Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

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Unusual Collections: The Dog Collar Museum

Humans have always been interested in unusual, curious, and odd things. For this reason unusual collections, both personal and in museums, exist throughout the world. This interest in collecting the unusual and interesting can be traced back to the cabinets of curiosity popular in 16th century Europe. The Dog Collar Museum, at Leeds Castle in Kent, England, is an example of a once privately owned collection of unusual items now on display for the public.

The Dog Collar Museum run by the Leeds Castle Foundation is billed as “a unique collection of historic and fascinating dog collars [that] has been built up over the years and is now the largest of its kind on public display anywhere in the world.” The collection started with sixty dog collars donated to the Leeds Castle Foundation by Mrs. Gertrude Hunt in memory of her husband, historian and Medievalist, John Hunt. Since its donation in 1977, the collection has grown to over 130 rare and valuable collars spanning from Medieval to Victorian times. Recently, thirty additional collars were discovered in storage and are now on display for the first time. The oldest of the collars in the Dog Collar Museum is a 15th century a Spanish iron collar for a her mastiff that would have been worn for protection of the dog while on hunts. Some of the most interesting collars in the collection are the ornate, gilt baroque collars bearing inscriptions, coat of arms, and messages of the owners.

The collection is housed on display in the former stable and squash court of the Leeds Castle. The castle a museum itself, was started in honor of former owner, Lady Baille. The museum aims to display the collection in a “fresh and creative new presentation–fun for children and adults alike.”  It interprets the collars as not just functional objects, but as personal items that can give insight into the lifestyles and relationships between the dogs and their masters. If ever in Kent, England, be sure to check out the Dog Collar Museum and the other interesting exhibits and beautiful grounds at Leeds Castle.

The “Spectacularization” of the Modern Art Museum

Spiraling ramp ways, dizzying spatial effects, metal beams that emulate a flapping wingspan, and multimillion-dollar converted industrial buildings: these are just some of the many characteristics we find in the recent cultural phenomenon known as the “spectacularization” of museums. From Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum Bilbao to the Broad Museum in Los Angeles,  art museums have quickly become places not just containing great art, but works of art in themselves. Yet again, another museum architectural wonder is set to open next week- the Glenstone Museum, in Potomac, Maryland. With a hefty renovation price tag of $200 million, the new museum design features a network of glass-enclosed passageways surrounding an 18,000 square foot water court. Although aesthetically intriguing, does this flamboyant architecture detriment the art viewing experience?

From the mid-twentieth century onward, in part as a result of Frank Lloyd Wright’s design of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City, there has been a shift from the Neoclassical-type museum design to more open, airy, and dynamic building projects. This approach is global; from I.M Pei’s construction of the glass pyramids at the Musée du Louvre, to Thomas Heatherwick’s conversion of a grains silo into the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town, there has been an increased use of “blockbuster” museum building types. Not only do these facilities boost attendance, revenue, and local economies, they also act as a catalyst for greater interest in art.

In 2016, for instance, SFMOMA received a $305 million-dollar facelift from Snøhetta, a Norwegian design and branding firm. Two floors of the seven-story building are now free and accessible to the public. With daily free public tours, the space encourages anyone to visit and learn. The multitude of seating arrangements in these spaces also invites visitors to sit down, relax, and digest the art surrounding them. Similarly, the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles – another renovated contemporary art museum – offers free tours that facilitate engaging conversation about both the art and architecture that are available to the public on a weekly basis.

According to the Glenstone Museum’s website, “architecture is as essential as artwork and landscape, providing a minimal design to complement the collection and visitor experience.” Because so many museums that undergo these extreme updates ensure that their changes will positively serve the local population, instead of only capitalizing on tourists, I find that overall dramatic architecture types are inherently good, and that visitors are just as eager to discover the art inside as they are to experience the architecture itself. Similarly, the couple who is responsible for funding Glenstone has recently shared that one of the reasons why they decided to expand was to bring in more local school groups, “where arts education is at risk.” While it may be true that some visitors are more interested in the architecture than the art that lies within, I argue that these waves of dramatic architecture construction and conversion actually promote serious inquiry, encourage critique, and invite conversation.

Weekly Jobs Roundup

Hello everyone and happy fall! Here’s the jobs roundup for the week of September 23rd:

Northeast

Program Assistant [Edward M. Kennedy Institute/Boston, MA]

Visitor Experience Coordinator [Edward M. Kennedy Institute/Boston, MA]

Membership, Engagement, and Stewardship Coordinator [Smith College Museum of Art/ Northampton, MA]

Associate Director of Donor Relations [Museum of Science/Boston, MA]

Development Associate [Boston Children’s Museum/Boston, MA]

Executive Director [The Connecticut River Museum / Essex, CT]

Mid-Atlantic

Visitor Services and Membership Coordinator [Biggs Museum of American Art/Dover, DE]

Museum Manager [McKeesport Regional History and Heritage Center/McKeesport, PA]

Executive Director [McKeesport Regional History and Heritage Center/McKeesport, PA]

Director Traveling Exhibitions Department [International Arts and Artists/Washington, DC]

Exhibit Manager [Morehead Planetarium and Science Center/Chapel Hill, NC]

Southeast

Coordinator of Museum Interpretation [High Museum of Art/Atlanta, GA] 

Coordinator of Public Programs [High Museum of Art/Atlanta, GA]

Curatorial Administrative Assistant [Norton Museum of Art/West Palm Beach, FL]

