Thursday, June 30, 2011

You've donated an what happens then?

A couple of years ago, we covered the artifact donation process...i.e. what to do if you have an item you would like considered for donation into our collection.

But if an item is accepted by our museum, what happens next?

So glad you asked!

Once we accept legal title to an item, we follow a detailed process of assessment, stabilization, record-keeping, and storage or exhibition. In layperson's terms, we check the item out, clean it up, assign it a number so we know where it came from, and decide where to put it.

The numbering process is as (if not more) important than the preservation aspect of museum work. If we don't have the artifact marked correctly, then we may not be able to associate it with its correct provenance (history and geography). This provenance is critical for passing long term information on to future visitors and museum professionals!

When an item is accepted into our collection, the first thing we do is make sure the donor fills out a deed of gift. This transfers legal title of the object to us, allowing us to care for it. We then assign the object an accession number, which allows us to track when the artifact entered our collection and what items came with it at the same time. For example, if Jane Doe donated 32 items at the same time, these items would all be considered one accession. If Jane donated two items in one year, and two items in the next year, they would be considered two separate accessions.

Confused? Just think of the word accession as meaning "batch."

From the accession or "batch," comes a more specific number called the catalog number. When an artifact is catalogued, it is more thoroughly assessed and each item within the accession is given a unique number to distinguish it from its "batch-mates."

Most museums follow a three or four part numbering system that tells you a lot about the item just by looking at the number. The first number is typically the year the item was accessioned, the second number is the number of the accession within that year, and the third number denotes the item number within that accession. For example, if Jane donates her 32 items in 2011, and her items were the third batch donated that year (Tom Jones and Sue Blue got there before her), one of her items' catalogue numbers might be 2011.3.12. This number serves as a unique identifier, much like a Social Security number.

Here at the Village we use a slightly different system replacing the second number in the series with a donor number. In this case, each donor is given a unique number relative to the overall number of donors we have. If Jane was the 546 donor we'd ever had, then one of her items donated in 2011 might have a number that looks like 2011.546.12. This only becomes an issue if Jane donates more than one accession/batch of items in 2011. In that case, careful record-keeping can help distinguish the timing of each donation.

Still with me?

Our brave curatorial/collections ancestors had to keep track of every museum item through a series of printed pages, card catalogues, and eventually primitive databases. Thankfully NOW we can rely on sophisticated museum management software that allows us to include artifact photos and detailed records that are available at the click of a mouse. We still have to keep backups of our records (CDs stored off-site and printed copies in a binder), but the ease with which we can locate our items is amazing.

The computer records are worthless, however, if we cannot match them with a specific artifact. Since we've already determined what the item's unique number will be when we catalogued it, we need to make sure this number is directly, visibly, and physically associated with each item. Museums adhere to the principle of reversibility when dealing with artifacts. This means that any action we take MUST BE REVERSIBLE. While early and well-intentioned folks may have marked their collections with Sharpie marker, this practice is NOT appropriate with current standards.

Depending on the item, its physical properties, and the quality/sensitivity of its material (wood, cotton, glass, metal), it can be marked a number of ways. Most items here at the Village are marked using a "painted" number. A barrier layer of B-72 is applied, the catalog number is applied with white or black fluid acrylic, and the number is "sealed" with a topcoat of medium gloss. This combo can be dissolved in acetone should the number need to be removed (reversibility). Catalogue number placement is also important. The number should be legible and positioned where it can be easily located by a collections staff member but can be somewhat concealed while on exhibit (i.e. inside the rim of a cast iron dutch oven). It does, however, need to be placed where it won't easily be rubbed off over time (i.e. not on the bottom of a cast iron dutch oven). Other methods for marking items include sewing a Tyvek label inside/on textiles and tags made from inert paper and material.

Once the item is marked, it is then fully entered into our collections database. We use PastPerfect, but there are a number of options from which a museum can choose. The database is where we enter all donor and provenance information. And even though we have carefully marked each item, we record other identifying information such as dimensions, materials, maker's marks, etc. This information aids in identifying objects should the numbers become illegible or separated from the artifact.

We also complete a "condition report" on each item. This allows us to note damage, irregularities, and, as the name implies, overall condition so that we can determine how an item is faring while on exhibit or in storage. This helps ensure that we are caring for each and every artifact in the best way possible! Condition reports are completed at the time of each donation and then periodically throughout the item's lifespan. At this point, we can also recommend what action can or should be taken to prolong the life of the artifact (i.e. remove dust, apply protective artifact wax, seek professional help from a conservator, remove item from exhibit).

This just a small taste of what goes into processing an artifact donation. Other steps include item research (to flesh out provenance), creating storage or exhibit mounts, and educating our historical interpreters about the new items they may be telling visitors about!

Correct accession and cataloguing procedures, while time-consuming and labor intensive, are truly rewarding and satisfying. They enable us to give an object "life" and meaning. They allow to us to locate a family treasure within minutes instead of months. They ensure that each artifact's story will be able to be told for generations to come. And that's a pretty great trade-off, if you ask me.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Upcoming events at Log Cabin Village...

Wow! What a great fall line-up! Mark your wouldn't be the same without you!

Please note: The Village will be closed for maintenance August 22-September 5, 2011.

September 18 & 24, October 2 & 15, 2011
1-4 p.m.
Come enjoy the delightful sounds of Buttermilk Junction, an Old-Time & Anglo-Celtic band, from right here in Fort Worth. They play and sing historical "Roots Music" - tunes and songs from frontier Texas of the mid to late 1800s. No reservations required. Cost is regular Village admission.

September 24, 2011
Noon-4 p.m.
Celebrate Smithsonian Museum Day and Fort Worth’s “Day in the District” at the Village! Enjoy a day full of music and living history for the whole family. Admission is FREE for this day only!

