A priority of the program is to create ongoing relationships with local and regional institutions dedicated to the preservation, study, and display of material culture. Forging these connections enables faculty and students to get involved with local organizations, conduct primary research on important collections, and participate in mounting exhibitions.
Students in the program have already taken advantage of internship and employment opportunities at institutions and organizations such as the Chipstone Foundation; the Chazen Museum of Art; the John Michael Kohler Arts Center; the Kohler Foundation; the Milwaukee Art Museum; the Preservation Division of Mead and Hunt; Ten Chimneys Foundation; and the Wisconsin Historical Society. Here is a sampling of some of these projects:
Chazen Museum of Art
John Michael Kohler Arts Center
Education Department Intern
Exhibitions Department Intern
Kohler Foundation, Inc.
Restoration and Preservation Intern
Local Restoration Consultants
Mead & Hunt Engineers, Historic Preservation Division
Historic Research Intern
Historic Building Survey Intern
Milwaukee Art Museum
Wisconsin Historical Society
Ann Glasscock – The Attingham Summer School: Exploring the English Country House
In July 2014 I attended the Attingham Summer School, an eighteen-day course which consisted of lectures and public and private visits to English country houses in Sussex, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, and Gloucestershire. This program provided me with a unique opportunity to become acquainted with the architectural and social history of the historic house. It also gave me a chance to study its contents and design. Lastly, I was able to gain a greater understanding of how these estates are managed and interpreted with a particular focus on issues of conservation and preservation.
As a decorative arts historian and silver specialist, I came into the Attingham program with a keen eye and ear for seeing works of silver and for hearing stories of their history and their role in the country house. To my great fortune, a pre-course visit took us to Apsley House in London, and a magnificent Portuguese silver-gilt centerpiece whet my appetite for what was to come in the weeks ahead (fig. 1).
Upon the official launch of the program, we visited Uppark in West Sussex where National Trust curator and silver expert, James Rothwell, proved that objects are not static adornments on display, but rather they are instilled with vibrant histories. The dining room served as the perfect setting to demonstrate the theatrical role that a piece of silver could play over the course of a meal. Salvers, a kind of tray used to carry drinks, were instrumental to a pleasurable affair. We envisioned footmen carrying wine glasses to the host and his guests, toasts being made, and glasses being hurriedly refilled.
Additionally, Rothwell discussed the issues of repatriation as many objects have been dispersed or sold over the years. To the Trust’s good fortune, they have been able to return many family objects. In recent years, they were able to purchase a pair of silver tea canisters at a Sotheby’s auction in London (fig. 2). The canisters are engraved with the arms of Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh and his wife Sarah Lehtieullier, who lived at Uppark during the second half of the eighteenth century. The term ‘heirloom’ took on a more significant meaning as we continued our tour of the English countryside.
Part of the Devonshire collection, a stately silver perfume burner took on a presence of its own in one of the bedchambers at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire (fig. 3). Perfume burners served as braziers in which scent pastilles or other aromatics were placed above a bed of burning charcoal. When in use, these vessels produced scented fumes that filled the air with the pleasant smell of roses, lavender, and other flowers and herbs. Embodied with the cultural values of past societies, the perfume burner expresses how people experienced their bodies and the environment around them. Perfume burners ranged from those vessels produced in bronze, brass, or copper to those in silver crafted as elaborate decorative works of art, as seen in the example at Chatsworth.
While silver certainly was on my radar, my mind was always open to new discoveries and ways of interpretation. Our group had discussed atmosphere on the first day, and Calke Abbey embodied this term (fig, 4). Owned by the Harpur family for nearly 300 years, it was passed to the Trust in 1985 under fragile conditions. Deliberately displayed under these circumstances, Calke Abbey is an example of the decline of a country house, but it nonetheless speaks of deep admiration (figs. 5 and 6). For me, it was a highlight of the course for its ability to inspire and to evoke issues regarding preservation and conservation.
