Winterthur: Weeks 1 and 2

Weeks 1 and 2 passed in a whirlwind of activity as I settled into life in Delaware and working at Winterthur.

Winterthur Grounds: Fields away from the main house
Winterthur Grounds: One of my favorite views on the property!

Getting to the main gate on my first day was the easy part… finding the parking lot presented a bigger challenge. With instructions in an email on my phone and a map kindly offered by the gatehouse security officer, it was good I arrived a few minutes early. Several unmarked turns, a run-in with the resident geese, and a curving one-lane road up a small hill finally got me to the staff parking lot.

Amanda, the curatorial department’s graduate fellow, met me in the museum’s main atrium. We headed up 6 flights of stairs (the elevator was broken) to meet the other curators and show me my office. Afterwards, she spent the morning giving me a tour of the house itself as well as the more traditional gallery spaces and the new Dining by Design exhibit.

That afternoon, I sat in on a Room Committee meeting. Actually, “sitting in” gives the wrong idea; these meetings take place on the move. As part of a two-year grant, the curatorial staff is in the process of assessing items in the collection that could be deaccessioned. Each week, they visit a set of rooms and discuss potential candidates for removal. With all the curators gathered together, these meetings also offer the opportunity to consider tweaking room displays, rearranging furniture, or switching out objects that have been on display for too long. Observing this dialogue presents a wonderful opportunity for me to learn more about the collection.  Interpretation styles also changed dramatically over the years. I already look much more carefully at the way the rooms are arranged.

Most of my days are not quite as scheduled as the first one, and I generally divide my time between several different projects and departments. On Tuesdays, I work with Public Programming, developing and helping staff “Terrific Tuesdays” (an art program for kids). Wednesday mornings are reserved for the curatorial staff meetings. One day of the week I also work in registration, assisting the graduate student and two other interns who are working on Winterthur’s ongoing storage project (installing better, more accessible storage over the next 10 years).

The rest of my time is spent working on smaller projects for different curators. During my first week, for instance, I helped Linda Eaton (the Textile Curator) prepare some dolls for a special tour. After Linda wrote up a sheet with basic information about the dolls to leave for the tour guide, we went to the Textile storage rooms and lifted down the boxes we needed (on the top shelf, of course). Then, we set up the dolls in the Textile Study Room along with student papers on several of the dolls from the graduate program.

Another project that took up quite a bit of time during my first two weeks also came from Linda, and required me to research the provenance of a potential purchase. I gave myself a crash course on folk art and 19th-century samplers as I attempted to use the few clues we possessed to assess the age of an unusual piece of needlework. I enjoyed the mystery, and also got the opportunity to become familiar with some of the antiques and auction house databases to which Winterthur subscribes as well as with the Winterthur library. Even Google Maps proved useful- I had never really appreciated the potential research uses of the satellite function before!

A (longer-term) task that I began in the first two weeks was related to an NEA grant Winterthur received to photograph parts of its collection. These object photographs needed to be attached to the catalogue itself, which required me to make multimedia files noting the image title, photo creator, copyright information, where users could find these photos stored, and who could access these photos. With over 600 photographs to insert, I am now very familiar with the contents of several songbooks and many sets of Winterthur wallpaper fragments!