Serving as Collections Intern at Old North — guest post by Jessica Nelson

Jessica Nelson wrote this piece for the Old North Foundation’s website, and Old North’s Director of Education Erin Wederbrook Yuskaitis, also from the Tufts program, suggested we share it here. Thanks, Jessica (and Erin)!

 

After almost 300 years of existence, an institution is bound to accumulate an interesting collection of objects. And having interned over the summer with the Old North Foundation, I can certainly confirm that this is a fact. I was brought in to be the first Collections Intern to work with the site, and as such had the opportunity to scour the site’s attic, basement, and many rooms. My responsibility was to document the works of art found within Old North’s campus. Although Old North is not what one would call a collecting institution, it is an historical site that has over time accumulated, often through generous donations from parishioners, a number of interesting and some valuable art pieces. One of the best ways to honor these donations and other acquisitions is through careful preservation.

Even though Old North’s art is not currently shown to the public in a crafted exhibition, it is visible throughout the Foundation and Church offices as well as in parts of the church itself. So as a student learning about the museum field, I was able to apply some of the museum world’s techniques when documenting the artworks at Old North. What exactly does that entail though? Well, I began by numbering the objects and creating condition reports for each one. These reports allowed me to describe the art piece detailing its materials and what it looks like as well as identifying if there is any damage to the piece. Creating these reports helps an institution keep track of the object and monitor how it holds up over time. After making condition reports for every object, I then took pictures of the objects as well. Attaching pictures to the condition reports is another means of recording an object’s condition and can help people who may work with these objects in the future more easily identify them.

 

The Foundation then ordered special archival papers and pens so that I could physically attach the identifying number I had given each object to the object in question. It is important to use archival quality goods as this helps ensure the marking materials won’t damage the art piece over time. I also had the opportunity to conduct some early research on the objects and how they came to Old North. Although many of the art pieces’ stories have been somewhat lost over time, there were a few active members of the church who were quite helpful in recovering their histories. All in all, the project went quite well, and hopefully the work I completed with the help of the Old North Foundation staff will serve as a good base for any future artwork they receive and help insure that all of their art is well preserved for future generations.

The JFK Presidential Library and Museum’s Exhibit, “To the Brink: JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis” Lends A Voice To The Past

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, located along the waterfront just south of Boston, serves as the nation’s official memorial to John F. Kennedy. The institution boasts an incredible research collection consisting of over 8.4 million pages of paper, approximately 400,000 photographs, thousands of audio recordings, and 8 million feet of film. The museum also features a permanent exhibit that offers a highly immersible experience about JFK’s running for presidency in 1960 and the Kennedy White House years that followed.

I went to the JFK Library and Museum over this past weekend to see their current special exhibition, “To the Brink: JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis.” The exhibit chronicles the daily events and conversations between the President and White House personnel as the Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded. As you travel through the crisis day by day, you get a sense of the gripping intensity faced under the threat of nuclear war, as well as the furious work that went in to preventing it.

Audio recordings throughout the exhibit not only magnify the event but they create a more powerful experience for the exhibit goer in that they add a human element to what otherwise would be an exhibit consisting of text and objects. As you wind through “To the Brink,” you have the opportunity of listening to various conversations between JFK and his advisors, from the initial debriefing on photographic evidence of Soviet missiles present in Cuba, to the President eerily grappling with, and saying, “You’re talking about the destruction of a country.” The recordings give a literal voice to the event and to history from those most close to it.

From jfklibrary.org

Along these lines, the exhibit examines the Cuban Missile Crisis from the perspectives of Nikita Krushchev and Fidel Castro through their own written words as well. This is helpful in that it lends a better look at what is considered to be perhaps the closest call to thermonuclear war in history.

For a total of thirteen days in October of 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis gripped the world. Fifty-two years later, this dramatic exhibition brings you back to those harrowing days as if you were in the midst of the White House deliberations yourself.

 

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is open every day from 9am to 5pm except major holidays.

Perspectives on NEMA 2013

by guest columnist James Stanton

This year NEMA asked conference attendees to question why museums are needed now more than ever. In an increasingly diverse society, museums offer a space for people to reflect, learn, and honor their different histories while bringing communities together to share, learn, and grow from each other. The recurring themes of the sessions I attended echoed this sentiment by stressing increased community outreach and examination of accessibility issues.

