Quite a bit happens behind the scenes here at CHS that most people never see (unless you come on a behind-the-scenes tour!). It is usually all those seemingly small, unglamorous tasks that make it possible for us to share our great collections with all of you. Tuesday, Diane Lee, our Collections Manager, and I spent an entire day doing one such seemingly small, unglamorous task.
When items come into the CHS collection and the Deed of Gift has been signed and returned, the next step is to number, catalog, and permanently house the object. Most of the time this is a simple task that takes one person to complete. However, larger items take a bit more time and people to accomplish this outwardly simple task. Some of the large items in the collection that take more time are the quilts and bed coverings.
On average, the basic cataloging, numbering, folding, and housing, of one quilt or bed covering takes approximately: 1 hour 45 minutes, 6 1/2 yards of tissue paper, 2 people, and 1 acid free box. That may not sound like much, or maybe it does, but if you figure in finding time when two people (Diane and I) are able to schedule time together, plus consider the fact that a very large, clear work area is needed, it can become quite a production.
After spending over two days diligently cataloging, numbering, and stacking (heaviest to lightest with clean sheets between each layer) twelve quilts and bed coverings, it was finally time to move to the last step of completely integrating these objects into the permanent museum collection. Diane and I penciled in an entire day (and still had to squeeze in a few more the next day) to take documentary photographs, such as the ones throughout this post, and carefully fold each quilt and bed covering.
The folding process takes a surprising amount of time. You must be careful to keep the number visible after the item is boxed, each fold is carefully packed with tissue paper to keep the fabric from creating a hard crease, and each item must fit the box perfectly…which sometimes results in needing to refold at least one or two throughout the day to get it just right. Then the real difficulty begins, finding an empty shelf to hold all those beautiful, newly packed boxes.
Once the locations are found and recorded in the object records, those quilts and bed coverings are now complete. It takes hours, sometimes days, to complete seemingly small, unglamorous tasks at a museum, but sometimes the feeling that comes along with completing those tasks, the knowledge that these items are now available for anyone to locate, view, and research is oddly fulfilling. Making collections available to those interested is part of our job, and for many of us, it is the best part of our job.