Thursday, June 26, 2014

What to Pack for Museum Research

The first day of researching at the museum I brought the following equipment:

  • laptop
  • SLR camera
  • color scanner
  • lighting setup + tripod
  • notebook for sketching
I realized after the first day that I needed a few more things...
  • serge protector/extension cord for scanner + laptop so the cords weren't straining to reach the outlet.
  • window cleaner and a rag to clean the scanner as some artifacts are crumbly
  • white poster board to photograph artifacts on for better contrast
  • loose copy paper to cover objects on the scanner bed that shouldn't be squished by the scanner lid
  • dark paper for contrast against white objects on the scanner since I'm looking to grab shapes/silhouettes of artifacts.
  • bring lunch, so that you can share a quick meal with the friendly resident artists
  • water bottle with tight closing lid (I can't drink it in the library, but have it tucked into my carry bag to take out into the hall when the dust chokes me up.)

It's not a perfect setup yet.  I'm still struggling with the lighting in the library for photography.  The big lighting kit and tripod are not compatible with the shared library space, so they've been staying in the minivan.   I have built a small  foam core light box, but it's performance was less than stellar.   I need to take another stab at balancing lighting within the light box to eliminate shadows.  This is one of the tasks I established in the grant.   You'll hear a big "Woo Hoo" when I finally get it right!   For now, I am working on themes for my fabric pieces.  I will work on doing my best quality photography work when I get a list of artifacts that requires the effort. 

One more adjustment gets made to the equipment in my working space...  I sat on the black wooden Windsor chair the first day and was so excited to be researching that I hardly noticed how darned hard the seat was...until I got up.   Now the wooden Windsor chair is placed to block folks from tripping on the power cords and I borrow a cushy leather chair to sit in instead!   Be good to yourself!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Crack Researcher Discovers Gold

Here is my first box of artifacts - a collection of projectile points.  It's just what you'd expect to find in a museum.


You can see the white tag with a mysterious number penciled on it.   This object id is a primary search field in the collections database file and has 4 parts:
  • first number:  the year the artifact was acquired by the museum
  • second number:  donations are given sequential numbers in a given year
  • third number:  items in a donation are given sequential numbers
  • fourth number:  if there are multiple parts to an artifact, then a designation of letters or numbers may be made to differentiate the parts...and sometimes not.   Data entry has been done by many hands since the collection began in 1984 and practices varied amongst the staffers and dedicated volunteers.
So, this box of projectile points, 87.23.5-14, was given to the museum in 1978, it was the 23rd donation made that year and the individual arrowheads were designated as numbers 5 thru 14.  

Someone has tucked in a note specifying the arrowheads as being for small game hunting - birds, fish, etc...

Many of the local projectile points from the sources I viewed were made out of the same type of rock.  I guessed that it was white quartz.  I based this guess on a children's educational plastic placemat of rocks and minerals from our kitchen.   Never pass up a chance to impart knowledge.   I tried researching white quartz deposits to find a local source and came up with a jackpot.   It turns out that Sandy Spring sits on the Piedmont Plateau containing gold bearing quartz veins running all the way from New York to South Carolina. Visit the Maryland Geologic Survey webpage for more details.  The webpage write up on gold was attributed to Karen R. Kuff who wrote a book on the subject, "Gold in Maryland" in 1987.  

Some interesting facts from Ms Kuff were that gold was first found in Maryland in 1849 on Sam Ellicott's farm near Brookville, MD, but no production was recorded.  Also, a Civil War soldier discovered gold in the Potomac River while stationed in Washington, D.C..  He was detailed to wash skillets at the time of the discovery.  If times get tougher, we can all go panning in the Potomac!   I was quite satisfied to have discovered gold.  I mentioned it excitedly to the museum's operations director, Diane.  She laughed and asked if I'd ever passed by GOLD MINE ROAD! that you mention it...many times...  I wonder how many other not so subtle clues to the past I've been dismissing.   So, that's me.  Diana Guenther, Crack Researcher!

