Behind the Exhibition Scenes: Condition Reporting

Posted on September 25th, 2013 by

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!

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 (This is only superseded by marking accessing numbers on artifacts.)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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

You’ll have to come to the Passages Through the Fire exhibition to learn about the individuals who wore these medals and badges.

 

JobiA blog post by Senior Collections Manager Jobi Zink. To read more posts by Jobi, click here.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Reinforcement Crew

Posted on June 10th, 2013 by


AAM logo
Although the AAM conference didn’t officially begin until Sunday, 35 collections care professionals and conservators gathered together in Baltimore on Saturday morning for a pre-conference workshop: The Reinforcement Crew.

Mark Ryan began the Reinforcement Crew in 2007. This year he condition reported an entire tea set belonging to civil rights activist Lillie Carroll Jackson. For more information about Lillie Carroll Jackson: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lillie_Mae_Carroll_Jackson

Mark Ryan began the Reinforcement Crew in 2007. This year he condition reported an entire tea set belonging to civil rights activist Lillie Carroll Jackson. For more information about Lillie Carroll Jackson: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lillie_Mae_Carroll_Jackson

Now in its 7th year, the Reinforcement Crew is the brain child of Heather Kajic (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC) and Mark Ryan (Plains Art Museum, Fargo, ND) and is a sub-committee of the AAM Registrar’s Committee. While discussing a session proposal for the 2007 AAM Annual Meeting about the various “helping hands” projects conducted at the regional level, Heather and Mark decided to take it one step further and planned a day-long service project.

This is the 6th time Libby Krecek from Omaha, Nebraska has volunteered with the Reinforcement Crew. Look at that fabulous feather hat!

This is the 6th time Libby Krecek from Omaha, Nebraska has volunteered with the Reinforcement Crew. Look at that fabulous feather hat!

The goal is for collection professionals from around the country to volunteer their time and expertise to assist smaller museums and cultural institutions with collections-based projects that they couldn’t otherwise do on their own.

The Reinforcement Crew is an excellent way for Museum Studies students to get hands-on experience and supervision before beginning their professional careers.

The Reinforcement Crew is an excellent way for Museum Studies students to get hands-on experience and supervision before beginning their professional careers.

In Baltimore Reinforcement Crew dispersed to 4 different sites for a day-long hands-on collections project at the Evergreen House on the Johns Hopkins University Campus, James E. Lewis Museum of Art at Morgan State University, the Lillie Carroll Jackson House (currently housed at the JELMA), and the Fells Point Preservation Society.  We could see the impact of our work immediately.

With guidance from a Washington Conservation Guild volunteer, a Morgan State student constructs a box to house a dress.

With guidance from a Washington Conservation Guild volunteer, a Morgan State student constructs a box to house a dress.

For example, my group of 12–which included museum studies students, a museum board member and volunteer, and a photographer from the Washington Conservation Guild—began an inventory of artifacts from the Lillie Carroll Jackson House, including brief condition reports and photographs. Lillie Carroll Jackson started the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP –and had a wonderful sense of style!

After I untangled the beaded necklace, earrings, and a watch, they were housed in separate bags.

After I untangled the beaded necklace, earrings, and a watch, they were housed in separate bags.

We worked for 5 hours, contributing 60 man-hours of labor! We inventoried over 150 objects, but more importantly we did what amounts to 1.5 weeks of pure, concentrated collections work, which is nearly impossible to complete when you are working by yourself. I think many of us would have loved the opportunity to stay another day (or two or three) to finish the inventory!

The inscription on the back of this photograph appears to read, “To Mrs. Lillie May Jackson With all fond wishes to a distinguished citizen of Baltimore. Theodore McKeldin. Mayor, March 3, 1945.

The inscription on the back of this photograph appears to read, “To Mrs. Lillie May Jackson With all fond wishes to a distinguished citizen of Baltimore. Theodore McKeldin. Mayor, March 3, 1945.

According to James E. Lewis Museum of Art registrar (and former JMM intern) Nicole Paterson, “Months of work was done in just one day.”  Ten members of the Washington Conservation Guild and other Reinforcement Crew volunteers unframed and housed 100 works of art for the JELMA.

Lillie Carroll Jackson seemed equally fond of Mayor McKeldin. I love the details of his office in this souvenir.

Lillie Carroll Jackson seemed equally fond of Mayor McKeldin. I love the details of his office in this souvenir.

The Reinforcement Crew (and the regional groups White Gloves Gang, WCG Angels, and Helping Hands Brigade), is extremely successful because the participants know they are truly helping out their colleagues.  Many of the participants are familiar with one another through the Registrar’s Committee List-Serve, but the camaraderie is built while working together. It is also a wonderful opportunity to network, explore another museum’s collection, share knowledge, and learn something new. All of the participants in the Reinforcement Crew are all volunteers. In fact, they often come at their own expense!  Talk about dedication!!

Nikola Astles from the University of Vermont Museums, worked on Lillie Carroll Jackson’s shoes, which included a set of spurs!

Nikola Astles from the University of Vermont Museums, worked on Lillie Carroll Jackson’s shoes, which included a set of spurs!

The success of the Reinforcement Crew not only depends upon the voluntary time of museum professionals but also the generosity of vendors in the industry. The 2013 Reinforcement crew was sponsored by Terry Dowd Inc., Transport Consultants International (TCI), Materials & Methods and Bonsai Fine Arts. In addition to providing the necessary supplies, and refreshing libations, the sponsors also pitched in for the volunteer event.

Reinforcement Crew sponsor TCI proudly displays their certificate of recognition from the Registrar’s Committee at their booth in the Expo Hall.

Reinforcement Crew sponsor TCI proudly displays their certificate of recognition from the Registrar’s Committee at their booth in the Expo Hall.

