Thursday, June 30, 2011

Museum Visit: Museum of Early Trades & Crafts in Madison, NJ

From June 2011
My apologies to the Museum of Early Trades & Crafts for clipping off the edge of their signage in my photo.

Last week, my mom and I had a lovely time visiting two Morris County museums, the one profiled in this post and the Morris Museum, where she's a member. (We also enjoyed a very tasty lunch at the newly re-opened Sirin Thai restaurant.) We hadn't originally planned to visit the trades and crafts museum, but we usually pass the building, so we decided to visit this time.

The Museum of Early Trades & Crafts started as a way for Edgar and Agnes Land, who lived in Madison and collected thousands of 18th and 19th century objects, to share their collections and educate people about the lives of the early artisans, craftspeople, and farmers in New Jersey. The building housing the museum is nothing short of gorgeous. It is often mistaken for a church, but carved into the stone over the entryway is the word "Library."

From June 2011

Opened on Memorial Day 1900, the Madison Free Public Library was a gift to the town from D. Willis James, a wealthy New York (originally from Liverpool, England) industrial capitalist. James had a summer estate in Madison, now known Giralda Farms (you may know it as the estate of Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge). We need another James today. He was so invested in the financial well-being of the library that he set up a trust fund for it based in the income raised from a commercial building he owned across the street from the library.

In the photo above, you can see one of the many beautiful architectural elements of the building. The archway to the Trustee Room shows seven seals from some of America's earliest colleges. Included are Queen's College (later Rutgers College, and eventually Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey), University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, Harvard University, College of William and Mary, Princeton University, and Columbia University. Above the wood with the embedded seals you can see hand-painted designs that continue throughout the building.

Below is an example of a painted column.

From June 2011

In each room with stained-glass windows are beautiful glass-art medallions or plaques within the windows that display inspirational quotations. I can only imagine how stirring it must have been to have sat in the building when it was a library, surrounded by all of the grandeur. It made me a wee bit jealous of the folks who have the good fortune of working in it today.

Below are just a few of those windows that I photographed while walking around the exhibits.

From June 2011

From June 2011

From June 2011

From June 2011

From June 2011

As we explored the building, I was particularly impressed by the main exhibit "Mariners, Merchants, & Pirates." The clever curators use mock magnifying glasses to spotlight items found at the port of Perth Amboy. They also use rope to frame educational materials. It is one of the niftiest exhibits I've seen.

From June 2011

In the exhibit, there is a wealth of information about the tools sailors used to navigate, keep time, build ships, and generally do their work. There also are facts on pirates and privateers (separated only in category by a legal agreement). The exhibit will be featured at the museum until September 4, so add a visit to your summer calendar.

If you can't make it now, the museum has permanent exhibits and changing exhibits, as well as a research library worth exploring if you're interested trades and crafts topics. The permanent exhibits show how craftsmen and artisans created everyday objects like barrels, shoes, cabinets, and more. There also are exhibits on printing (complete with a large press) and other trades.

For more information and to plan your visit, contact the very nice folks at the Museum of Early Trades & Crafts.

Friday, June 24, 2011

My Time at MARAC, Spring 2011 – Part 2, Improving Grant Writing Skills Workshop

As always, the Spring Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference held in Alexandria, Va. was more than worth the price of admission. My previous post hit the high notes of Rand Jimerson’s amazing plenary, and this entry will spotlight the incredibly useful Improving Grant Writing Skills pre-conference workshop.

MARAC’s organizers provided a great service for those of us who attended the workshop. They gave us access to leaders in the field, who actively engaged us in discussions and exercises designed to increase our grant-winning success. Our speakers were Lucy Barber, Deputy Executive Director of the National Historic Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC); Elizabeth Joffrion, Senior Program Officer, Division of Preservation and Access at the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH); and Christa Williford, Program Officer at the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). In these days of economic challenges, when many cultural heritage institutions are depending on grants to support their work, I cannot overstate the importance of this workshop and the ability to meet and learn from these three key women.

Prior to the workshop, we were sent three sample grant proposals, one from each organization represented by the speakers. They were not full proposals, but enough material to gain an understanding of what would make a successful submission. At the end of each proposal was a list of criteria for review. I was pretty critical in my review of each proposal so that I would have questions for the workshop. It was interesting to see what was required by each organization, and how detailed (or, in some cases, brief) the proposals were.