On a Personal Note...Quaker Roots

I remember being told as a kid that there were strong Quaker roots in my family history.   It was interesting to discover 3 of my grandparent's surnames, Fisher, Cook and Moore in this 1926 Quaker directory tucked into a Grange treasurer's strongbox..  This discovery makes the project feel even more personal.   You'll notice below that it was a heavily used volume!   Many of the surnames in the book show up around the museum.

The Dreaded Theme Dilemma Beaten into Submission

The Potomac Fiber Arts Guild hired Andrea Graham as a speaker and workshop teacher last month.   She was very well received.  Andrea is a wonderful role model for other  artists.  She spoke with passion about her art and lifestyle which are integral to each other.   Her work was technically excellent pairing her organic subject matter perfectly with the felting medium.  A series of funky felted sculpture characters showed off her fun side.   She has used her artwork to make political statements that push for change.  Her work has a backstory.  I'm really glad I was able to hear her talk about her art journey.   She imbues her work with ideas that matter to her.  Her work has a presence that makes you stop and acknowledge it.  Talk about setting the bar high!

With Andrea's talk in my mind, I realize that I want my work to be as intentional and authentic as hers.  I want my work to engage the viewer.  I've decided to approach the grant project on three different levels.  The overarching theme that ties the exhibit together will be a timeline that gives the viewer a logical progression through the two display halls.  Each surface design piece will be a slice of history to contemplate while the viewer is challenged to work back and forth between the museum artifacts to see how they were used in the fabric they inspired.  A second layer of interest will be incorporating Christopher Alexander's 15 properties of wholeness/life as the compositional element.

 The museum director suggested building the exhibit with a target audience in mind, so that advertising can be directed.   I initially found this to be very difficult without knowledge of the archive's contents or a preexisting agenda.  The closest I could come to envisioning what I wanted my work to be was a series of stories collaged from the artifacts, photos and documents in the collection.  As an example, I loved the synergy of items like the silhouette of a glass milk bottle, a rubbing of the dairy information from the raised lettering on the bottle, a picture of a local dairy farm, a map of the dairy location, a hand written inventory of the dairy property, the shape from the rim of a cow bell, a picture of an old fashioned ice cream churn and the wire mesh design from a calf weaning snaffle (muzzle) to build a visual image of dairy farming in the past.   Who would want to come see it?

...insert fabulous completed artwork here...

It makes sense from a marketing perspective to select a target audience, but I've never had to think that way before.  Now I know two aspects of a museum director's job - guiding volunteers and marketing their museum's products.

“It's supposed to be hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it.” 

  - Tom Hanks in "A League of Their Own"

My theme needs to address two distinctly different goals.  Sandy Spring Museum wants to get their collections into the public eye by increasing foot traffic at the museum.  Goal number two is using the grant as a vehicle for enhancing my art education.  I believe that building a timeline of vignettes of Sandy Spring's history will appeal to the local population in general.   I plan to direct my marketing to the local schools and  historical societies especially.  In addition, showcasing Christopher Alexander's 15 properties of wholeness/life will appeal to fellow artists, art students and exhibit goers doubling the marketability of the exhibit.  If you can think of other target audiences, then please leave me a comment.  I'll be grateful!

I will say that it's taken me 6 months to reach this point.  I'd feel worse about it except for watching the Jan Beaney/Jean Littlejohn "In Action" DVD where these consummate embroiderers discuss their working practices.  They divulged that they often spend 2 years researching for a series.  Heck, that puts me on the fast track!

My initial scan of the collections archive database back in January found items such as 11 pairs of eye glasses, 5 cameras and 8 button hooks.   I wasn't able to identify a single type of item that interested me as a scintillating theme candidate.  I attempted to broaden my focus.  One theme that came to mind was to use all of the glass objects in the collection and show how plastics have supplanted glass in our modern society.  Another idea was to use obsolete items like untreated copper cookware, chamber pots and calling cards to show cultural changes.  I eventually realized that I wanted to tell a story with each piece of fabric.  One of my artistic goals is to add depth and meaning to my pieces.  So, the new question became how to tie the individual stories together.  Enter the timeline...