Overall, the 2014 Attingham Summer School was about contextualization, lively lecturers, scholarly conversations, friendships, and idyllic landscapes. It also was a unique occasion to network with curators, conservators, and leading figures from such institutions as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Louvre, Getty, and Victoria & Albert. These connections, my newfound knowledge of the English country house, and my collection of memories have proved to be indispensable. Participating in this program would not have been possible without generous funding from the Chipstone Foundation, secured by Professor Ann Smart Martin at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the Royal Oak Foundation, and I am truly grateful for their support.
The Attingham Trust, http://www.attinghamtrust.org/
–Ann Glasscock, Project Assistant, Chazen Museum of Art
PhD Student in Art History and Material Culture, University of Wisconsin-Madison
This summer, the Material Culture Program at UW-Madison is sponsoring five undergraduate students at local historical societies and museums in the Madison area. The Summer Service Learners gain real-world work experience and put the skills they’ve learned in the classroom to practical use, and the host organizations receive help with projects they may not otherwise have the time, staff, or other resources to complete.
Service Learning Update: Hadley Nelson – Hawks Inn Museum
So far this summer I have been working on digitally recording and cataloging the many objects at Hawks Inn. I started my work with the Fireplace Kitchen room and have since then completed recording all the objects in the Fireplace Kitchen as well as in the Buttery and Hawks’ Office. After I have taken all the images for each room, I then organize the pictures to correspond with descriptions that are provided by the museum’s curator, Jim Babcock, in an Excel spreadsheet. From these sessions with Jim, I have learned some fascinating uses of objects as well as how people were living in the mid-nineteenth century in Wisconsin. For example, one of my favorite objects is a green chair that is easily converted into a bench that was made in 1850 (see below).
I also really enjoy the many “make-do” objects present at the Inn. These are pieces that are a combination of two or more objects that had been broken and are now used together to create a new and beautiful piece like this old porcelain vase (below) atop a “make-do” wooden base! I have begun work in the Family Bedroom and am excited to learn about the objects in that room next.
In addition to the inventory I am helping with at Hawks Inn, I have also been working on a first person narrative. This narrative, told from the point of view of Fannie Hawks (one of Mr. Hawks’ daughters), will eventually serve as a guided tour through the Inn upon completion. This project has so far taught me a great deal about the Hawks family (including fun anecdotes about their pet raccoon who acted much like a dog, learning tricks and following the family around) as well as life in Wisconsin and California (as the Hawks later moved to California) during the nineteenth century. The project is still in the drafting stage, but will be completed by the end of the summer!–Hadley Nelson
Service Learning Update: Ally Hrkac – Recollection Wisconsin
I have been spending my summer as part of the Material Culture Service Learning project working with Recollection Wisconsin, developing features for the online site. I’ve enjoyed perusing multiple databases for old and unique photographs that are specific to Wisconsin. I’m thankful for the opportunity to create features that enhance my knowledge of our state and that are of interest to me and to the general public.
I like that this project has challenged me to frame history in a way that is new to me – why are we looking at these photos, and how are they relevant today? What kind of story does this collection of photos tell viewers? What is the common theme that threads all of these photos in the feature together? I have been working on shifting my writing to effectively answer these questions. The project is so much more that compiling a slideshow of photos – and so much more rewarding.
The first feature I wrote was about memoir writing. I looked at a variety of old documents – letters written by immigrants in Wisconsin to families abroad, wartime stories, environmentalist observations and reflections, memoirs about Wisconsin living – and was able to draw connections between these very different sources. I had to think realistically about why these people and historical figures wrote, and I also had to think about why we write today. I thought it was very neat to read writing from such a long time ago yet that is still relevant in this day and age. I am continuing to develop features that are meaningful and to which we can relate and reminisce.
I loved seeing my first feature after it went live on the Recollection Wisconsin site. I have a new appreciation for the writers, publishers, web designers, etc. who make these things possible. As a writer who works “off the field” for this service project, I find my desktop piling up with pages and pages of pictures, information, research, e-mails, and reference sites that help me along the process (see screen shot below).
Finally, I am currently working on integrating educational resources into the site for teachers to use Recollection Wisconsin in the classroom to meet the Common Core Standards. I just graduated UW-Madison with a degree in education, so I am very excited to be able to apply my area of study and my passion to my work with the site. I will be working on developing ideas for teachers to use the site, lesson plans, and ways to meet the Common Core.
