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August 9, 2013

“Hey Mom, guess what I did today? I moved a totem pole!”

Special thanks to Summer Olsen, 2013 Smithsonian Affiliations Intern Partner for writing this guest post. Summer spent 10 weeks at the Smithsonian this summer. She returns to California this fall to complete the second half of her intern partnership. Thank you, Summer!

summerolsenDuring my summer 2013 internship through the Smithsonian Affiliations Intern Partnership Program I assisted the Office of the Registrar at the Cultural Resources Center (CRC) of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) from June 3rd to August 9th. Inventory Specialist Heather Farley and Assistant Registrar for Acquisitions Margaret Cintron supervised me.  During my internship in Registration I learned about the daily processing, tracking, and inventory of objects in collections, researched Plains beadwork with NMAI curator Emil Her Many Horses, and experienced the organization of other Smithsonian branches via intern tours and events. The skills and knowledge I developed during my internship will be applied to a comprehensive project involving an inventory and assessment of the Plains beadwork collections at the Riverside Metropolitan Museum (a Smithsonian Affiliate) and the museum at Sherman Indian High School in Riverside, California.

My time at the CRC has flown by and I have developed skills and gained knowledge by completing a variety of tasks: documenting the un-accessioned collections, processing new acquisitions, processing outgoing loans and objects returned from being loaned, working in collections, assisting in the de-installation of an exhibit, and office tasks like scanning and filing catalog cards and accession lot folders.

My main project this summer was to work with two other registration interns documenting the un-accessioned collections. To prepare for our work in registration work we received object-handling training from conservation staff members and training from registration staff to operate work assistance vehicles (WAV) and pallet jacks. We photographed, recorded measurements, and re-housed disassociated fragments from their parent object and un-accessioned material. After photographing the objects we edited the photo files and embedded them with metadata. Then we made custom storage mounts, and shelved the objects in their appropriate locations in collections. I was also taught how to enter some cataloging information and object dimensions into EMU.

We learned to use the barcode system in collections. When working on the documentation project we assigned a barcode to each item. New acquisitions were also assigned barcodes. In addition we re-associated a group of fragments using the barcode system to locate their parent objects and conducted an inventory by scanning the barcodes of un-accessioned works on paper.

olsen3I learned the procedure for processing new acquisitions into the collection.  We unpacked crates, took reference photos, and made/wrote condition reports and lot forms. For cloth objects we made tags with NMAI catalog numbers and sewed them down. The procedure was much the same for the outgoing objects for the Anishinabe exhibit at the George Gustav Heye Center in New York City. We checked the condition of each object and compared it to previous condition and conservation reports. When objects came back from a loan I helped Museum Registration Specialist for Loans, Rajshree Solanki, unpack objects and updated their condition paperwork. We also wrote condition paperwork for peace medals that were de-installed at the NMAI Mall Museum in Washington, D.C.

During the second part of my internship I met with NMAI curator Emil Her Many Horses who guided me through NMAI’s beadwork collections. I learned about the progression of beading (from quillwork to early beading to the present day), different cultural styles of beadwork, and beading techniques. The information he imparted will be key to completing my project this fall at the Riverside Metropolitan Museum and Sherman Indian High School.

This internship also gave me access to knowledge via tours of other Smithsonian Museums and events sponsored by the Office of Fellowships and Internships. I was able to see collections storage practices at National Museum of Natural History, the Hirshhorn, and National Air and Space Museum and toured the Folklife festival with curators from the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. The “From Here to Career”, an event hosted by OFI, gave me the opportunity to talk to Smithsonian museum professionals.

My internship at NMAI has been an incredible experience.  I will be able to apply all the skills I learned while working at NMAI to my project at the Riverside Metropolitan Museum and Sherman Indian High School.  I have been able to see objects I have only ever read about, interact with fantastic people, been given advice that will impact the rest of my academic career, and formed professional relationships. Highlights of my experience have been: Moving a totem pole, documenting strange animal specimens, getting to see collections while re-associating fragments, and learning about beadwork with Emil Her Many Horses.

Thank you Smithsonian Affiliations for this amazing opportunity. I have enjoyed every minute of it and am gearing up to complete the next part of the internship in Riverside.

