Hammered in Alaska

Welcome to the Hammer Museum, we have about 2,000 hammers on display …

I have repeated this phrase a few hundred times since I arrived in Haines, Alaska three weeks ago. The Hammer Museum is everything it advertises, more hammers than you could ever believe. There is a 2 inch hammer and a 20 foot hammer. There are hammers from the land of the pharaohs to the land down under. There are hammers with dark pasts; used for human sacrifice and representative of the Nazi regime. On the lighter side, there are gag hammers, such as the ever-popular crooked hammer which we fondly call our “Politician’s hammer.” All these are only the tip of the iceberg (Alaskan reference intended).


The Hammer Museum is a small organization. It was only in the last two years that the seven member board hired their first paid staff member.  Although their paid internship program has been going on for over ten years. Due to the museum’s size my duties are wide and varied.

I spend part of my time at the front desk welcoming visitors and running the small museum store, during lulls I work on one of several projects waiting for me on my to-do lists.


So far I have been mainly working on revamping and revitalizing the museum’s website.  Since it was primarily created by interns over a variety of summers there are some inconsistencies and a lot of minor changes that could be made to make the site more suitable to the needs of the visitor. I am rewriting the content so that it is all said in one, unified voice. The content also includes images and museum material, such as the logo. I have been busy taking pictures and reworking to logo to fit the needs of the museum and the website.

I have also created a cheap light box (a photographers tool to take pictures in a soft life with little to no shadows). Of course, I found the tutorial on Pinterest you can find the link here. The light box allowed me, a sub-par photographer, take professional-looking images of both the collections and items for the online store. This simple creation has let me take these (if I do say so myself) smashing pictures:

My other large project is to create, with the other intern and the guidance of a board member, a fundraising event. I am glad that I am being given the opportunity to develop a fundraising plan from beginning to end, since it is wonderful experience to have. I am also slightly terrified. Fundraisers can do a lot of good, but they can also fail in an epic fashion. We started off our planning process with a brainstorming session and some of the hard facts. Our budget will be limited to $300 which goes fast with high Alaskan prices.

So far the experience has been wonderful and the hammer puns abound.


Spring On the Ranch

This month has been a busy one on the ranch, with two events in addition to an increase in school programs. The first of these events was Spring Break. This event lasted for an entire week, from Saturday to Saturday (except for the days our park is closed) for the week in which the two local school districts had a holiday break. It also included special events and demonstrations across the park. During Spring Break I split my time between the Davis Mansion and the George Ranch House. I also spent some of the time filling in with a demonstration about plant clipping at the greenhouse on the Davis site because the person originally scheduled to do so was ill.

The second major event that we had was an Easter program that we held on the Saturday before Easter. Much like with the Spring Break event, there were various extra events held across the park. For this day I was stationed at the George Ranch House, mostly giving tours. However, while there I also helped with hiding eggs for the Historic Easter Egg Hunt that was held on the site. For this event we used real hard boiled eggs, several dozen of them.

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In addition to these special events I have continued to help with the historic clothing closet’s inventory and I have worked on my project. For the project this month I was given some research from a long term employee. I have also started to create the website that will be the final form of the collected research and have started putting some basic sources onto it.

This month in collections I did a lot of work for the temporary Visitor Center Exhibit, as part of this I came up with some ideas for objects to add to one of the cases that looked a bit sparse.

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I also continued to work on my project for collections. At this point I have everything in an almost final order with the folders labeled. I still need to go through and scan, photograph and number everything. Today I also worked on making vinyl signs for an upcoming fundraiser for the Fort Bend Museum, which is run by the same organization as George Ranch Historical Park.

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I am also helping with an unusually large school program for the museum this month, called the Texian Time Machine. Normally the Museum runs separately from the ranch. However, when there are big events or unexpected problems, staff will help at the other site. I already worked on the Texian Time Machine once this month, when I ran the land grants rotation. Due to a last minute volunteer cancellation, I am also doing the same program tomorrow, except this time I will be doing the school rotation.

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Gettin’ Around on the Ranch

Earlier this month I finished familiarizing myself with the sites on the Ranch by spending a few days in The George Ranch House. At the beginning of February I also spent a day at the 1860’s site tending the stove and heating water for tea as well as helping with a girl scouts’ program in which the tea was used.


This month I also spent the day north of Houston at Jesse H. Jones Park. They were having an annual event called Homestead Heritage Day. They needed extra help for the day so George Ranch sent a few people to help. Jesse Jones Park has sent volunteers for big events and George Ranch returns the favor when possible. While there I spent the day at their corn crib helping kids shuck and grind corn.



Throughout the month I also had an opportunity to learn new things such as spinning and other textile tasks (for which the ranch held a workshop for interested employees and volunteers).



I have also been working more on my project. I have finished reading a thesis written about the park. While reading I made notes about sections relevant to the project and where I can find information. Next I made a general plan about how to organize the information relating to the 1830’s site and what it the final product will cover. To make the task manageable I am starting with a single site and adding on as time allows. I also worked on reading more sources and adding their information to my framework.