Overall this has been a great experience – I love seeing the photos that represent our history as a state; I am learning so much and am proud to be working on spreading some Wisconsin knowledge.
Service Learning Update: Laura Sevelis – Oregon Area Historical Society
As a summer service learner with the Material Culture program, I have been interning at the Oregon Area Historical Society (OAHS). I have spent most of my time working through their extensive textile collection, cataloging, assessing, and repacking each piece using the knowledge I gained during a recent internship at UW-Madison’s Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection. Every day I work at the museum I look forward to going through a new box or clothing rack as its contents are always a surprise. I have seen everything from WWI and II military uniforms, beaded evening gowns, homespun quilts, wedding dresses, Boy Scout uniforms, infant christening gowns, silk scarves and pearl collars.
So far I’ve mostly been consolidating and inventorying the collection, but we’ve just received permission to purchase archival materials to properly store the pieces, so the next part of my project will be moving each piece from their less-than-ideal homes in cardboard boxes and plastic storage containers into uniform, clearly labeled boxes lined with tissue paper. I also hope to find the time to photograph at least part of the collection so that information can be added into the database and/or their website. By the end of the summer I will also have written up a brief handbook pertaining to the standards for the future care of the textiles.
While at OAHS, I have also worked on other aspects of their collection, such as continuing their cataloging project of adding the past fifteen years worth of catalog cards on to their PastPerfect database so the museum staff can better monitor their collections, in addition to introducing patrons to the museum and helping them with research during its open hours, developing a database of local businesses since the town’s foundation, and the more practical, less glamorous job of cleaning the facility.
I think the most important idea that I have garnered from this experience is that local history matters. This may seem blindingly obvious to everyone else, but within my experience and education history has only been the monumental, big picture events and people – Christopher Columbus, the Battle of Lexington, Charles Darwin, Black Tuesday, the Battle of the Bulge – and I have failed to recognize the deep, interesting history in small communities like in Oregon and my own hometown. I have appreciated the stories I’ve heard while at OAHS, whether it was from veterans discussing their hardships, alumni searching through class photos to find their own face and talking about the “old days,” and people searching and pointing to their family’s prior homestead on plat maps. This internship has not only opened my eyes to the various tasks involved in a museum career, which I plan on pursuing, but also the rich history that each community, no matter how small, possesses.
Service Learning Update: Gianofer Fields – Collecting Oral Histories at Hawks Inn
The thing that surprises me most about the time I’ve spent at Hawks Inn in Delafield Wisconsin is that I find myself still breaking one of my cardinal rules of material culture studies. I’m not supposed to judge, evaluate, or experience objects through my personal set of experiences. I’m supposed to greet every object I meet openly and without seeing it through my culture lens. While I am very conscious to avoid that mistake with objects, I’m constantly breaking that rule when it comes to people. I’m shocked when I meet people who don’t like chocolate. I can’t understand why anybody would rather watch golf than football or pass up candy for anything savory.
The Inn was built in 1843 as a stagecoach stop for folks settling in Wisconsin and those seeking shelter on their way West. However, this missive is not about the building…it’s about the folks who keep it alive. The first time I spoke with lead volunteer Jim Babcock I was struck by the sound of his voice. It’s a mixture of soil, sawdust, and happiness. It sounds like history coming through a filter made out of an antique cheese grater. The man’s got some serious pipes, just right for story telling.
After our introductory pleasantries, I explained to Mr. Babcock that I was an independent radio producer with twenty plus years under my belt. When he asked me what my plan was for the summer learning project, I gleefully explained that I was on a mission to record his connections with the many objects, that when combined, create the Inn’s historical narrative. I asked him to pick out three objects that he thought were crucial to telling the Inns story. Out of the three we would pick one, I’d record him talking about it and I would then…wait for it…teach him how to edit the tape himself. You know because EVERYBODY loves editing tape, right.
I can smell the hubris right now as I’m writing this.