The timeline was an obvious solution in retrospect.  Having the timeline solves two more challenges.  As I find enough related elements to create pieces for the exhibit I can slot them into the timeline.  The pieces can be worked on in any order.  The other challenge was a preconceived notion of mine that museums only contain *really* old stuff.   Yes, I can see you rolling your eyes now.   Seriously, 1968 was not that long ago.  I laughed as I unwrapped a pack of Old Maid cards I played with as a kid.  s  A timeline will account for the variable ages of artifacts found in the collection.  Please leave a consoling comment if you played with this card deck too!


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Project Parameters

I subscribe to Quilting Arts and Cloth, Paper, Scissors magazines.   I consider them to be excellent investments for a budding fiber artist.  I admit to being drawn in initially by the shiny colors and fun techniques.  However, you are infused with the practices of working artists, usage of the principles and elements of design and a celebration of inspiration between the covers of every issue.  It's always an "inspiration celebration" when a new issue hits my mailbox!   I am learning to view things from an artist's perspective (pun intended), which allows me to take away increasingly more as I continue to learn.

Recently, there was an article in one of them (the specific issue is hiding from me today - I'll add it here when I find it) that addressed setting parameters for a series of work.  Perhaps you establish a size for the work, a limited color palette, specific materials to use, a technique and/or a theme.  By setting parameters, you simplify choices and shape the work into a unified whole.  The articles arguments were compelling.  It's a basic concept.   It wasn't even a new concept for me - the idea of defining your scope comes up over and over again in life.   However, I'm a gal who clings to her entire box of 120 Crayola colors and drags way too much stuff to workshops.  I'm all about the options!  Somehow I needed to set up parameters to help evolve my grant theme.  (As an aside - the tour of the Crayola Experience museum in Easton, PA is wonderful for children of all ages!)

"Working smarter, not harder" - Christopher Thomas

Another thought that I'll throw in here is an observation of a fellow Creative Memories Consultant from back in the day.  Cheri had a gift for working efficiently.   The woman was downright prolific.  She'd combine our scrap booking supplies with a small concept we'd learned and feed it back with exponential creativity.  She solved display problems using the Creative Memories products and managed to parlay that into increased sales.   She always said that she just used what she had at hand.   That's a life lesson I'd like to embrace.   I've been enriching myself with guild lectures, books, magazines, exhibits, workshops and studying in small groups of artists for several years now creating a reservoir of resources.  I have garnered much goodness, but now must choose where to focus...

So, it's time to make some decisions.   What do I know?   What excites me?  What's left to puzzle out?
  • Size   After the exhibit, I plan to make these pieces of fabric into bags to donate to the museum store, so the fabric needs to be tote bag sized.   In addition, I want to learn to work larger instead of my usual fat quarter.   I bought Joen Wolfrom's Magic Design-Ratio Tool which allowed me to eyeball various ratios of height and width.  I'm going to go with a winning strategy - the golden ratio!   The 8:13 ratio would work out well for the yard sized pieces of white cotton I've already cut and washed.   I will leave a margin space and look to create a finished piece that is 20" by 33".  The additional fabric of the yard can serve for a coordinating lining and handle.  I have a preference for vertical orientation.
  • Color   I was introduced to Carol Soderlund through a guild workshop on dyeing t-shirts.  I was immediately taken with Carol's teaching style (fun!), creativity and depth of knowledge.  I attended her True Colors workshop at The Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Tennessee.   Arrowmont is a beautiful facility in the Smokey Mountains.   I recommend it highly!  I was so pleased with the color palette that I developed, the idea of dyeing complex neutral colors and the exercises I learned for blending color by eye that I signed up for another workshop.   In October, I'm taking The NEW Color Mixing for Dyers Part 1 class at ProChemical and Dye in Massachusetts.  If anyone else is going I'm looking for a room mate!   I want to move beyond my usual seat of the pants dyeing and approach this grant as a controlled dyeing study with a limited color palette.   I know that I want to work with navy for my blue to get good depth of shade.  I'm between scarlet and strongest red for my red.   I'm between golden yellow and tangerine for the yellow.   I plan to repeat a classroom exercise to see which blue/red/yellow combination gives me the range that appeals most to me.   Gotta love the empirical method!   Here's a gratuitous picture of my family reunion t-shirts made last year based on what I learned in Carol's first class.  It was my first time trying out my air brushing equipment.   