October 15, 2011
1-4 p.m.
Grab your pumpkins and shock your’s time for a good old-fashioned Frontier Fall Fest! You’ll be able to grind grain by hand, shell corn, thresh wheat, “bob” for apples, press tortillas and more. We’ll also have help celebrating the harvest with friends from the Greater Fort Worth Herb Society, Silversmyth Julie Hiltbrunner, Wyatt Earp dealing the card game Faro, Cooper Dan “Five Buckets” Tatum, and Buttermilk Junction Old Time String Band, just to name a few! Bring your own carved or painted pumpkin to enter our “best design” contest (judging at 3 p.m.) For a small additional fee, you can even make your own festive corn husk doll and/or copper bracelet to take home! Cost is regular Village admission plus $3 craft fee for corn husk doll and $5 craft fee for copper bracelet.

November 12, 2011
1-4 p.m.
Time to start thinking about those holiday cards! Come have your photos taken with our historic St. Nick! No reservations required. Cost is regular Village admission plus a $5 fee for photo and folder.

November 12, 13, 19, & 20, 2011
1-4 p.m.
It’s candle-making time! Come dip your own candles to take home. No reservations required. Cost is regular Village admission plus a $3 fee to dip candles.

December 17, 2011
1-4 p.m.
Enjoy holiday music, string popcorn and cranberries, spin the dreidel, help make pomander balls, tamales, paper chains, embossed cards, ornaments, and more! You can even have your photo taken with our historic St. Nick ($5 fee for photo and folder). No reservations required. Cost is regular Village admission plus a $2 craft fee to make a punched tin ornament.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Chicken and cornbread and beans...oh my!

We had the best time at the "Whatcha Got Cooking?" daycamp this morning! Thanks so much to our "cast iron" chefs and the Village People for another great program!

Photos can be found on Facebook...

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Cottage on Crestline Gets a Makeover...

Blog entry courtesy Kelli Pickard, Log Cabin Village and Van Zandt Cottage Director

The historic Van Zandt Cottage sits, unassuming, in a grove of trees on Crestline Road at the edge of Trinity Park. I like to think that the Cottage ponders its past as it gazes at its modern surroundings. It recalls the days in the 1860s that it was constructed of mortised timber framing with a raised wood framed floor. The days that the land on which it was constructed spread out roughly to what is now Montgomery Street to the west, 7th Street to the north, the river to the east, and I-30 to the south.

The land was owned by many people, but the A.G. Scoggin family bought it in 1866. The Cottage was part of the land purchase started by Major K.M. Van Zandt in 1869. The Van Zandt family lived in the Cottage from around 1872 until 1878 when they moved to a larger residence on the corner of Penn Street and Johnson Avenue. The Van Zandt family retained ownership of the home until 1936.

The City of Fort Worth purchased the Cottage along with most of the current Cultural District from the K.M. Van Zandt Land Company on March 6, 1936 for $150,000 in connection with the construction of the Will Rogers Memorial Center and the Frontier Center for the Texas Centennial. The home was then restored by and placed under the guardianship of the Daughters of the Confederacy and the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (who withdrew their support shortly after the restoration to focus on the Alamo).

The Ethel N. Nichols – Van Zandt Cottage Foundation contracted with the City of Fort Worth from 1965 to 1996 to care for the home. On September 16, 1996, the maintenance, preservation and management of the Cottage reverted back to the Parks and Community Services Department under the care of the staff at Log Cabin Village since the Cottage is a 19th century structure.

On November 21, 2000, the Parks and Community Services Advisory Board endorsed the Master Plan for the Van Zandt Cottage, the oldest home in Fort Worth still on its original foundation and a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark. The adopted Master Plan included construction of an office with a separate climate/humidity-controlled storage area for artifacts and a handicapped accessible restroom; accessible flagstone walkways and parking area; removal of post-1936 restroom; and, total restoration of the 1850s era cottage.

Some of the early achievements of the Master Plan were: Phase I - the construction of an exterior restroom and storage facility on the grounds along with accessible walkway and parking area (May 2002); Phase II - the removal of the mid-1900s era restroom on the back of the Cottage (February 2003); Phase III - the removal of small artifacts (April 2003); Phase IV - exterior cleaned and painted; shutters and chimneys repaired; rear porch constructed (all in April 2004); and the completion of a restoration plan (March 2005).

With funding from the Van Zandt Cottage Trust Fund, established by donations from the dissolved Ethel N. Nichols - Van Zandt Cottage Foundation and continuing individual contributions, a Restoration Plan was commissioned with Arthur Weinman Architects in 2005. The results of this plan were a comprehensive internal and external examination of the condition and history of the 19th century home.

The Restoration Plan was shared with the Board of Directors of the Van Zandt Cottage Friends, a non-profit 501(c)(3) established in November 2004, at their March 5, 2005, Board meeting. The plan for the Cottage was then approved by the Parks and Community Services Advisory Board on July 19, 2005.

Once the Friends formed, the City of Fort Worth and the Cottage had a partner in preservation and fundraising. A key element of the Restoration Plan was finally achieved – the stabilization of the historic foundation. This started Phase V of the master plan. In the summer of 2007, the entire house was raised, and a perimeter beam foundation placed underneath the historic log beam foundation. The Cottage was now stable enough to start tackling the rest of its restoration needs.

The restoration process is progressing now from the outside-in. By working first on the protective exterior shell, we can then move to the inside and work on more cosmetic issues such as trim, wallpaper and painting. The Friends of the Cottage have recently funded the restoration of the Cottage windows (May-June 2011). This process is almost complete and will be followed immediately by repair work on the front door and restoration of the shutters. The Van Zandt Cottage serves as an excellent example of the importance of partnerships, preservation, and stewardship of our historic resources.