Anyway, Mr. Babcock didn’t flinch, bless his heart, and suggested that I attend the Inn’s weekly Wednesday coffee clutch. That way I could meet all of the volunteers at once, go over the project, and get a feel for the place. We met in the meeting room next to the Inn. It looks like a giant dining room with a galley kitchen. Each of the long tables appeared to be held in place by Windsor kitchen chairs painted black. The brightness of the rooms paled in comparison to the smiles of the volunteers. These women are so vibrant; their glow denies their age. I would never be so boorish to reveal the number of years they have under their belts. However, I will say that they have been retired from their chosen professions for some time now and were thoroughly enjoying their Golden years.
When I walked in Mr. Babcock was talking about driving down Johnson Street passed the Presbyterian Church in Madison and finding a beautiful carpet cast out by students leaving town for the summer. “It’s still amazing to me how many beautiful things they throw away,” he said. Slightly changing his tune, he introduced me to the other volunteers and asked me to explain my reason for being there. I waxed on about my intention to record audio about the objects that help weave the Inn’s narrative. Mr. Babcock would be the voice of the Inn.
When I got to the part about teaching them to edit the audio, I could feel a shift in the room. While their smiles never dimmed, something changed. So I asked “Would any of you be interested in learning how to edit the audio for the segment?”
Not I don’t think so or probably not or any excuses about not having the time
It was a simple, sweet, and very direct no. It was a very real “What do you mean you don’t like chocolate?” moment. That wasn’t the only thing that changed the direction of my project. Mrs. Seltzer was talking about how much Delafield had changed since she and her husband moved to the area. The others chimed in, telling stories from their childhoods. They talked about places they remembered and more importantly, the questions they forgot to ask their parents, while they were still alive. The more I got to know them the more I realized that that my being there was bigger than things.
After writing this, I’ll plug in my audio editing equipment and finish editing the stories told to me by the volunteers. In the coming weeks you will hear from a woman who started her relationship by folding quilts and now gives guided tours of the Inn. You will hear from a woman who works in the gift shop and though she’s a little unsteady on her feet, comes to the Inn as much as possible. The woman who is in charge of the place will tell you how she got her start pulling weeds and identifying plants in the garden. Then there is Mr. Babcock who will spell bind you with a voice made of soil, sawdust, and happiness all filtered through an antique cheese grater.
Service Learning Update: Mara Champagne – Koshkonong Prairie Historical Society
This summer I have the pleasure to intern at the Koshkonong Prairie Historical Society. Koshkonong Prairie Historical Society, or KPHS, is located in an old brick school in Cambridge, Wisconsin. KPHS and the Cambridge Historical Society are both housed in the school and work together to create a diverse history of Cambridge and the surrounding towns. KPHS focuses on the Norwegian immigrants to the Koshkonong Prairie, a town that was never officially created. KPHS highlights iconic Norwegian arts like Rosemaling, displays motors engineered by Ole Evinrude, and showcases priceless illustrated bibles in Norwegian from the 1600s. KPHS is truly a hidden gem and a place where I have been able to combine both of my majors, Art History and Scandinavian Studies, in a way that I would not have thought possible.
My time at KPHS is spent doing many different tasks. KPHS is open twice a week, Wednesday and Saturday, from 12:30-3:00. During this time, I often serve as a docent to patrons and talk to them about my favorite pieces. I always make sure to show the patrons the Norwegian bibles from the 1600s. The bibles are unexpected pieces in the museum. The detail of the writing and the illustrations is incredible. While serving as a docent I have had the chance to meet children of important figures in Cambridge. KPHS has an exhibit on Dagmar Vesby, a missionary who married a Cambridge man. Artifacts from her time in Africa are displayed along with her book. Recently, I had that chance to meet one of her daughters and discuss Ms. Vesby. This conversation gave me an inside look into her life and the struggles that she faced. Living in a small farming town was difficult on a woman that yearned to travel. I always walk away with a richer understanding of Cambridge. KPHS is run solely by volunteers and it is incredible to work with people who are so dedicated to public history. The patrons are just as curious.
The biggest task I have done at KPHS is starting a cataloging system. This past week KPHS found out that they had received a grant from the Wisconsin Council for Local History to purchase PastPerfect, a museum cataloging software. Before this, KPHS did not have a cataloging system to account for their vast collection. Over the past month, I have worked to create a worksheet to be used for each item in preparation for the software. This worksheet includes crucial things like titles, descriptions, condition, dimensions, and date/person it was donated by. With any new item that comes in, KPHS will be able to record who donated it and when it was donated. KPHS will be able to have a fuller record of all of their items.
