Boston, It’s Been ACE
by: Danielle Kronmiller
As I begin this final blog post, I am nearing the end of my last week as Curator’s Assistant at Boston National Historical Park. The curator and I have just officially wrapped up this year’s annual collection’s inventory; during the course of my time as a CRDIP intern, I have physically located more than one thousand items within the park’s museum collection!
The final days of the inventory process proved to be some of the most difficult, returning to specific items and objects across the lists that had previously eluded discovery. I spent an entire afternoon within archival storage looking for one item – and in the process discovered others. We reboarded the USS Cassin Young and, with the help of volunteer crew, descended multiple decks into engine rooms and tiny storage compartments. The random sample inventory selected one cataloged tool out of many within a large tool chest on display in the Navy Yard visitor’s center, and of course, it turned out to be the smallest item at the very bottom of the chest! Every item, large and small, is an important element of the story of the Charlestown Navy Yard, providing context for interpretation and resources for researchers. Effectively managing collections is truly such an important and fulfilling process; museum professionals are trusted with stewardship of the artifacts and records that tell the stories which make up our past.
Though this year has been a great success, it was inevitable that we would not see every item on the inventory lists. It is an unfortunate fact that museum objects go missing from time to time, a result of damage or incomplete documentation. But that is why we undertake projects like the annual collections inventory. It is generally not the case that these objects or items are truly missing. Often, they will have been moved to a different location long ago, and the paperwork did not quite make it into the accession file. In completing this year’s inventory, I helped locate items that had not been found in previous years, improving upon their documentation each time. Year after year, successive interns will help locate even more of the items we did not see this year.
Museum objects do sometimes go missing another way – theft – bringing me to the final museum visit I will have the pleasure of sharing with you. In 1990, thirteen works of art valued at a combined total of $500 million were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum here in Boston – and they have not yet been recovered. One of the most widely known museum thefts, there is a reward of $10 million offered for information leading to the recovery of these artworks, which include works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas, and Manet. Although this theft makes for a gripping and convenient blogging segue, the Gardner Museum is fascinating in so many other ways. Within the museum, there are no labels alongside the artworks, and the galleries do not feature white walls with equal spaces between each work. There is also a greenhouse and lovely, open garden courtyard at the center of the original building. The founder of the museum, Isabella Stewart
Gardner, wanted visitors to have their own experiences with the art, a departure from the traditional museum model many people expect. The galleries feature impressive tapestries, exquisite furniture, stained glass, architectural details, paintings, and more that are arranged in a more decorative fashion; the collections furnish the spaces as a whole, as much as they are on display individually. The museum provides numbered room guides for visitors that wish to learn more about a specific piece, but it is certainly an immersive experience to take in each gallery wholly, noting how artworks complement and support each other. It is interpretative choices such as this that allow visitors a unique experience at different museums. Feeling and viewing is as much a part of visiting museums as reading and learning.
My time as an ACE CRDIP intern has been truly incredible. I am very grateful to this program, the National Park Service, my supervisor, and all those who have helped me along this journey that has further prepared and excited me for my career in the museum world. The experiences I have had in Boston extended far beyond my expectations. Accomplishing such a task as the collections inventory has given me the confidence to undertake any large project that comes my way in the future. I have never had the opportunity to visit so many different cultural institutions with such frequency, and being able to do so in an area saturated with such history and significance is indescribable. Learning and growing in new environments provides the framework for fulfillment and innovation, and I will take my ideas and the skills I have learned on to my next venture as I continue to pursue curiosity, knowledge, and creativity through museum work, and endeavor to inspire this pursuit in others. I will be sad to move on from Boston and my time as a CRDIP intern, but it is on to the next adventure, and I have never felt more prepared.