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Summer receiving a Certificate of Award at the Congressional Reception during the 2013 Affiliations National Conference. Left to right: Smithsonian Secretary, G. Wayne Clough; Summer Olsen, Smithsonian Regent, France A. Córdova; Smithsonian Assistant Secretary for Education and Access, Claudine Brown; Riverside Metropolitan Museum Curator of Collections & Exhibitions, Brenda Focht; Riverside Metropolitan Museum Curator of Collections & Historic Structures, Lynn Voorheis; and Smithsonian Affiliations Director, Harold Closter.

January 25, 2011

An Affiliate journey through Smithsonian collections storage

Special thanks for this guest post to Latasha M. Richards, collections manager at York County Culture & Heritage Museums, a Smithsonian Affiliate in Rock Hill, South Carolina. 

The idea to visit the Smithsonian came to mind while I worked on ways to improve and better utilize the current collections storage space at the York County Culture & Heritage Museums (CHM).  As the collections manager for CHM, I knew such an opportunity to learn from Smithsonian staff would allow me to gain valuable information to help my museum move forward with its own ideas to renovate one of our current collections storage facilities. 

Emily Kaplan, conservator, at the NMAI Cultural Resources Center shows Latasha the textile storage units.

Anyone who has gone through this type of process, particularly when it calls for moving large amounts of the collection, knows what a challenge such projects present. From the beginning, the CHM collections staff decided that talking to other professionals who have gone through similar activities would be one of the best ways to get a clear picture of just what to expect from the process.  Thanks to CHM’s participation in the Smithsonian Affiliations program, I was able to do just that.

I contacted my Smithsonian Affiliations National Outreach Manager, Caroline Mah, to talk about our collections storage renovation project and just what I hoped to gain from a visit to the Smithsonian.  She worked hard to ensure that she had a clear understanding of just want I was hoping to see and learn, and was able to set up tours for me with staff at the National Museum of the American Indian Cultural Resources Center (NMAI) and the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Compact storage at NMAI Cultural Resources Center.

Caroline and I met Raj Solanki, registration loan specialist, and Emily Kaplan, conservator, at the NMAI Cultural Resources Center in Suitland, Maryland on the first day. After a tour of the collections space, they summarized their experiences moving the collection from its previous facilities and what they loved or would change about their building if given the chance.  They recommended using a bar code system to track objects during relocation, a system that proved to be a successful process for them.  Emily and Raj also made recommendations for various vendors and professionals that they worked with and sent me a copy of NMAI’s “The Move Procedure Manual” which details the procedures used in their move.

The next two days were spent at the American Art Museum’s two different storage facilities—one located near the museum in D.C., and the other a short distance away in Maryland. I met with Denise D. Wamaling, collections manager, and James Concha, collections manager for painting and sculpture.  Both had worked together when the American Art Museum had to relocate its collection to new facilities.  Denise and James oversee different aspects of the collection so the needs for their individual spaces were unique.  They emphasized how important it is to work as a team throughout the entire process because it made things run more smoothly.  Denise gave recommendations on how to plan the space by taping-off areas of the floor to represent where storage equipment and workspaces would be located as well as making life-size cutouts to make sure objects could be moved not only through doorways but also within the collections space as a whole.  When speaking with James, he emphasized just how important it was to manage workspace and supplies while moving.  He noted that things can get overwhelming with boxes, crates, and supplies everywhere and that it was important to coordinate when things were being moved and when the supplies would be available so that everything ran smoothly and efficiently. 

More compact storage at NMAI Cultural Resources Center.

Overall, the trip was incredibly helpful.  Some of the information was already somewhere in my thought process but in talking with other professionals who had actually gone through the experience it reaffirmed my ideas or recalled things to memory.  By touring all of the facilities, I saw different ways to store various objects that I had not thought of or seen before, which will be invaluable when it comes to planning our new space. I know I have options.  Lastly, I was so pleased and appreciative to the Smithsonian staff for not only taking the time to speak to me during the winter holiday season but with how generous they were with their knowledge.  I walked away from the experience with new contacts, lists of potential vendors and professionals that I can work with, and a reminder of just how small the museum community is and how important it is to share our thoughts and experiences with one another.

If you are an Affiliate staff member interested in planning something similar, contact your Smithsonian Affiliations National Outreach Manager for details.

 

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