Unpacking a Museum

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My shiny new badge! How official!

I began working as the Graduate Fellow for the Schingoethe Museum of Aurora University (formerly the Schingoethe Center for Native American Cultures) during the second week in June. Hard to believe it’s been a month already. I guess time flies when you’re busy getting a whole museum up and running again!

Two years ago (when I was working as a student worker for the Schingoethe), the museum closed temporarily in anticipation of the construction of a new building. It’s funny, really…I helped pack up the museum’s collection then, and now, I’m in charge of the entire unpacking operation.

What a daunting task!

Over 5,000 objects must go back on their shelves. In addition, many of our former exhibits are getting total makeovers (because, hey, why not? When opportunity knocks, right?). We’re also planning a couple new exhibits for our public opening in October, including a traveling exhibit from the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA.

Therefore, my time over the past few weeks has been split between exhibit research, label writing, and most importantly, preparing the new museum for the return of artifacts.

The building was almost completely empty when I arrived. We had no furniture, no computers – nothing.

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It’s a rare thing to see a vault completely empty! Hopefully it won’t look like this for long.

Nothing but empty shelves, that is! One of my first tasks was to clean and line all of these shelves and drawers with ethafoam. It took the Curatorial Assistant and I almost 3 days to sterilize and line all 388 shelves, but this tedious task was worth it, because it meant the museum was ready for its first shipment of artifacts. Yay!

The first artifacts to return were the ones on loan to the Anthropology Museum at Northern Illinois University. (The Schingoethe loaned out 55 items to keep its name “out there” while it was closed.) These all had to be conditioned again before returning to their home locations.

Ah, collections work! Handling artifacts! How I’ve missed it.

As more and more items started to pour in, our storage vaults began to resemble something akin to a hoarder’s basement. Boxes were stacked in the corners of the vaults, random artifacts on their way to being accessioned were laid out on the work table, and objects without locations were put off to the side for the time being.

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MRW I look around and see all the boxes piling in…

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In the coming week, we will begin unpacking the artifacts in earnest. I will be in charge of the whole process – overseeing volunteers and making sure everything goes in its proper place.

Problems are bound to arise, but I am up for the challenge.

I say, “Bring it on!”

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