  • Materials  I plan to work with Procion MX reaction dyes on white cotton fabric.
  • Techniques  I have learned a number of dyeing, discharge and printing techniques in workshops with Jane Dunnewald, Elin Noble, Candice Edgerly and Carol Soderlund.   I have a Thermofax machine and I know how to use it!   I love the look of soy wax stamping, stenciling and foiling for coarser shapes.  The Thermofax and TAP paper rule for more detailed images.   I'm not planning to limit myself on techniques as I want to see what I need to do to fulfill the vision I have for each piece. 
  • Composition  In addition to teaching a dyeing workshop, Carol Soderlund gave a guild lecture based on Christopher Alexander's book  "The Nature of Order: An Essay on the Art of Building and the Nature of the Universe,  Book One:  The Phenomenon of Life."  I'm finding the book very appealing.  Very few people know that I minored in philosophy in college.  She used her own medium of quilting to demonstrate how Christopher Alexander's 15 fundamental properties of life/wholeness applies to fiber art.   The idea that the human eye sees beauty in these structures spelled out *composition* to me!   The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc. website has a handy visual overview of the fifteen properties.  With 15 properties and a goal of 38 pieces I can cover each property twice and a third time for my favorites.
That's enough progress for one post.   Did you know that I'm even working on the grant in my sleep?  I'm using the technique of prompting myself with problems I'm trying to solve just before nodding off.  Sometimes you get lucky and wake with the answers.  Stay tuned...   I'll be grappling with.the dreaded theme dilemma in the next post.

Grant Application with Judge's Comments

For folks who like to have all the gory details, here is the full grant application with judge's comments attached.  It's really long.   Don't say you weren't warned...

The Potomac Fiber Arts Guild selected Elizabeth Barton to judge the grant competition this year. Part of my grant writing process was to research the judge.  It helped to have a real live person in mind while writing.   I found her website - - full of fabulous quilts, but didn't think to look for a blog.  Even more of Elizabeth Barton's personality comes through in her blog.   Checking out her blog today prompts me to add an artist statement to mine, but I digress...  Anyway, the first half of the application (5 pages) is all text, but the second half is all eye candy.   Spoiler alert for future grant applicants:  the judging criteria was the guild's mission statement.   Read on!

"A goal is a dream with a deadline."  Napoleon Hill

Museum Collaboration to Interpret History Through Surface Design
  1. Proposal (maximum 2 pages)
    1. Description of proposed project
      1. Describe what you want to do.
I want to design unique surface designed fabrics with visual depth and rich historic content.   I have been invited by the Sandy Spring Museum to create an artistic interpretation of their collections of artifacts, photographs and documents.   The result would be an exhibit displaying my fabrics paired with the objects that inspired them.   I have met with the museum director to brainstorm exhibit ideas and learn how to best accomplish my goals.   Additionally, I have met with the collections specialist to learn how to conduct research and access the resources.   The museum database contains a wealth of creative potential.   For example, imagine a related set of shapes and images:  the silhouette of a glass milk bottle, a rubbing of the dairy information from the raised lettering on the bottle, a picture of a local dairy farm, a map of the dairy location, a hand written inventory of the dairy property, the shape from the rim of a cow bell, a picture of an old fashioned ice cream churn and the wire mesh design from a calf weaning snaffle (muzzle).   Determining how to best capture and compose this visual information given the techniques  (such as soy wax resist, stenciling, making molds) and equipment (such as a Thermofax machine, SLR camera, lightbox) at my disposal will be a challenge.   I look forward to continuing to collaborate with the museum staff as we organize my first exhibit.   After the exhibit is completed, I will design bags from the fabric.   These bags will be donated to the museum store to give my work additional exposure and purpose.   I will save two bags for my portfolio.   The culmination of this experience will be a lecture for the Potomac Fiber Art Guild on museum collaborations and an accompanying 3 hour workshop.
      1. Why is the project important?
Sandy Spring, Maryland is an historic community established by Quakers in 1798 to farm tobacco and corn.   The Sandy Spring Museum celebrates its local history, serves as a community center and has multiple artists in residence.   Hosting rotating exhibits by artists allows the museum to teach about the past and also promote their mission in support of the arts.   Publicizing exhibits promotes foot traffic in the museum.   My surface design exhibit will engage the viewer and help to tell the story of Sandy Spring.      
For the last five years, I have supported the museum's educational outreach in the fiber arts by volunteering as the resident spinner and weaver.   I have enjoyed the museum's hosting of a monthly open studio event to promote local artists.   I value this little gem of a museum and want to contribute my work to help keep it strong and vibrant.
I believe that this project is an excellent exchange of my time and talents with the museum’s resources and need for programming.   Any work, imagery or tools that I will develop belongs to me.   I will have an exhibit on my resume’.   The museum gets a custom designed exhibit.   Revenue/exposure from sales of the one-of-a-kind surface designed bags will also benefit the museum.  
                                         3.         State how the project will contribute to your technical and aesthetic growth as a fiber artist or craftsperson.

