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Snapshots of my Search History

Posted by Phillippa Pitts on March 22, 2014 in Uncategorized |

by columnist Tegan Kehoe

Students in this year’s Exhibition Planning class were given a challenge: choose an image that inspires you from the photographs in Historic New England’s exhibition, “The Camera’s Coast,” and use it as a jumping-off point for a full-blown exhibition plan. In May, the Tufts University Art Gallery will host an exhibition that will offer a peek into their minds, with mini-exhibitions showing what each of them came up with. In the meantime, follow along on the Facebook page and on guest posts on this blog for previews into the process. The first guest blogger, Tegan, normally writes the column “The Wider World,” but today she’s sharing a bit about the foibles of research.

Snapshots: 15 Takes on an Exhibition is to take place at the Tufts University Koppleman Gallery May 6-18, 2014. Opening reception Tuesday, May 6, 2014, 5:30-8pm. See the Facebook page here.

One of the things I love about history and museum work is all of the weird research paths I end up going down. In the past few months, I’ve been collecting ideas, information, and images for my exhibition proposal “Rich Clam, Poor Clam” and the detail view of it which will be my part of Snapshots: 15 Takes on an Exhibition. “Rich Clam, Poor Clam” is about the cultures surrounding food in different social classes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in New England, focusing on the way seafood had a special place in the diet of both the poor and the rich. Here are a few snapshots of what I’ve found along the way.

- > One evening, I was feeling a little loopy from lots of homework, and my housemate, who was lying on the other couch, was in a worse state, after spending all day working on her dissertation. I was searching for artifacts related to lobster, and found this gem in Historic New England’s catalog — no photo, sadly.

Tablecloth. Rectangular; white linen damask. Lobster medallion at center; elaborate frame; floral/ geometric stripe ground. Blue cotton inner and outer border in Greek Key pattern. Red cotton middle border with gnomes. Self fringe all around.

We spent about twenty minutes howling with laughter at “lobster medallion at center” and “middle border with gnomes.” Weeks later, I can still get a giggle from my housemate by mentioning lobsters.

- > In the full version of my exhibition, each area would be decorated for appropriate ambiance — brocade curtains for the ritzy dining room of a steamer ship, for example. In creating some visual mock-ups, I learned a valuable lesson: don’t search for “used fish net” on eBay. “Used fishing net” yields much more relevant (and family-friendly) results.

- > While reading Kathy Neustadt’s excellent book Clambake, a food history and anthropology case study that does a great job of balancing the historical and pseudohistorical traditions and myths around the subject, I had the song “Clambake” from Caurosel stuck in my head for hours. While I don’t love the musical, that one song is catchy, so I finally looked it up on YouTube to satisfy the itch. In case it’s in your head now, too, the video is here but be warned, your video suggestions get you singing “June is Busting Out All Over” soon enough.

 

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