Remember when Harrison Ford played Indiana Jones in Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail? He was on a ship with a cross and was yelling, “that belongs in a museum!” Keeping that in mind, here I start.
When do you save everything for the sake of preserving the legacy of an important individual in American history? At the Thomas Cole National Historic Site their collection is minimal. The site is a rather young institution, acquired in 1998, and did not have any furnishings. The contents of the house were sold off in an auction in 1964. When the the house became a museum in the late 1990s the majority of the house was furnished with antiques and period pieces, as it still stands today.
The Education Coordinator, Joanna Frang, PhD. Winterthur Graduate, set up a five month fellowship program to assist in researching this much needed information. This includes research on the house, programing, the farm, Thomas Cole, the Bartow sisters, and the Thomson family, who originally owned the property.
On this particular day two fellows and I (I am an intern on shorter term than the fellows) were charged with clearing out the 20th century garage and to inventory the contents. In one garage bay we found over two dozen doors and windows, several picture frames, architectural fragments from the house, various boards of unknown provenance – well everything had unknown provenances – a bell, various tools, and a section of a plaster wall intact with lath boards and plaster.
The assortment of stuff gathered in this garage is amazing. We laid it all out, photographed and inventoried everything. Some of this stuff is simply garbage. I have seen museum collections where they save every piece of the house. It is clear that some of the stuff is from the house. Should historic sites really keep everything that came from the house, siding, architectural fragments, etc for perpetuity?
Ask yourself, Dr. Jones, does that item really belong in a museum?