Posted on September 25th, 2013 by Rachel
I haven’t sat at my desk must in the last two weeks, which means I haven’t returned phone calls or answered e-mails. If you’ve felt ignored by your favorite registrar-intern wrangler-supervisor- conference presenter-emergency management coordinator-photo order filler-type person, please be assured that I haven’t been ignoring you intentionally! I’ve been performing the essential registrar’s task of condition reporting.
My office is such a disaster area, I’m not sure you would even find me if I were in there!
Honestly, writing condition reports is one of my favorite parts of being the registrar. (This is only superseded by marking accessing numbers on artifacts.) What’s so exiting about doing condition reports, you ask? The answer is in the minutiae. The condition report is the document that describes the detailed condition of every facet of each artifact. A completed condition report will document how the objects looked when we received it from the lender—and note any changes that occurred while it was on display. This is a form of insurance protection. In addition to vandalism and theft, light, water, temperature and humidity, pests and honest accidents can easily affect the condition of artifacts on display. If a lender says, “I gave you that painting in perfect condition. Now look at it! It’s got holes in it. I want your insurance company to cover the damages.” We can show them the signed and dated condition report that clearly describes the size and location of each hole, scratch, dent, or mar when the piece arrived at the Museum.
So how do you begin making this report? I like to start with a basic template that includes the exhibition name, whether its an incoming report or an outgoing report, and spaces for basic information like object ID or loan number, exhibition ID, exhibition section, and object name. It could have a checklist of frequent condition afflictions—rust, discoloration, accretion, loss, folds, cracks—or it can be free-form (essay style!) there may be space to draw the object and its damage, though its more common now to just use a printed digital photograph. Some museums skip the paper reports altogether and use the condition report module in their collections database!
A blank condition report.
In the case of Passages Through the Fire, most of the artifacts came directly from the originating institution, and there were pre-existing condition reports. And, since this is a traveling exhibition, Bonni-Dara Michaels from Yeshiva University Museum came down to help condition report the objects. I was grateful because Bonni-Dara has already seen each object and she knew the object IDs, which helped facilitate the process of checking items on the list because one thing is for certain: I couldn’t tell one civil war soldier from the next!
Don’t panic that the registrar is not wearing gloves. The artifact is still wrapped in plastic.
I think Bonni-Dara and I made a great team for the condition reporting process. I would find the object in the box and call off its exhibition number, and Bonni-Dara would find the condition report. After unwrapping each object we would examine each piece. We’d compare what was written on the original report with the artifact in (gloved) hand. If there were additional problems that I found, Bonni -Dara could verify if these were pre-existing conditions. Fortunately, when dealing with Civil War era objects, its usually obvious when its newly damaged. Fortunately, there were few changes from the outgoing condition reports that Bonnie wrote after de-installation at YUM and the incoming reports that we worked on last week.
Using the flashlight app on the iphone helps the registrars examine the objects.
While the fall interns gathered around us for a lecture on traveling exhibitions and condition reporting, Bonni-Dara and I emphasized the importance of taking photographs during condition reporting. Our written condition reports were also accompanied by a photograph of the object, making the verification tremendously easy. By looking at the photograph, you can see if a crack in the painting was 2 inches before it shipped or if it had grown during transit or unpacking. The photographs could be used later, for insurance claims or conservation work if necessary, or just added to the database. The interns also got the opportunity to examine the artifacts and write condition reports themselves.
Rachel is really mad that I didn’t take a picture of the demonstration for interns, but here are photos of the interns with some of the swords in the Passages through the Fire exhibition.
Condition reporting is time-consuming business. You need to be detail-oriented and focused, with an extensive vocabulary related to damage (Fortunately, MRM5 – The Museum Registration Methods “bible” has an excellent glossary and sample templates). You need to know the object’s upper left from the upper right –and know if the person writing the original report was talking about the proper left—which is sometimes surprisingly difficult. It requires you to wear gloves while handling artifacts—and removing them to write the reports and to sharpen pencils regularly. While there is pressure to get the condition reports done quickly because the curator and the art handlers are anxiously waiting so that they can lay out the exhibition upstairs, (You’ll hear about this in an upcoming blog post about staging the Civil War.) Condition reporting cant be don’t in haste. You can’t flip through notebook and say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah it all looks fine. “ Because they don’t look fine; there is almost always something to write about.
Now that they are handling the frame of a painting, Jobi and Bonni-Dara have on their white gloves.
So why do I love condition reporting so much? Unwrapping artifacts for the first time is a bit like opening birthday presents! After discussing the artifacts with the curator and lender for hours, I’ve become attached to the stories that we will tell in the exhibition. There is so much excitement to see the artifact, to “meet” the people in the photographs, and “experience” the artifacts in person.
You’ll have to come to the Passages Through the Fire exhibition to learn about the individuals who wore these medals and badges.
A blog post by Senior Collections Manager Jobi Zink. To read more posts by Jobi, click here.
Posted on August 14th, 2013 by Rachel
It was a dreary Tuesday in Baltimore. My Dark Sky app predicted light rain for another 20 minutes. The interns exchanged their normal work attire for grubbies. It was the perfect day for a dumpster party!
2013 Summer interns [Front Row] Clare, Erin, Kathleen, Todd [Back] Kathy, Marissa, Elaine, Trillion had so much fun at the dumpster party, we took their “class picture” inside the dumpster.
We pulled out some ancient crates that have been hiding under staircases and tossed them into the dumpster.
Don’t worry, those crates were certainly used more than once!
