A Week in the Life – Winterthur Week 5

With the end of Week 5, it’s officially the halfway point of my time with Winterthur’s curatorial department. To offer a sense of the dynamic schedule I often have, here’s a summary of the week.


The elevator broke. An exciting way to start off the week, this meant regularly hiking up all 97 steps to the 6th floor any time there was a location change. Since it was Monday, that meant another day working with Paula in Registration to photograph and label more print blocks from the American Textile History Museum. We now only have 5 of those boxes left!

The Textile Curator also returned from a trip to England with clotted cream scones for the office, and I was able to offer a semi-decent explanation of what clotted cream was to the Curatorial Fellow because of my time in the UK at the University of St Andrews. Apparently, an unusual degree course also leads to unusual second-hand knowledge that can be applied in unexpected places.  Who knew?


Today I helped Nalleli, the Curatorial Fellow, locate a bunch of objects for a Research Fellow hoping to examine some of the objects for her work. We hunted around Frame Storage to find a needlework piece, and moved a quilt depicting William Penn’s treaty from Textile Storage II to Textile Study.

Nalleli also planned the route we would take the Research Fellow on, since many of the objects were on display in the house, and we wanted to avoid distracting tour groups on the fifth floor. The Fellow looked at lots of Native American art, including quillwork pieces and baskets, and we ended up on various part of floors 5, 6, 7, and 8.

The hydrangeas next to the parking lot.

The hydrangeas next to the parking lot.


Wednesday was full of meetings. At 9:00 was the weekly Curatorial Meeting, which includes all the curators, and representatives from Conservation and several other departments. This meeting featured an update about the trip three of the curators went on to England with the Collectors Circle, the highest level of museum donors. These trips offer a unique experience to stay at private estates, fancy hotels, and see parts of museums or gain special access to areas not normally available to the public. The Textile and Furniture Curators who went on the trip were especially excited about their time at Cambridge Library, and geeked out over Gutenberg Bibles and Darwin manuscripts that they saw. Their excitement was infectious, and they sounded like giddy children.

The 10:00 Gift Purchases Meeting involves a group assessment of objects the museum is considering buying or accepting as a gift. The objects are usually brought to the meeting, and pitched for their value to the collection, potential for interesting tour material, or what they could offer for a student thesis or student conservation project. Watching that discussion and decision making process was pretty interesting.

I spent most of the rest of the day transcribing notes written by curators about the history and importance of objects acquired during the 2016-2017 fiscal year so the information could be access on the database as part of the object file.

Lunch had a nice view.

Lunch had a nice view.


Thursday included meeting with two potential donors with a large framed piece of copper-printed cloth depicting patriotic scenes related to the French Revolution. While the Textile Curator took the donors on a tour of the facility and explained how their object would likely be used by the museum, Nalleli and I put the piece in temporary Crate Storage and attached the proper paperwork, and delivered a carbon copy of the form to Registration. Now that the piece has been officially donated, it will eventually be fumigated so it can be incorporated in with other museum textiles.

Later in the day, I also accompanied the Textile Curator to look at the Cobb Collection, a series of objects that are part of the American Textile History Museum donation. Cobb was a United States silk grower in the 1830s, and advocated and lectured on the topic. The Textile Curator wanted to figure out what objects in the collection to keep, and if she wanted any to be accessioned as part of the Library’s collection in time for the meeting with the librarians tomorrow.


The last day before the long weekend had a celebration with pie and donuts for Nalleli’s second to last day. The Curatorial Fellow position is only held for a year, so on Wednesday she’ll help her replacement transition, and then head off to Boston to work on her PhD research. Based on how many people came to celebrate her goodbye, I am definitely one of many people who will miss her very much.

The meeting with the librarians also happened, and we were joined by Paula. While the Textile Curator ultimately decided to keep all the objects in the Cobb Collection together, she also decided she wanted to take the cloth samples with paper labels that the library was meant to accession, but was not particularly interested in. Sadly for Paula, this means she now has a larger number of objects to accession, while the library has slightly less work. Organizing the transition of objects will be a bit of a hassle, but means those paper labels will now live in a textile storage space instead of in the library archives.

The rest of Friday largely consisted of helping Nalleli go through her corner of the office, deciding what could be recycled, and what research existing in various folders should be labeled and given to Registration to attach to object files. Oddly enough, that led to discovering some detailed genealogy about a quilt which included a picture featuring a nun.

Rifling through museum files never disappoints.

Rifling through museum files never disappoints.


Overall, this was a nice week full of new procedures alongside familiar ones. It was also nice to spend some more time with Nalleli on her last week. I’m not quite sure what I will do without her here. She’s been someone to laugh and joke around with, and she’s also been my main point of contact for assignments. Who am I meant to bug now, for work and with silly jokes? Time for everyone else left in the office to brace themselves…