The handouts we received at the workshop were particularly helpful. We were handed a sheet providing an overview of what each organization does and does not fund. Further, we received a booklet that goes into much greater detail regarding the organizations’ exact grant programs, awards granted in 2010, and grant evaluation materials, among other handy facts.

During the workshop, each speaker described her role in the organization and how she helps grant applicants. Projects that tend to succeed as well as excellent tips were shared during their introductions. The speakers also talked at length about the importance of applications that lay the groundwork for best practices in the field (especially in the areas of digitizing collections (NEH); more product, less process (NHPRC), and cost control (CLIR).

I was very impressed by how invested they were in the applicant’s success. Christa Williford (CLIR) explained that her organization requires a pre-proposal as well as a final proposal in order to give applicants a chance to make corrections during the process.

After a break, we split into three groups. Each focused on one of the organizations, and was facilitated a speaker. Because I was particularly interested in the “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” program at CLIR, I chose that group. We reviewed the sample proposal and looked at the scholarly value of the collection, viability of the project plan, and technical approaches. Then we determined whether we would recommend the project and why, as well as suggested improvements.

It was a useful exercise because we were able to speak with and ask questions of our speakers in a small group. Afterward, each group shared their lessons learned, and the speakers gave us even more great tips. These are my favorites:

1. Make the project compelling – entice the reviewers to visit the collection and help them visualize the outcome.
2. Be explicit in explanations – spell out the innovation(s) in the plan; how is it a model for other organizations?
3. Work out as much detail as possible in addressing all the points, but be succinct.
4. Remember that you are writing for other archivists and curators in the field.
5. Collaboration is a winning strategy (work with other organizations to achieve the goal together).
6. Cost-sharing proposals tend to receive funding.

Finally, our speakers encouraged us to contact them during our grant writing process. They welcomed questions and made themselves available after the workshop for one-on-one conversations. Overall, I left the workshop feeling much more comfortable with the task of writing a grant application, and feeling much more likely to succeed.

Friday, June 17, 2011

My Time at MARAC, Spring 2011 – Part 1, Rand Jimerson’s Plenary

The recent Spring Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference held in Alexandria, Va. had many useful and interesting things to offer its attendees, but my favorites were the “Improving Grant Writing Skills” workshop and the plenary by Rand Jimerson. This post will hit the high notes of Jimerson’s talk, while the next one will spotlight the workshop.

Archives Power: Memory, Accountability, and Social JusticeJimerson, Professor of History and Director of the Archives and Records Management MA Program at Western Washington University, is a very well-known figure in archives and special collections circles. In fact, it was pretty exciting to hear him speak after having read some of his papers for MLIS courses at Rutgers. Jimerson spoke at length about the role archives play in the area of social justice. Afterward, he signed copies of his latest book, Archives Power: Memory, Accountability, and Social Justice.

In these days when electronic records are disappearing so quickly without a thought to their future usefulness, Jimerson reminded us of Enron’s shredding and Oliver North’s record destruction. I sat in the audience remembering when I worked for a company that didn’t keep files older than three years. Even then, not knowing I’d later choose a career in archival science, I didn’t understand how we could simply throw these materials into the recycling. They had value.

I fear that our collective history (especially the present) will not be as richly populated with archival materials as our past because the evidence no longer exists. That’s the problem with these remarkable MARAC speakers – they get into my mind and rattle around for a while, calling me to action.

Jimerson spoke about archivists having the power to shape collective memory. He moved us with stories about how archival work in South Africa is a process of reclamation and restoration. “Archivists cannot remain neutral or passive,” he said. Archival activism requires that we, as workers in that field, be more responsive to social needs.