This week I have been spending time at the 1890’s site in the Davis House for an annual event geared towards school children. During the event I have been playing the role of a teenage Mary Elizabeth Davis, often called Mamie. Although I was originally scheduled to work in the house all three days on Saturday, my voice failed. So instead, I ended up working in the office and taking pictures of the event at another site in the afternoon.

In the time I have spent in collections this month I have continued to do general day to day tasks such as condition reports and processing the collection. I have also started working on a object (rather than family) based tour of the 1930’s site. At this point I have mostly done research on this project. I have also continued to work on the upcoming temporary exhibit for the visitor center including measuring and cutting the fabric to recover the case bases. I later helped with the covering too.

I have continued to work on processing the Berry Papers, at this point I have put the first few boxes into an order that is pretty close to final.

Another long term project I have started this month is a pair of General Facilities Reports. By the time I am done I will have completed one for the collections building and another for the visitors center.

Movin’ to a Ranch in Texas

This month I moved to Texas and started working at George Ranch Historical Park. While here I am living in a house provided by the park, together with another intern who works at the Fort Bend Museum in town. I spend three days a week working at the park either in the programs office or on one of the four historic sites. The other two days a week I spend at the collections facility helping to maintain the collections associated with the park.


The setup of the George Ranch Historical Park is very different from many places. The land and buildings are owned by The George Foundation but operated by the Fort Bend Museum Association.

The Historical Ranch tells the story of one family from the original 300 members of the Austin Colony that first settled Texas. This ranch passed for four generations though the female line of the family until the last generation had no living heirs. The foundation that was created during the last generation took over the land and uses the profits from it for charitable purposes.

The park has four main sites, each of which depicts life during a different time period. The Jones Stock Farm, which has a reconstructed Dogtrot cabin, covers the 1830s. The Ryon Prairie Site represents the 1860s and has a period house that was not owned by the family. The 1890s are depicted by the Davis Victorian Site, a family house that was moved to this site from in town, and the 1930’s by the George Cattle Complex, which has a family house remaining on its original site, which was also the site of the first two houses. There is also a sharecropper’s house from the 1890’s to portray the lives of less privileged persons at the time.

In my first month on the Ranch I have done a number of things on my days with the programs office. I have started work on my long term project (organizing research about the family into one easy to understand location that is accessible to staff and volunteers) and I have also helped out with organizing the period clothing closets.


Sewing a label in a non visible area onto a piece of clothing

Another task I have been doing is spending time at the different sites to familiarize myself with them and be able to lead tours and help with programs as needed.


Trying to make sparks with a flint and steel

In the time I have spent at the collections facility I have also had the chance to do a number of things like add objects to the collections database as well as photograph them for the database and write condition reports on objects to go into a temporary exhibit in the visitor center. I have also worked on processing and numbering objects that were not yet accessioned. I have started work on my collections project to process the Clark Berry Papers which have been stored in the archive section for a couple of years without being fully gone through.

In addition to these typical tasks I have attended a board meeting (open to staff) held this month to go over last year’s financial report for the Fort Bend Museum Association. That same day I attended an art exhibit opening at the Fort Bend Museum. The other out of hours activity I participated in was to attend the Southeast Texas Museum Association (SETMA) quarterly meeting which was held on a site off the Gulf of Mexico.


View from site of meeting

Overall I have had the opportunity to do many different things and learn quite a bit this month.

An Ending To This Chapter…With An Unexpected Twist To The Story

My internship at the Missouri Civil Museum comes to a close today. During these last few weeks I multi-tasked between collections management and administrative duties.

I continued to update PastPerfect artifact files by entering detailed descriptions and condition reports. Paying attention to detail is one of the professional guidelines I learned in all of my courses in the Historical Administration Program, and continue to put into action here at the Missouri Civil War Museum. These sections will assist current and future staff members in identifying and locating artifacts.


Along with updating PastPerfect files I inventoried more of the museum’s Civil War Era currency notes. Throughout this process I identified currency notes that did not possess a Deed of Gift form. My supervisor, Executive Director Mark Trout, found a number of these missing documents for me to enter into the software, and afterwards I placed them in their assigned binder where all of the hard copy forms are located. It is extremely rewarding to know that the staff will use the standardized system I developed within this software as their central collections management system after I leave.


This final week my main task was being responsible for the administrative operations while the rest of the staff worked on restoring the 1918 Jefferson Barracks Post Exchange building next door.

1918 Building

This building will function as place for educational programming, an events center, and library research facility. The Executive Director hopes to open this building to the public in June 2016. With the rest of the staff next door I oversaw the administrative and gift shop desks, conducted merchandise inventories, visitor interaction, and recorded future field trips.


However….my time at the Missouri Civil War Museum is not over. I am still going to volunteer every week until I do not possess the time to do so. I will still complete the same duties assigned to me for this internship. This chapter has ended but the story goes on!


