Woody Intership: Colonial Williamsburg Week 7

The highlight of Week 7 for me was the intern tour of the textile storage area and conservation lab. We learned about how when the Curatorial building was under construction, special care was given to how the building would be structured to fit the needs of each individual department. In the textile department, Kim Ivy, curator of textiles, actually got a say in how she wanted the textiles to be stored. The room was filled with large carts that had a buttoned down canvas covering the front to project the objects from dust. Once the canvas was peeled back, it revealed large trays containing objects from bed spreads to sheets. Mrs. Ivy explained that these objects were not used to furnish the historic homes in Colonial Williamsburg, but were used in order to make replicas for the homes. We then moved to a section of similar storage that contained only quilts. Quilts that signed by the women that made specific patches and quilts that were made straight from a pattern book. The range in dates and geographic location was very expansive. We moved on to smaller storage units that contained smaller, more delicate pieces of work like samplers and school girl art. One thing that I loved so much in textiles and especially in the needlework, is Mrs. Ivy and her love for these objects that she cares for. You could tell that Mrs. Ivy really cared for a treasured every story behind each sampler in her collection, and I think that made the tour even more special. My favorite part of the textile storage area was all of the sewing instruments. Needles, needle cases, thimbles, everything you can image and more, and it was beautiful. We got to the conservation lab where we learned how fragile this old material is and preserving it is very tedious and precise work. Because material is so fragile it can only be on display in the museum for a certain amount of time with as little light exposure as possible. In the museum they have motion censored lights so that if no one is in the exhibit the lights turn off to protect the materials. Due to the light sensitivity textiles are not exhibited long and on a constant rotation, so the conservation lab stays very busy. Most people do not think extensively about cleaning hundreds of years old material. Our natural instinct is to place objects in the wash machine. The textile conservation lab has a garment bath tub that soaks objects that need to be “washed.” However, conservationists try to minimize the need for these baths because of the damage that can occur to the object in the drying process. Everything is rather scientific when formulating an agitate to remove a certain stain without damaging the original cloth. All in all I gained a much greater perspective of what curators and conservationists do to protect our historical treasures.

Woody Internship: Colonial Williamsburg Week 6

Some of the projects that I worked on were objects that had been in the collection for a number of years, but I was looking to see if any more information could be found with the help of technology. One such project that I worked on was a portrait of Patrick Henry. We believed the portrait to be a copy of a miniature done by artist Lawrence Sully. After reading the portrait file, I found a reference to a book that documented portraits of famous Americans. An engraving of Patrick Henry was in the book along with information referencing the engraving as a copy of drawing which was a copy of the Sully miniature. In short, our portrait was a fourth generation copy and we still did not know the artist. The portrait was sold to Colonial Williamsburg by the daughter of Kentucky artist, Oliver Frazer. However, Frazer is not believed to be the artist of this portrait due to stylistic differences. Frazer had an uncle named Robert, who was a popular jeweler in the Lexington, Kentucky area. Colonial Williamsburg has a watch in the collection that contains a watch paper with R. Frazer’s advertisement in it. In conclusion, I believe that an artist possibly training under Oliver Frazer had access to the book containing the engraving at the University of Transylvania, saw the engraving and tried to replicate it. The exact artist may never be known, but this information brings us much closer to discovering the portraits origins. I was able to present all of this information as a research discovery at one of the curatorial accessions meetings.

Woody Internship: Colonial Williamsburg Week 5

In my fifth week with Colonial Williamsburg, I began working on an extensive project to catalog objects that were apart of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Collection that had been sold to her by Edith Halpert. Edith Halpert was a leading women in the early collecting of folk and modern art in the United States. She started her own gallery called “The Downtown Gallery” in 1926 in New York City. Halpert sold many objects to Mrs. Rockefeller, who in turn, gave them to Colonial Williamsburg. I went through the files of about two hundred objects and added Halpert as the known dealer. Now it is easier to know exactly which objects passed through Halpert on to Mrs. Rockefeller with just one search. Even though this task was different from my previous research jobs, it gave me a sense of what others things curators do besides the research aspect of the job. It was also interesting to learn about an important women in the world of collecting that I had never heard of before!

Woody Internship: Colonial Williamsburg Week 4

Colonial Williamsburg has many components that set it aside from other museums. Getting to work behind of scenes of such a diverse place has given me terrific insight into how all of those pieces fit together. From conservation to curatorship to the museum itself, there are many steps that an object has to go through before making it on view to the public. This process would not run near as smoothly as it does without the help of volunteers. The volunteers are genuinely passionate about their work and are always eager to help in any way they can. Volunteers can work in the museum by helping direct visitors or answering questions about objects on display. In week four, I was tasked with finding reading material on folk artists in our collection to give to the volunteers as a reference source. After compiling a booklet of information, we got a call from the museum wanting to know more about the Smith Family portrait in our collection. I pulled the file on the piece and found that a large amount of research had been done. I read through the file and compiled information into an email to send back to the museum. The Smith family portrait is very interesting as it captures a mother surrounded by her children. James Smith is the artist and he is said to have painted himself in the right hand side of the painting. Due to copyright issues I am not able to post a picture of the painting, but I highly recommend visiting Colonial Williamsburg to see this wonderful piece and to learn more about it.

Woody Internship: Colonial Williamsburg Week 3

Part of a curators job is to answer inquiries about objects in their field. We received an inquiry about the authorship of a pastel and I was asked to research it to learn more about the piece. I began researching information about the possible author to learn about what time period he was working in and what area. I went over to the Rockefeller library and found a book on the artist that talked about his signature style and artistic training. As I read more about the artist I began to doubt his authorship of this pastel. The signature did not match up correctly and I could find no other proof of this artist completing a pastel. I reached out to the author of the book who was an expert on this particular artist, and she confirmed my suspicions of this pastel being by someone else. It was very interesting to learn the process of how painting curators authenticate the authorship of paintings. After this project I worked on cataloging a group of x-rays that had been taken of paintings in our collection. I entered the x-rays into the museum system so that it would be easier to know which paintings had x-rays and which ones did not. X-rays help the conservators know more about the piece than what is just on the surface. These two major projects wrapped up week three!