This project is the perfect next step in becoming a working artist.   I will be able to integrate years of studying design and composition, color and surface design techniques.   I can’t wait to work on a larger scale.   Designing this installation will give me focus, a timeline and provide the vehicle for new growth.   I will create business cards, write an artist statement, and develop an art blog that will give me validation and exposure as an artist along the way.   Besides promotional tools, I will build physical tools to assist in this project and in future work.   I will build a light box to photograph the museum’s resources and the art I create.   I will learn the skill of molding and casting.   I will add shapes and imagery to my personal art lexicon.   I will continue developing my art portfolio.   I will utilize the museum’s collections to develop a theme gaining valuable experience from designing, publicizing and installing the exhibit.   I have read that the only way to improve your art and discover your style is simply to make lots of art.   I will be making lots of art.
In summation, I have two complementary goals.   The first is to increase the complexity and interest in my work thru layering and having a story to tell in each piece.   The second is to become a working artist.   I have given the project a lot of consideration and feel that this project will lead me to accomplish both.
    1. Budget
                                         1.         My budget is based on creating 38 one yard one-of-a-kind pieces with extra fabric for experimenting which will become bag pockets or linings.
cloth (50 yards white cotton)
Procion dye (6 colors, 8 oz each)
pro dye activator (10 lbs)
thiox (1lb)
soy wax (5 lbs)
urea (5lbs)
salt (25lbs)
print paste sh (2lb)
canvas frames (30"x30" size)

    to display 38 pieces
Easy Mold (4lb)
casting resin (2 quart)
Celluclay (5lb)
Shipping Costs for Art Supplies

      1. If the budget exceeds $1000.00, state the source of the additional funds.
I will assume any costs beyond the budget stated.
    1. Time frame for the project (be as specific as possible.)   
·       Project Work/Blog:  June 2014 – May 2015
·       · Exhibit/Blog:  June 2016 (4 weeks)
·       · PFAG Presentation/Mini Workshop:  January 2016 or February 2016 requested

    II.          Resumé as it relates to the proposal (maximum 2 pages)

A.    Travel and other experiences: include any relevant information that is not included above

I worked 114 fiber-related volunteer hours in 2013.   Seventy six of those hours were devoted to the Sandy Spring Museum demonstrating fiber arts, teaching adult fiber classes and running events.   I bartered teaching time with the museum in exchange for weekend facility rental for a machine knitting seminar in June 2013.   I am confident in my ability to create the surface design exhibit because of my excellent established relationship with the museum staff.  

I ran the Northern Virginia Machine Knitting Club as president, program director, demonstrator (twice a year) and web mistress for 2.5 years from January 2011 to June 2013.   I organized and ran 4 machine knitting seminars in that time frame.   I am able to follow thru on long term commitments and handle budgets.

I ran a successful gelatin monoprinting workshop for the PM Patchwork Fiber Guild in June 2013.   I am comfortable presenting and enjoy teaching workshops.  

