starts to deteriorate it releases acetic acid, which not only accelerates its own deterioration but also can start deterioration in surrounding film and metals. Structural nature refers to objects that were either poorly constructed or objects that have conflicting materials that may adversely affect each other. An example of this would be a piece of furniture that has leather touching a metal component. The leather has the potential to cause and accelerate erosion to the metal. History of an object, refers to how it was used or how it was stored before coming into our collection. This can include things such as a wooden bowl that was used to store oils and is now saturated, or an object that had been stored in someone's basement. Inherent fault is certainly one of the largest factors we have to take into account, as it is not always easy to determine if an object has inherent faults. However, the more you work with these objects the easier it is to recognize potential issues. 

The simplest factor by far has to be the amount of an object we have. For example, if we only have one of an object, we are more likely to keep it at the museum due to its uniqueness in our collection. On the other hand, if there are numerous duplicates of an object, like hammers, we consider relocating offsite or possibly deaccessioning some objects. 

With this information in mind, I got to work digging through our database and started making a list of potential objects to relocate. When I started, I was doing very specific searches. I was looking at things I already knew we had multiples of or would have no issue being off-site. The further I got into the project the more broad I opened my search terms to eventually just skimming through the different categories we can classify our objects into. In the end, I had gathered nearly 900 objects that could be relocated offsite.

A side project that blossomed from the first part of this project was the creation of an exhibit at the museum. Named after the project “The Great Move” it shows off a few of my favorite objects that we discovered and is an example of the variety of objects in the museum’s collection. 

Objects in the Great Move exhibit

During this project, I learned a lot about the inner workings of museum collections and how, even with standard practices in place about recording information regarding our collections, each person who works within it will add their own unique twist on it. In viewing the collection’s entire non-textile objects in our database at least twice, I’ve been able to see the notes of those who were here before me. I could see what they determined as important information and the different ways notes on objects at CCHS have been entered. One of my favorite aspects of history is to be able to feel connected to others through their own writing. Doing this project I feel like I have gotten to know many of those who work in the collections before me. 

In the coming days my project will be reaching its end. The final objects will be moved, and with that, my time here will be coming to a close.

Phoenix at work

In the summer of 2022 I had the amazing opportunity to intern here at the Chemung County Historical Society and to have been asked back to lead this project is something I will always be grateful for. In both instances of my time here, the staff here took me under their wing and I have grown as a person because of it. I will never be able to fully express my gratitude to everyone I have worked with during my time here. I cannot wait to see what comes next.


1 comment:

  1. This was an important job. Thank you for all your hard work.