At the end of the afternoon, the Crew gathered together for a reception at the Fells Point Preservation Society. We enjoyed some local treats including Utz Crab Chips and Berger cookies, tested the libations from several area breweries, and heard the praises of thanks from our host institutions.

 

Sebastian Encina from the University of Michigan Museum worked at the Evergreen House before he enjoyed a beer and watched the Preakness Stakes.

Sebastian Encina from the University of Michigan Museum worked at the Evergreen House before he enjoyed a beer and watched the Preakness Stakes.

donate-button

Support the JMM and all we do – donate today!

JobiA blog post by Senior Collections Manager Jobi Zink. Jobi is also the Museum’s Registrar and Intern Wrangler. Click here to read other posts by Jobi!

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Selecting Collections

Posted on February 15th, 2013 by

JobiA blog post by Jobi Zink.

Here at the Jewish Museum of Maryland our collections comprise material culture artifacts, written documents and photographs owned by, made by, or used by Maryland Jews. As you can imagine, this is a vast and varied assortment of materials! We cannot possibly take everything that is offered to us, so the Collections Committee reviews each item offered to determine what is in good condition; has potential for exhibition, publication, or education program; has context or a story; balances the ordinary and the specific and personal.

As the Registrar, it’s my job to screen everything brought in. Many donations come in as people are downsizing, or cleaning up the attic. Sometimes people just can’t bear to throw anything away. I will flatly reject completely unidentified photographs—if the donor can’t tell me any bit of information, the photograph isn’t going to be useful to anyone else.  Classified documents from the National Archives belong at the National Archives!  Items with active mildew or requiring thousands of dollars of conservation services are generally declined.

Documentary photographs are going to have to stand in for the original certificate.

Documentary photographs are going to have to stand in for the original certificate.

On the other hand, when the Jewish Times was moving their offices they offered us their photo collection dating back to the 1970s. Most of these photographs are identified by event, organization, and date, if not the individuals. While it will take us time to process everything, this is truly a treasure trove of documented Baltimore Jewish history!

Many artifacts come in as a direct result of a collecting initiative related to an exhibition.  For example, when we were preparing for Ours to Fight For, an exhibition about the Jews who served during the second World War, we truly wanted a photograph of every single Jewish serviceman and servicewoman from Maryland. While we couldn’t house more uniforms, we certainly had room to recording first-person accounts, stories, and experiences. We now hope to expand our documentation to Maryland Jews serving in all other eras.

Black and white photograph of the Matz brothers in their WWII service uniforms standing at the corner of Patterson Park and Fairmont Avenue (L-R): Herbert (US Army Air Forces) , Wilbur (Army), Lester (Army), Jacob (joined the army the following year) and Charles (in front.)

Black and white photograph of the Matz brothers in their WWII service uniforms standing at the corner of Patterson Park and Fairmont Avenue (L-R): Herbert (US Army Air Forces) , Wilbur (Army), Lester (Army), Jacob (joined the army the following year) and Charles (in front.)

Just last week I had a call from a woman who wanted to donate her mother’s navy blue Neighborhood Watch uniform that she wore for patrol during air raids during World War II, along with her Red Cross certificates and a ration book.  I was very interested in the item, as I hadn’t heard about neighborhood watches in Baltimore. Sadly, when I learned that the woman was from Northwest Pennsylvania I had to decline the gift.

2011.013.002 1As anyone who has visited our Voices of Lombard Street exhibition could tell you, East Baltimore was once a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. Rabbi Herbert Kessler’s ledger, 1940, provides the family name and address of the circumcisions he performed in East Baltimore. In 2011 the Museum purchased 10 trays of Hebrew wood block type used by Romm Press, owned by Leon Romm in Baltimore, to print posters for Yiddish Theater in Baltimore until 1945.

2007.054.005Baltimore has a rich history of breweries and brewmasters. The Hoffberger family owned National Brewing Company—and the Orioles! But we turned down an older, more historic bottle from the Gottlieb Baueren Schmidt Strauss Brewing company because it wasn’t Jewish-owned.

HP goblet010I do get very excited when we receive a trifecta—object, photograph, and document from a historic event. In 2010 we received the gold-colored vessel in which the Rogers Avenue Synagogue burned their mortgage in 1987 to accompany the program and photographs from the event

baltimore fireSeveral years ago, the Collections Committee decided that we have enough tallit, tallit bags, tefillin and tefillin bags in the collection and put a moratorium on collecting these items. However, when David and Zelda Schuman offered his grandfather’s tallis bag reportedly used for his bar mitzvah, held on February 8, 190 at the Russiche Shule (now B’nai Israel) with the story that the smoke and flames from the Great Baltimore fire could be seen, the committee made an exception!

2007.012.001As this is President’s Day weekend, I thought I might close with items in our holdings at the intersection of the Jewish community and politics.  One of the more surprising pieces of Judaica in our collection is a Kiddush cup engraved “T.R.Mc.K/ [Theodore R. McKeldin] Har Brook Hebrew Cong. June 24th, 1962.” While McKeldin certainly wasn’t Jewish, the Jews of Maryland were very fond of him. We also have a collection of tie tacks, and cufflinks given to him by various Jewish organizations. Other non-Jewish politicians are represented in our collection:  Governor Bob Ehrlich wore a suede yarmulke at the Governor’s Chanukah party, Martin O’Malley appealed to Baltimore’s Jewish population during his “Believe” campaign with a pin in Hebrew, while Barack Obama had bumper stickers with his name on it

Only about 1% of our collections are included in any exhibition, but the JMM is proud to make our collections accessible via an online database (jmm.pastperfect-online.com).  Please “tour” our collections to see what else we have!

Posted in jewish museum of maryland