He focused on nine ways we can be responsive and ensure archives by and for the people:

  1. Ensure diversity in the archival record.
  2. Welcome the stranger into the archives, seeking especially to include previously marginalized groups. “Records become witnesses to a silent society,” Jimerson said.
  3. Document our decisions regarding the acquisition and appraisal of materials, and make these criteria available to donors and the public.
  4. Provide oral testimony by creating oral histories. These incredibly valuable records provide intimate accounts of a large part of the world whose history only exists in oral form. Importantly, make the audio/video available, not just the transcription. Collect generations of stories from descendants, if possible, to preserve the oral tradition.
  5. Make archival description systems sensitive, meaning that we need to be more sensitive to social construction and think more about the way we present our finding aids.
  6. Provide inclusive access and be sensitive to culture, especially when it comes to reference service.
  7. Embrace new technologies. Promote openness and flexibility.
  8. Support open government, accountability, and democratic societies.
  9. Support public advocacy in support of the broader interest, and become whistle blowers, if need be (within a self-preserving construct).

Jimerson’s talk inspired me to take action where I can. He also helped me realize how fortunate I am to have “cut my teeth” at a place like Plainfield Public Library, that seeks to increase diversity in the collections, and is actively collecting oral histories from community members. I hope that in my future work, I can continue to follow Jimerson’s instructions above to be a better archival activist.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Book Review: This Book Is Overdue! By Marilyn Johnson

This Book Is Overdue is more than a year old, but was new to me when Sarah, the archivist at Plainfield Public Library handed it to me and said, "You will love this." She was right.

I enjoyed Johnson's book because it is a candid look at librarians and archivists from the view of a writer who adores libraries and people who work for them. (I nearly typed "people who work in them," but she writes extensively of the librarians who work within Second Life and who provide web-based services, so that terminology wouldn't be entirely accurate.)

The book focuses on exactly what library folks do to serve their patrons. Johnson relates story after story of how librarians and archivists go to great lengths to locate information, books, manuscripts, and more for writers and ordinary people who might not exactly know what they need. She gives high praise to helpful reference librarians, and well she should. The reference interview is not only a great tool, it is one that can be customized by its gifted user to yield world-changing results, as Johnson demonstrates throughout her book.

Among other topics, the author covers the eternal battle of IT vs. everyone else, but increasingly, I see job ads for "digital librarian," "electronic records manager," or "information systems librarian." As budgets continue to tighten, and because library schools are now "i" schools (she did mention the Rutgers name change that happened during my first semester in the MLIS program), we all must have some grounding in digital applications.

One topic that Johnson did not discuss in depth is the movement in the archives and special collections communities to use EAD (encoded archival description) in collaborative ways to bring more collections into the view of potential users via their online finding aids. The Online Archive of California is a great example of that EAD collaboration. On the other hand, I am very glad she wrote about the virtues of WorldCat, one of my favorite tools for locating materials.

Of course, I am biased, but I thought perhaps the world of the archives and special collections might deserve its own book (and maybe I need to write that book, as Mom often prods me to do). But it was interesting to read about David Ferriero's work at NYPL prior to his current post as the 10th Archivist of the United States (AOTUS). And, it was touching to read about how an archivist processed her late husband's papers for inclusion in Rutgers' special collections (although I would have saved the ephemera because I love the kind of snapshot in time it gives a collection).

If you are a librarian or archivist, like me, you will recognize your friends, former classmates, colleagues, and library bloggers in this book. But we are not the only ones who should read this work -- I'd recommend pointing your local congressperson to its catalog page in the local library and not-so-subtly suggesting that he/she check it out and read it. This Book Is Overdue is a quick read because Johnson is a fine writer and tells an engaging story, but it's an important read because she goes a long way to provide valuable library advocacy in her book with the hero librarian on the cover.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Tour of The University of Arizona Museum of Art

Note: For a short history of the University of Arizona in Tucson, please refer to the previous post.

When I travel, I research local cultural heritage institutions to visit. It is my great fortune to tour some of them specifically for this blog. Still others remain lovely memories of a visit to a unique place. For example, I recently visited two spectacular museums in Phoenix -- the Musical Instrument Museum and Heard Museum, as well as the Desert Botanical Gardens. If you are interested in seeing some of my photos of those great institutions, visit my Picasa site.

In Tucson, I already knew that I would be visiting the University of Arizona because it is home to many cultural heritage institutions. But when I began to dig a bit deeper, I found that the school’s Museum of Art was about to begin construction on its Archive of Visual Arts. This I had to see!

