Friday, April 24, 2009

Return of the Friday Whatzit

The museum was lucky enough to receive a small grant recently. This grant enabled us to purchase some supplies for making object mounts, and a shiny new camera. You should notice a marked increase in the quality of the images. I'm finding it a lot of fun to run around and take these great detail shots of objects, so that's the sort of Whatzit we're playing today.

Here's a close up of a collections object, cropped so that it's even smaller and more difficult to identify. The game is guess what this object might be.
Whatzit 4.24.2009

Have fun guessing!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Museum history

The museum collections have been with the University for a long time - some were received as long ago as 1953. But the vast majority of the collection I care for was acquired during the early 1970s when the Anthropology Department founded the Museum of Man. Located in Barge Hall on campus, the Museum of Man had displays and supported the museum studies minor.

I recently located some old photos of what I believe were the store rooms in old Barge Hall. It's pretty neat (for me, at least) to see the objects I work with daily in this context. The rooms are pretty small and the objects very crammed, and I'm sure that archival materials at that time were not what they are today. But the collections were cared for in line with the standards of the day. So take a peek at these old photos and see if you recognize anything from the photos I've shared over the past year and a half.
Barge Hall Storage
Barge Hall Storage
Barge Hall Storage

Friday, April 17, 2009

Growing pains

Have I mentioned the compactor storage? I'm sure I did. The compactor unit is a rolling storage unit, like you see for files at some medical offices, or in the stacks of some libraries. It makes the most of the space in small areas... or large ones. Our particular unit has seven large units, although the two at the ends are half width. They're 27' long and 10' tall. Essentially, these are enormous shelves. And super for a museum to have.

But last week Friday we noticed something alarming; the top of a couple of our units were scraping an air duct in the ceiling. The duct would move from side to side and the compactor unit was somewhat hard to move. So we took the tops off of the affected areas (Thankfully all the shelves, including the tops, are adjustable.) We could plainly see the areas where the ducts and shelving were rubbing.
Compactor problems

This week we came back to it and replaced the tops, slightly lower than they were before. This seems to have solved the problem. We're not sure when the problem began, but we're glad it was relatively painless to solve. Especially so, since we hadn't placed anything on the shelves below the affected areas. In the photo below, the two shelves on the left side have been lowered somewhat. You can see that there's really not a lot of space wasted in this room!
Compactor problems

Friday, April 10, 2009


There are two Pacific Northwest bentwood boxes in the collection. The four sides of bentwood boxes are made of a single plank bent into the shape of a box. These boxes are often beautifully decorated with formline animals and motifs. Boxes were used for cooking in and storage. They were often very highly prized possessions within families. To see more Bentwood boxes, take a look at this page of bentwood boxes from the collections of our neighbors at the Burke Museum in Seattle.

But this post is titled "Surprises," not "all about bentwood boxes." When we moved the box pictured below, we removed the top of the box. The top is quite heavy, and we didn't want to have the top falling to the ground while we moved the box (I shudder at the thought of dropping collections objects). As we were lifting and moving the box, we noticed an odor... a very distinctive odor... fish! More specifically, smoked fish - salmon I think. It was a surprise to find such a vivid reminder of the past history of the box hiding just out of sight.
Bentwood box
As soon as we could, we closed the box up again, hopefully preserving this amazing experience for future individuals. It is now sitting safely on its new shelf here in Dean Hall.

Little surprises like this are part of what I love about working with museum collections. It's very detail oriented work, so sometimes I discover that the soles of a pair of moccasins were recycled from an earlier use, and sometimes I discover that a pair of sandals was once infested by many many hungry bugs (which is less delightful). And sometimes I discover something which can't be seen, like the smell of salmon in a bentwood box. It's very cool.