Conservator [Vizcaya Museum and Gardens/Miami, FL]

Midwest

Collections Manager [Frazier History Museum/Louisville, KY]

Curator of Collections [Carver County Historical Society/Waconia, MN]

Curator (Exhibitions) [Las Cruces Museum System/ Las Cruces, NM]

Museum Curator (Education) [Las Cruces Museum System/ Las Cruces, NM]

Director of Education and Outreach [Asia Society Texas Center/Houston, TX]

West

Associate Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art [San Diego Museum of Art/San Diego, CA]

Exhibitions Manager [De Young Museum/San Francisco, CA]

Museum Manager [City of Independence/Independence, OR]

Executive Director [Sacramento History Alliance/Sacramento, CA]

Curator of History and Campbell House [Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture/Spokane, WA]

Weekly Jobs Roundup

Hi friends! Here’s the weekly jobs roundup for September 16th:

Northeast

Research Coordinator [Massachusetts Historical Society / Boston, MA]

Curator of Exhibitions [Nantucket Historical Association / Nantucket, MA]

Executive Director [Southern Vermont Arts Center / Manchester, VT]

Engagement Manager [Naumkeag, The Trustees / Stockbridge, MA]

Interpretation and Education Program Developer [The Bostonian Society / Boston, MA]

Mid-Atlantic

Museum Exhibit Technician [Dumbarton Oaks Research Library / Washington, DC]

Communications Coordinator [Studio Museum / New York, NY]

Collections Assistant [Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Pocantico Center / Tarrytown, NY]

Registrar [Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum / St. Michaels, MD]

Curator [Salem County Historical Society / Salem, NJ]

Southeast

Director of Inclusion [American Alliance of Museums / Arlington, VA]

Director of Museum Affairs [Drayton Hall Preservation Trust / Charleston, SC]

Director and Chief Curator [Blaffer Art Museum / Houston, TX]

Curatorial Researcher [University of Texas / San Antonio, TX]

Coordinator of Museum Interpretation [High Museum of Art / Atlanta, GA]

Midwest

Preservation and Digitization Strategist [Ohio State University / Columbus, OH]

Associate Director of Visitor Experience [National Veterans Memorial and Museum / Columbus, OH]

Director [Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum / University Center, MI]

Senior Exhibit Designer [Minnesota Historical Society / St. Paul, MN]

Curator, Global Contemporary Art [The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art / Kansas City, MO]

West

Site Manager, Fulton Mansion [Texas Historical Commission / Rockland, TX]

Executive Director [Willamette Heritage Center / Salem, OR]

Guest Curator [Anchorage Museum Association / Anchorage, AK]

Manager of Docent Programs [Skirball Cultural Center / Los Angeles, CA]

Museum Curator [Churchill County Museum / Fallon, NV]

The Problem with Plastics

two plastic flamingos with a plastic bag caught on them

We’ve all heard the dire news. We’ve seen the straw drawn out of the turtle’s nose. We carry our reusable bags, whether or not our town has outlawed them. We know about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. In ways large and small, the people of the world are grappling with the looming environmental disaster of plastics. But we know that the issue is complex. Plastic straws are a necessity for many members of the disabled community. Plastic treasures, from the earliest celluloid jewelry to the first artificial heart to myriad acrylic paintings and fiberglass sculptures, fill our museums. For museums, the problem with plastics threatens to destroy a century of treasures.

The New York Times recently detailed the issue facing the conservators of many institutions, including those at the Smithsonian, struggling to save Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit from the moon landing. The suit includes twenty-one different types of plastics, all deteriorating at different paces. The suit has been taken off display to arrest its decomposition, but the damage has already been done to other historic suits. In those, the neoprene found within internal layers of the suit has turned brittle and shattered. At the Smithsonian and many other art, science, and history museums around the world, conservationists and scientists are racing to figure out the best ways to preserve and repair artifacts that, despite having a half-life of a thousand years, seem to have a useful life span of less than a hundred years.

The first sign that a plastic object is deteriorating is usually yellowing or microfracturing of the object. While unsightly and inconvenient, this is essentially a warning sign that worse conditions are coming. Offgassing, shrinking, and other kinds of visible degradation are soon to follow. In creating plastics, molecules are arranged and frozen in an inefficient manner. Over time they regroup, separating the object itself into brittle structures with white powdery materials or sticky substances emerging. Some earlier types of film create acetic acid in the course of deterioration, causing what archivists call “vinegar syndrome”. As with film, this short shelf life of plastics is also affecting archivists who are rushing to save information stored on physical media. As the space and time needed to store content shrank, the amount of information saved exploded, resulting in a surfeit of information that needs to be evaluated and conserved in a relatively short amount of time. Whether cassette tape, CD, flash drive, or physical server, plastics are integral to the modern world’s ability to save itself for posterity and renewing the lifespan of plastic objects with information stored on them requires money and time that many institutions unfortunately do not have.

In the short and medium term, trainings on how to deal with plastic should become more widespread and additional funds will need to be allocated to deal with issues of plastics conservation and preservation of information and objects currently stored via plastics. However, the long-term state of preservation is going to require new thinking about how to display and discuss a culture who so thoroughly relied on an object with such a limited lifespan. Future historians will also need to explain why such reliance on a temporary material with harmful environmental effects was considered a desirable solution for twentieth century humans. The sooner those conversations commence, the more useful they may be in mitigating culture loss and environmental damage.

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