B.    Training and education: list higher education, workshops, instruction, conferences, etc. that are relevant to the proposed work


·       Colorful Soy Wax             Jane Dunnewold          May 2011
·       Quilt Surface Design Symposium/Art Cloth       Jane Dunnewold        May 2012
·       Subtractions and Additions: Building a Personal Language  Elin Noble        April 2013
·       Not Your Typical Tee      Carol Soderlund          April 2013
·       True Colors           Carol Soderlund          Sept. 2013
Workshops that I will attend within the grant period:
·       Screen, Dye and Discharge – Enlarging Your Mark Making Vocabulary  Kerr Grabowski 
Sept. 2014
·       The New Color Mixing for Dyers Part 1  Carol Soderlund      Oct. 2014
Study Groups:
·       I studied the following workbook with three other artists over 2 years:  “Finding Your Own Visual Language:  A Practical Guide to Design and Composition” by Claire Benn, Jane Dunnewold & Leslie Morgan.   We supplemented our discussions with Jane Dunnewold’s tutorial “Criteria for Visual Critique” as a guide to measure our work.   The group was less formal than a class, but was highly instructive… 
·       I belong to the Potomac Fiber Art Guild’s Elements and Principles of Design study group #6.   We are currently working thru exercises in Gwen Hedley’s book “Drawn to Stitch”.  Once again, this group of 6 artists provides the opportunity to present work for review and to critique the work of others.   These monthly meetings are an excellent source of learning by doing.

C.    Exhibitions and awards: list any that are pertinent to this application
Not yet.
  1. Describe how this project will enrich the Potomac Fiber Arts Guild, Inc. (maximum 1 page)
The initial benefit will be publicity.   A sign at the museum will credit the guild’s Margaret M. Conant grant for funding the exhibit and describe the Potomac Fiber Art Guild.   The Margaret M. Conant grant and guild will also receive ongoing mention in the project blog.   A press release publicizing the exhibit will also include the Potomac Fiber Arts Guild as the source of funding and a link to the guild’s website.
The culmination of the grant will be an hour long program for the Potomac Fiber Art Guild’s membership followed by a 3 hour workshop.  
The program will be of general interest because the inspiration drawn from historic materials can be applied to any medium.   The past informs the future.   Every artist travels a different path, so I will be sharing my unique experiences at the museum and in my studio.   My conclusions in selecting the best techniques for capturing visual information depending on the source (such as a map versus a textured glass bottle) will be covered.   Collaborating with a museum to build an installation is a fresh topic, so I look forward to relating my adventures.   Snippets from the blog will demonstrate the project progress.   I will share photos from the exhibit, discuss promotional tools that I developed and display samples of the surface design bags created.   I will comment on my success in realizing working artist status and speak to the development of my work.
I will teach a 3 hour workshop that addresses tool making for surface design work to include creating Thermofax screens, mold making/casting for fabric paint stamping, making soy wax crayons for rubbings and other tools used for soy wax resist techniques.

  IV.         Images
A.    Provide ten (10) images of your previous work.
1.  Civil War Stirrup,  June 2013,  11”x14”

2.               Winter Potential of Crepe Myrtle (detail image),  February 2013,  30”x30”

3.     Wild Olives,  July 2013,  17”x22”

4.         My Complements to You (detail image),  August 2012,  24”x32”

5.         Lavender’s Blue Dilly Dilly,  May 2013, 21”x17”

6.     Red Clay Layers,  June 2012,  22”x18”

7.      Clammed Up,  September 2012,  11”x18”

8.      Gene Pairs Dancing,  April 2013,  18”x20”

9.       Reach for the Sky,  April 2013,  13”x27”

10.   Happy Feet: Photograph to Serigraph – 3 Screens,  September 2012, 5”x7”


Juror’s Critique:
My comments, of course, refer only to the proposal as I do not know any of the participants so please don’t take anything I say personally.

The  guild's missions are:
  • To widen knowledge of the fiber arts and increase the number of techniques known.
  • To investigate and study the fiber art made in our own and other lands.
  • To improve our membership's creativity, methods and techniques.
  • To gain inspiration from one another by sharing our experiences.
  • To promote the use of quality hand-made fiber art in our vicinity.
                                         1.         This proposal is very clear, the budget well itemized, the time line well organized.
                                         2.         It particularly addresses the use of quality hand made fiber art locally.
                                         3.         It promotes a local museum which is very supportive of fiber art.
                                         4.         In her working from museum artifacts, she shows how one can take inspiration from an historical source and use it for creative endeavors today;
         this will address the goal of improving the members’ creativity.
                                         5.         She plans not only a clearly defined illustrated lecture, but also a specific workshop of specific length.
                                         6.         She has taken a number of relevant workshops recently.
                                         7.         She has worked hard to promote an interaction between the Guild and the museum – I think it’s very important that guilds have strong community links so that everyone is working together to promote art within a community.
                                         8.         In her proposal, she specifically addresses the needs of the guild.