I contacted the Museum’s Executive Director, Charles Guerin, who graciously invited me to visit and tour their collections and new facility (previously the home of a local blood bank). He gave me an excellent guided tour of the museum’s current exhibits and drove me to the site of the archive-to-be. When we visited the archive building, I could see its potential for long-term storage of valuable holdings and a sizable reading room.

The construction workers were taking a break from demolishing the interior walls and repairing portions of the building as Guerin and I walked the length of the building from the back to the front. I saw immediately the appeal of using a former blood bank for the archive – a big cold storage vault for photos and other preservation needs. The team has a big job ahead of it to modernize the building and its HVAC system to protect the art archive, but they are definitely on their way. I decided not to photograph the building during its construction, but promised to return after the archive was up and running to take another tour.

About the Museum's Executive Director
Charles Guerin’s background in printmaking and painting no doubt informs his work at the Museum. Prior to becoming Executive Director of the Museum, he was Acting Director of the Center of Creative Photography at the University of Arizona (located more or less across the street from the Museum). He also served as Director of the University of Wyoming Art Museum, and consulted on the design of the American Heritage Center at the U of W as he built the Art Museum.

During my visit, Guerin was very generous with his time and spoke with me at length about why the museum created the archive.

He also talked with me about how he obtained the Museum’s first record collection, the papers of Robert T. McCall, arguably one of America’s most important illustrators. He is best known for illustrating and documenting much of the American space program. One of McCall’s most famous works hangs in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington , D.C., where a collection of his drawings also can be seen online.

McCall, an Arizona resident, passed away in March 2010, but before he died he had served on the board of the University’s Department of Astronomy. Guerin mentioned that he had been looking for a place to house many of his illustrations because although he had been selling the copyrights to use the works on postage stamps, etc., he did not sell those actual pieces. Guerin was very happy to accept the donation of McCall’s illustrations because illustration is an important field of study at the University’s area of Visual Communications. He also had the foresight to ask McCall for his archive of correspondence. Now, 20 cubic feet of McCall’s papers are waiting patiently for the new archive to take shape.

Guerin’s long-term vision is to target major artists, mainly in Western states, for inclusion in the Museum’s collections. He also wants to avoid circumstances where an artist passes away, and his/her children have all the artist’s boxes, which they might not want to keep and simply bring to the dump. Presently, Guerin has convinced several artists to leave their records and/or art to the Museum.

About the Collections
The best part of having a guided tour of a collection (especially by the institution’s Director) is having an expert on hand to answer all kinds of questions. But, when a cultural heritage institution uses archival records, such as letters, postcards, prints, and sketches, it helps put that artist into context and helps explain why these people are important. For example, in the series of photos below, you can see the exquisite photorealism of Audrey Flack’s work, Marilyn (Vanitas) II. The original transparency for the work was made in 1976, but Flack recently uncovered the study in her archives and made a Cibachrome print of it. The first image shows how the museum mounted the print on the railing above the painting hung in the main staircase. The second image shows the painting, and the third shows the print. All photos are displayed with permission of the Museum.

From University of Arizona

From University of Arizona

From University of Arizona

At the time of my visit, the Museum also exhibited a collection of works by Arthur Diehl, a late 19th/early 20th century “speed” painter who happened to be the grandfather of a Museum board member. The collection is on loan from a private family collection. Guerin pointed out how the Museum uses the family’s archive to further shape the exhibit. Below, the series of photos show the archival displays accompanying the Diehl exhibit.

From University of Arizona

From University of Arizona

From University of Arizona

I especially enjoyed seeing Diehl’s sketches for his paintings and the ephemera associated with the collection (shown below).

From University of Arizona

From University of Arizona

The University of Arizona Museum of Art has many claims to fame, including the remarkable Fernando Gallego and His Workshop: The Altarpiece from Ciudad Rodrigo exhibit. Arizona Public Media produced a great documentary on the conservation of the work. However, my favorite part of the Museum is its curators’ use of archival materials to better tell the story of the artist and his/her work. I look forward to returning when the Archive of Visual Arts has been completed and populated with artists’ archives.

Contact Information
Charles Guerin
Executive Director
The University of Arizona Museum of Art
1031 N. Olive Road
P.O. Box 210002
Tucson, AZ 85721-0002
(520) 621-7567