Remember that really tall TV cabinet that we re-painted for every exhibition?
Visitors crowd around the TV cabinet at the opening of Nancy Patz: Her Inward Eye in April 2010.
Wheeled off on two dollies, turned end-over-end and flat on the bottom of the dumpster!
With flat-screen TVs we don’t need a huge cabinet anymore.
A couple of rolling chairs that no longer roll, and a dozen or so cracked vitrines were added to the pile.
Then it was time to tackle all of the cardboard bins. Unfortunately, we’re not allowed to throw them into the dumpster. But that didn’t stop the interns from breaking down a bunch of boxes by any means necessary—knife, scissors, keys, and some karate kicks.
Many hands make quick work.
They’re all stacked up and ready to go out with our next recycling.
Can you believe TODAY was our monthly pick-up and we missed it?!
Marissa was a bit sad about the amount of non-recyclable foam components and packing material there was. Kathleen was practical about the approach, “It had to be done.”
Besides re-using the material, what other options do we have for reducing landfill waste?
I called it a party, so of course we had cake…
…and cookies, and peanut M&Ms!
The JMM summer internship officially concluded on Friday August 9. On behalf of the entire staff of the JMM I would like to thank Trillion Attwood, Elaine Hall, Kathy Harper, Kathleen Morrison, Todd Nesson, Erin Pruhs, Yonah Reback, Clare Robbins and Marissa Walker for all of their hard work and contributions to the Museum this summer… including filling the dumpster!
A blog post by Senior Collections Manager and Official Intern Wrangler Jobi Zink. To read more post by Jobi, click here.
Posted on July 12th, 2013 by Rachel
If you’ve ever been on one of my behind-the-scenes collections tours, or read my blog posts, you may recall that one of my very favorite artifacts in the collections is what I call the “Goblet of Fire,” named, of course for the Harry Potter novel. Well, I found out more information about it! See previous posts Selecting Collections and The Goblet of Fire.
In the event that you’ve missed it, our “Goblet of Fire” is the gold-colored vessel that the Rogers Avenue Synagogue used to hold the ashes when they burned their mortgage back in 1975. Knowing that Harry Potter references aren’t exactly the preferred lexicon, in my catalog record I described the artifact as a “compote dish.” And it turns out I wasn’t too far off the mark.
A few weeks I was talking to Irwin Cohen, about the Chanukah House that his family created in the 1980s on Park Heights Avenue. Irwin’s father, Morris, had already donated some photographs and newspaper clippings about the festive home bedecked with colorful lights and oversized dreidels. I was interested in collecting some more personal items, such as notes, or cards, or stories that visitors shared with the Cohen family expressing what an impact this one-of-a-kind house had on people—both Jewish and non-Jewish.
The Chanukah House, as it was named by the Baltimore Sun. Photo by Stuart Zolotorow, 2001.
According to Irwin, he didn’t set out on a mission to create “the Chanukah House” when he picked up nine shiny knights at a shop in Williamsburg in July, 1988. He just thought they would make a really great menorah—and he had five months to build it. The first year, the decorations were pretty sparse –just the giant menorah and some lights.
The original menorah created by Irwin Cohen. The idea for the menorah began back in July 1988. Photo by Stuart Zolotorow, 2001.
Little by little, the family added to the display. The decorations were a combination of Chanukah symbols –dreidels, menorah—pop culture references such as Adam Sandler (“singing” the Chanukah song via CD player), Elmo from Sesame Street, teddy bears, Fiddlers on Rooves and general kitsch.
There was even a Chanukah Barbie scandal. Apparently the 3 ½ foot tall Barbie’s sleeveless evening dress was offensive to one particular woman, who thought she should be more modestly dressed in keeping with Orthodox customs. To mollify the woman, Irwin added a mink fur stole to cover her bare shoulders.
The JMM has Frum clothing for dolls in its collection.
Pretty soon people were driving past this Park Heights house to behold the spectacle Chanukah cards were sold featuring a photograph of the house in its splendor! In later years, there is a community-wide menorah lighting ceremony.
Children with their candles (or perhaps Harry Potter wands) gather in the Cohen’s front yard for the menorah lighting ceremony.
Many elected officials attended the event and got to light a candle, too. Irwin told me a story of how the Cohen family was enjoying dinner when they thought they saw Governor O’Malley with his young son (and two body-guards in tow) in front of the house. When Anne and Morris Cohen invited the Governor inside O’Malley said “Chanukah wouldn’t be Chanukah if I didn’t stop by the Chanukah House.”
Rikki Spector, Stephanie Rawlings Blake, Mayor Martin O’Malley, and Sheila Dixon attend the menorah lighting in 2007. Anne Cohen is in the background. Photo by Stuart Zolotorow, 2001.
I enjoyed “celebrating” Chanukah in July with Mr. Cohen.
Morris and Anne Cohen
A few minutes after we hung up, my phone rang again. It’s Irwin. He has another story for me. He had seen my blog post and had the answer to my question How Was this Bowl Chosen? In 1974 his grandmother passed away. The family received a number of fruit baskets during shiva including one in a gold-footed bowl from Raimondi’s. It was an attractive bowl, so they decided to save it.
A year later, Morris was looking for something to burn the mortgage in. Irwin, home from college, informed his dad he knew the perfect thing to use. He went downstairs and found the fruit bowl. The rest, as they say, is history!
A blog post by Senior Collections Manager and Registrar Jobi Zink. To read other posts by Jobi, click here.