As this year’s Diversity Fellow, I came to Newport ready to engage in the difficult and sometimes awkward conversations that arise when race, class, gender, and socio economic status are discussed in relation to the ever broadening missions of museums.
I was excited to find that many of my colleagues, both students and professionals, were also ready to tackle these issues and that the atmosphere encouraged honest, open, and supportive conversation. I am sure it is never easy to admit in front of your peers that up until a year ago you didn’t fully understand the community your museum was located in, yet in one session many museum staff said just that and then together brainstormed ideas on how to break down the imposing walls of museums. My little heart grew three sizes that day.

Moving forward with my studies at Tufts, I am pleased to know that the discussions we often have in the classroom about the difficulties of welcoming diverse audiences into our museums are also happening out “in the real world.” NEMA is committed to the belief that each town in New England has unique history and culture around every corner that can connect to all walks of life. I look forward to these continued conversations both through NEMA events and in classes on the Hill.

 

Book Review: False Impressions: The Hunt for Big Time Art Fakes

reposted from editor emeritus Amanda Kay Gustin.

False Impressions: The Hunt for Big Time Art Fakes
Thomas Hoving

This book is fairly typical of all Hoving’s popular works, which is to say it’s uncomfortably gossipy, breathtakingly arrogant, and compulsively readable.

The overall narrative of the book is split into two parts, and for me it didn’t really get going until the second half. The first part is Hoving’s chronological overview of art forgery through time, starting with Roman forgeries of Greek originals and coming up through the present day. The second part of the book is much more interesting, and follows Hoving himself through several major forgeries that he’s unmasked (or tried to unmask) in museums throughout the world.

The first thing to understand about this book is that Hoving is never wrong, in anything. Even the fakes he purchased for the Met were ones that he felt uneasy about to begin with, and his gut was eventually proven correct. Disputes with other curators were of their own making, and they always loved him in the end. Eminent experts who fell for fakes are lesser, gullible, sad specimens. Oh, and in case you didn’t know, he was responsible for bringing Velazquez’s Juan de Pareja to the Met.

That overwhelming arrogance is particularly on play in this book, as part of his thesis on fakebusters (those who are particularly gifted at detecting forgeries) is that they have an innate sixth sense, a superior eye that allows them to instantly make judgments that ultimately, after further study, appear correct. Hoving himself, of course, has this eye.

In spite – or perhaps because of? – this personal heroism, this book is a great read. Hoving is a gifted storyteller, and he holds nothing back, giving you the constant impression of being let into his inner circle as he shares secrets, gossip, and information that would probably embarrass all sorts of people.

From a museology point of view, I was primarily struck by two things. First, Hoving has a very black and white view of what a “fake” is and he doesn’t allow for much sophistication in thinking about the concept. For him, any work of art that is not 100% by the original artist is a fake. No in-the-style-of could possibly be as good as the original. He frequently recounts stories of art that has been so extensively restored that it is now worthless, and no longer original. He doesn’t really allow for any further thinking about why someone might imitate a style, or what the line in over-restoring is, or what compels an art forger beyond money. Anyone who paints, sculpts, or otherwise makes art in a style not their own is committing a sin, full stop. Not really any moral gray areas or ambiguities there.

Second, and this one pained me quite a bit as the book went on: Hoving’s concept of the museum begins and ends with expensive masterpieces. Money is nothing in the pursuit of a really good piece of art, and the millions spent on fakes by both himself, his curators, and the other museums he tells of are simply the price you pay in the collecting game. Education for him happens almost entirely through exhibitions that expose the masses to what they ought to know. The only time he talks about education “for the public” what he really means is an intensively scholarly weekend symposium that he put together on forgery – and by public, what he really means are rich collectors who might end up donating to the Met. Money is only to be used in pursuit of his particular version of perfection; woe to those who might want to use it to make school tours free, or expand art education in low income communities.

In the end, this was a highly entertaining read that frustrated me at times, but also made me think. It’s a good weekend or beach read while still being “on topic” for museum professional development.

 

Read more on Amanda Kay Gustin’s blog, Amblering.