                                                  1.         The proposal does not address studying existing fiber art in either the USA or other countries.

Overall: a clear presentation as to exactly what she wants to do and why and what it will cost and what the guild will gain as a result.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Good News / Bad News

Keep in mind as you read this that I have no experience working with museums and their collections.   Yes, a lowly newbie in need of training and possible spoon feeding.   The museum director wished me the best, then passed me on to the collection specialist to start my new adventure in museum research…

"This is Red Five; I'm going in! (His X-wing's lasers firing wildly)"
Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope 

Good News:                                                               
I finally scored an appointment with the museum collection specialist after 3 weeks of waiting.   I need to work on my timing as the specialist had been on 2 weeks of vacation, only worked 2 days a week and needed time to catch up.   I was nominally trained on their specialized museum software.   I learned that the museum collection was divided into artifacts, photos and documents.   In addition, I learned that the artifacts were stored by the month and date they were acquired by the museum mostly in stacks of archival quality banker boxes.   The procedure for requesting items was spelled out.   It was a pleasure to sit in the museum library wrapped in shelves full of books and interesting artifacts with a large table at my command feeling all of the possibilities.  

Bad News:
I had only 3 weeks left to develop a theme to finish writing the grant.  The museum’s computers were archaic and the collection specialist was going to take 2 more weeks off.   My request for an export of the collections database file was met with a blank stare.   I’m a software engineer by trade with lots of database experience.   Being told that the best method of searching the museum’s software was to start with record #1 and work my way down was alarming.   A second visit netted me only 1 artifact out of 5 requested.   Now I’m panicking that even if I pick a theme there’s no way to verify that enough of the items I needed would actually be in storage.   Should I pick the collection of bottles?   Perhaps all the glass objects?   How about those Indian artifacts?  Would farming equipment make a statement?   My corporate Spidey sense was tingling telling me the collection specialist had one foot out the door.

Good News:  
The collection specialist quit.

Bad News:   
Now I had *no* access to the collections.   Be careful what you wish for…   

Good News:
I told a friend about my dilemma - there was no way to develop a theme at this point.   She suggested making the choice of a theme part of the grant.   Brilliant!   So, I pushed this decision down the queue and finished writing the grant.   Problem solved…   I won the grant.  The museum promptly hired an experienced archivist.

Bad News:  
I couldn’t pounce on the newly hired archivist with a huge list of items to treasure hunt up and down the stacks.   I needed a new approach for theme development that was sparing of her time.   The new archivist also only worked part time limiting my access.   The new archivist has new rules. 
Good News:
The new archivist is technically savvy and has already extracted an MS Excel file of the collections database for her laptop.   She shared it readily.   I can now slice and dice the data on my laptop seven days a week extending my researching time.   Awesome!   In addition, she’s willing to bring me several groupings of Indian artifacts to help jump start my first surface designed fabric piece.   After that, she’s agreed to bring me one box at a time to review starting with the earliest acquisitions.   This will reduce my requests on her time.  The approach also allows me to work exclusively with available items.   Besides theme development, I’m looking for shapes and textures for my personal mark making lexicon.   Any artifact could have relevance.   I'm taking notes as I review the artifacts to help develop themes for the 38 surface designed pieces I intend to create.  When I have enough ideas, then I stop methodically sorting through the 190 artifact boxes and shift to filling in the gaps by researching the collections database file.   By that time, the archivist will be established in her job and be ready to retrieve targeted items.   That’s the current plan anyway!

Bad News:  
There is none!   My access woes have been ironed out.   I have direction.   I’m on my way with very capable assistance from the archivist.  The message here is to be persistent and don't be afraid to take a leap of faith!