Saturday, August 29, 2009

Update from the Delaware Art Museum

Theresa Handwerk,
Delaware Art Museum,
Education Department Intern,
Wilmington, Delaware

Summer is winding down, and schools and museums are getting ready for the academic year. At the Delaware Art Museum, one of my projects is wrapping up and my energies are being directed towards my other major project.

My project of researching stories from the turn of the last century is, comparatively speaking, nearing completion. I still have several to scan from books and microfilm, but I have standardized the process and completed the majority of the task. The main goal of the project was to collect the stories to have them on file for access by the docents (and curators, if needed). The next logical step of the project might be to read and summarize all of the works; however, while some of the stories are very brief, many are in book-length form. I broached this topic with my supervisor and she agreed that with a collection of stories that will ultimately number about 75, it would be a monumental task to read and summarize them all. For the time being, the project will stand as is, with each reader summarizing a work as they wish.

My other major project, the self-guided gallery brochure, is now in full swing. I have changed and redefined my theme several times - it's still in progress - based on what works are on permanent display and what speaks to me (and, hopefully by extension, the audience). Since I have been at the museum for several months, I am trying to take a longer, more realistic view of tasks and projects - what would be different if I were a museum employee instead of an intern? As I was becoming captivated by the research and creative thought process, it occurred to me to meet with my supervisor and pose the following question: If I were a paid employee, just how much time would I have to work on this type of project? She indicated that, if no deadline is required, progress is made during time available and a self-imposed deadline created. My next step with the brochure is to develop about a paragraph of information and questions for each work of art that will pique the visitor's interest and get them thinking about my chosen theme.

In the near future, I'm looking forward to interviewing school children about their experiences at the museum, as well as participating in as many of the cool events at the museum as possible. The Delaware Art Museum has a new special exhibit, Exposed!, which explores artistic appropriation and influence. We are also offering a number of films and even a Facebook Fan Night with live music. Come check us out!

A Lesson in Historic Preservation

Stephanie Lampkin
The Read House and Gardens
New Castle, DE

Maintaining a historic house takes a lot of time and money, both of which always seem to be in short supply. Restoration, repairs, and other construction work must occur regularly in order to keep the site intact. The last time construction occurred at the Read House was in the 1980s and it is due for repairs. For several years, the Read House staff have been planning a
nd now, thanks to a grant from Save America's Treasures, that construction is finally taking place!

Prior to the start of the construction work on the exterior of the house to repair the
masonry and 70+ windows, Michele asked me to gather information from images to determine the extent of some of the restoration work completed in the 1980s which would prove helpful for the current project. During the first week of construction, I also went around and photographed the architectural features of the interior and exterior of the house, which will be useful for the conservation easement.

I have also helped Michele to monitor the progress of the construction. As the painters stripped and washed the windows, dust and water began to make its way into the house. While most of the leakage was minor, it proves how important it is for staff members to monitor the construction work closely.

From the Collections Management point of view, objects in the Nursery, pictured left, and the Servant's Quarters, pictured right, had to be moved away from windows, and in some cases covered with sheets, so that they would not be damaged. More fragile objects have been packaged and moved to the attic or taken to the collections storage area in Wilmington. The ongoing construction, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year, has also caused the museum to temporarily change its hours. Inviting visitors while the construction work was in progress was proving to be difficult. The noise from the work as well as the hazards of walking through both entrances became problematic. As a result, Michele made the decision to open the house for one tour at the end of the day. I was more than happy to act as the Read House tour guide during that period.

Watching this entire process has been exciting and very valuable. I cannot wait to see the house once the construction is completed!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Read House and Gardens

Stephanie Lampkin
The Read House and Gardens
New Castle, DE

The Read House and Gardens is only one of the institutions under the umbrella of the Delaware Historical Society. Located in historic New Castle, the Read House has been inhabited for over 170 years by three families; the Reads, the Coupers, and the Lairds. The first owner George Read II, who moved into the house in 1803 after it was completed, was the son of the powerful politician George Read. His father was one of the few men to sign both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. George Read II always had aspirations to become as prestigious as his father. Though he never became as remarkable as his father, his house has become a treasure for the state of Delaware. The house, a 22 room mansion, was given to the Delaware Historical Society upon Lydia Laird's death in the 1970s and reflects the changing lifestyles and society throughout Delaware's history.

As an intern my primary focus is Collections Managment, but I stressed to Michele Anstine, the Director, that I was open to exploring other aspects of the museum including education programming, development, etc. I also wanted to have an opportunity to work in the other institutions affiliated with the Delaware Historical Society such as the Research Library and Delaware History Museum. The very first week, I jumped right in and took a detailed inventory of all the objects in the Tap Room, shown on the right, in the basement. Armed with gloves, a flashlight, paper, and a pencil, I recorded all of the accession numbers on a variety of objects including antique guns, ceramic bowls and plates, whiskey bottles, and, glass jugs.

The Read House has recently instituted a formal cataloging system and collections policy, and I have worked closely with the Collections Manager, Jennifer Potts, who divides her time between all of the institutions. Since she is only at the Read House on Mondays, I have taken on the tasks of the Collections Manager throughout the rest of the week. When items need to be packaged and stored in the attic, cleaned, moved, added to the inventory, or if accession numbers need to be added, I do it! For the remainder of the internship, I will be tracking and taking inventory of all objects in the remaining rooms including the Kitchen.

I also had the opportunity to venture down to Wilmington and take a tour of the collections storage area. Jennifer showed me the HUGE collection of paintings, jewelry, weaponry, dinnerware, textiles, toys, and furniture and discussed how they should be properly packaged, stored, and maintained.

Even more exciting is the fact that the Read House is currently undergoing restoration work! Learning about the process of restoration (which starts with hiring a consultant, documenting damage, applying for funding, hiring a contractor) has been very helpful. It has been especially valuable to observe how the staff handles the collections pieces during this process. For more information, highlights, and interesting facts, you can subscribe to the Society's blog at