A major part of a curator’s job is collection management and maintenance. This includes lifting things. Heavy things.
This week at Ludlow I helped the team re-arrange a large part of the social history collection. There is quite a lot of material coming to us from other museums and we are moving some of our pieces to other institutions. In the process, we have been re-organising certain area. We spent hours up ladders and steps fetching tin baths, sewing machines, weights, projectors, hair curling machines, among (many) other (varied) things. They were stored in one area, photographed and catalogued, then we moved them to their new home.
The hardest part was resisting spending ages looking at each object (there were some delicious items: old cinema-projectors, old-fashioned egg boxes, retro diner equipment, beautiful furniture, etc.). I fancy a few pieces for my flat! These are the sorts of objects that children wonder at, and say, mystified: “what on earth is that?”. Older generations, on the other hand, say: “oh, I remember that, we had one…”.
I think there is still quite a lot to do (more lifting I expect) but as a trainee curator it’s something I’ll have to get used to.
This all linked in nicely with a seminar I attended about ‘Sustainable Collections’. It was a discussion-led meeting with several people from all over the county. We discussed the risk to collections (and museums as a whole) and how to get over some of these risks; how to collect going forward, with new systems, media and technology; how collecting and storing objects (whether art, natural history, social history or archaeology) will ultimately lead to their disintegration and ‘death’.
The latter concept fascinated me. There are some things (such as certain art pieces) whose eventual decay and, therefore, transience almost lend an additional facet of beauty to them (despite wanting to keep them for perpetuity). Facing up to the fact that all objects, no matter how precious, will one day disappear is quite a heavy thought.