Collections Management: Updating, Updating……And A Little More Updating

Over the past month the two major tasks I have concentrated on are entering missing artifact document information into PastPerfect and inventorying various collections within the museum’s holding.

“Everything is progressing…BUT”

My supervisor laughs every time I step into his office because he knows these will be the first words out of my mouth because I am finding mistakes within the Missouri Civil War Museum’s collection records that need correction. While working on my special project I documented every missing Deed of Gift so my supervisor could either find it or contact the donor who sent the item to sign a form again. After completing my special project my supervisor found multiple missing Deed of Gift forms for me to catalog into PastPerfect. This institution’s records are slowly but surely becoming accurate and complete.

In addition to entering missing artifact information I decided to take on the project of locating a photograph of each object and placing it into PastPerfect, so that when each file comes up a picture of the item will appear as well. Some artifacts do not have a picture so I am looking through all of the museum’s digital files, and if there are no images of a specific artifact then I will let my supervisor know to take a photograph at a future date. I hope to have a photograph for every item in the museum’s approximate 2,000 artifact collection before my internship ends.

I know this sounds difficult with all of my other duties and projects to complete in three weeks, but I am up for the challenge!

While diligently trying to complete and update the Missouri Civil War Museum’s entire artifact record I am inventorying various collections. I recently finished a large portion of the museum’s uniform collection, and am currently inventorying Civil War era coins. The images on these coins are just as detailed and exquisite as present-day United States currency!

After inventorying each artifact I look back at its PastPerfect file to add a detailed description as well as a condition report. These reports can help future staff easily identify each object as well as know what physical state it is in. My supervisor has expressed his gratitude for all of the work I am doing and how it helps the Missouri Civil War Museum stay efficient and accountable. This internship definitely puts my collections management and multi-tasking skills to good use.

Using my skills and letting them do their magic!

I continue to perform my other duties, such as managing the front administrative desk, gift shop, document every book donation that comes to the museum, and any other task the Executive Director gives me.

I cannot believe that my internship at the Missouri Civil War Museum ends in less than a month. This internship gave me a glimpse of what it takes to effectively manage a 501c3 non-profit museum, which will help me in my career as a museum professional. The projects I managed and assisted in are small ways in which I am leaving my mark on this institution. The Missouri Civil War Museum will have current, standardized artifact records that staff can use and follow when updating or creating new ones.

Check back to see how I spend my final days at the Missouri Civil War Museum!

Do You Believe in Magic?

“It’s important to remember that we all have MAGIC inside us.” -J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter book series

Any day now, I expect Hagrid to knock on my door and say, “Yer a wizard, Laura.” Because only with magical powers could I have gotten the museum ready in time for the opening.


On the evening of Tuesday, October 6th, the Schingoethe Center of Aurora University officially opened its doors to the public after being closed for two years. About 250 people attended the opening, which was more than we had anticipated. In total for the week, we saw over 800 people come through our doors.

People were impressed with the new space, making me feel incredibly proud to have been a part of this endeavor. I was glad all our hard work had paid off!

Though, of course, visitors were only seeing the finished product…They didn’t have a clue how much work went into it all. They didn’t know about our blunders – or exactly how many times we rewrote that one introduction panel. But maybe that’s for the best! As far as they know, we’re magic…

POOF! It’s a museum.

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This building, finished in June 2015, houses the new Schingoethe Center of Aurora University.


Leveling one of our new display cases.


Children enjoying our World of the Kachina exhibit in the new Marlin Johnston Family Gallery.


Two visitors checking out Wendell Minor’s America, a traveling exhibit on loan from the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA.

But sigh…No matter how hard you’ve worked, you’ll always have your critics.

Those who had been to the museum previously were expecting to see the museum just as it was before, with its kid-friendly environment and plethora of hands-on activities. But with the construction of this new building, the director decided to update a few things, including the museum’s mission statement. The museum is still dedicated to representing Native American cultures, of course, but now the museum is less ethnographic, less “kid-centric,” and more art-focused, targeting high school and college students.

Teachers especially were, uh, alarmed by the changes. “Does this mean you won’t be doing any more school tours?” “Where did the wigwam go?” (The museum used to have a life-sized wigwam, and it was pretty cool, but there’s just no room for it in the new space.)

I’ve actually had a few people tell me they were “disappointed” with the changes we’d made. Guess you can’t make everybody happy!



As disheartening as it was to hear comments like those, we also heard a good amount of praise for the new museum. Many alums, who remembered the museum when it was in a damp, dark basement in Dunham Hall, were pleased and told me they looked forward to visiting again in the future.

To be fair, I can’t say I’m exactly thrilled about the museum becoming more art-focused either (art just isn’t my thing), but I think it’s a change that we’ll all just have to adjust to.

And I can’t wait to see what the coming year has in store for us!

…and by the way, J.K. Rowling, I’m still waiting on that Hogwarts letter.

In the meantime…Accio, sleep!