My hours that are not spent at KPHS are spent researching and reading. I have read many books on the history of Cambridge and notable people from Cambridge. Since I am not from Cambridge, it has really helped me gain knowledge about the town. I have drawn on this newly learned knowledge many times when talking to patrons. I have also done write-ups on various displays for visitors to read when there are not docents around. I will be working with my supervisor, Janice Redford, to expand my write up on Ole Evinrude to have published in the Cambridge newspaper.
Cambridge is a town that understands its vast history and has dedicated volunteers and patrons that want to contribute to this history. Working at a historical society is a new experience for me. I am confident that the interactions I have had and the projects I have worked on have been great learning experiences that will benefit me in future museum work.–Mara Champagne
With support from the Caxambas Foundation, the Material Culture Program is once again sponsoring three undergraduate summer service learners. Each student has partnered with a Wisconsin museum or historical society to help them digitize and share their collections online.
Service Learning Update: Lauren Wojcik – McFarland Historical Society
Folk objects brought to the United States by immigrants from Norway have cultural significance, but so too do the works of folk art created by the first and later generations of Norwegians in American. The McFarland Historical Society museum collection contains examples of these objects, evincing the cultural regeneration of Norwegian American heritage and illustrating the link between folk arts created in Norway during the 19thcentury and the uniquely Norwegian American folk arts created in Wisconsin during the 20th and 21st centuries. Earlier in the summer I spent two full days photographing and writing notes about some of these objects, which I’ve selected to add to the digital collection started by last year’s Summer Service Learner, Katie Dreps.
One aspect of folk art from the McFarland collection in which we see a clear progression and transformation in style across generations of Norwegian Americans is rosemaling, a traditional form of painting with variations in style throughout the regions of Norway. Many examples of rosemaling, mostly functional objects like boxes, drinking bowls or trunks for the passage across the Atlantic, were brought to south central Wisconsin when Norwegian immigrants settled here in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Per Lysne, an artist from Sogn, Norway who immigrated to Stoughton, Wisconsin in 1907, helped popularize rosemaling in the United States. He gained special recognition when some of his pieces were featured in a 1933 issue of Vogue magazine. Lysne’s smorgasbord plate, which he produced and sold many copies of and which was intended to be hung on a wall, became his trademark piece. Lysne’s style closely mirrors the regional style from the Sogn area, but his pieces were meant to decorate the modern American home.
Thanks to artists like Per Lysne, rosemaling saw a renaissance in the mid late 1960s and 70s as a way for later generations of Norwegian-Americans to discover their identity and celebrate their ethnic pride. Successors of Lysne, like Ethel Kvalheim of Stoughton, Clarice Christensen of Oregon, and many others throughout the upper Midwest represent the revival of Norwegian folk arts in the United States. Much like the development of regional variations in style that occurred in 19th century folk art in Norway, Norwegian American rosemaling developed a distinct flavor independent of the Norwegian style.
We can trace the development of rosemaling to the present day with a contemporary example of this reinterpretation of a traditional folk art in the form of a 3D animation by artist Dave Beck titled Smorgasbord (after Per Lysne). Though Beck’s piece is not in the McFarland collection it is a reinterpretation of Lysne’s trademark smorgasbord plate. According to Beck, Smorgasbord (after Per Lysne) “…represents how cultural traditions and values depend on reinvention and rebirth, so that they may survive (and perhaps even flourish) for future generations.”
I’m currently at the research stage for these objects, gathering information and details into short descriptions that will accompany the photos in the digital collection. Looking back on my research, I realize that rosemaling is just one example of the Norwegian heritage kept alive by the generations of Norwegian-Americans. We see this revival in other areas of artistic expression and elsewhere such as in the reinterpretation of traditions such as Syttende Mai festivals, lutefisk dinners and Norwegian heritage organizations throughout United States. Working closely with the objects in the collection at the McFarland Historical Society–both those created in Norway and those created by Norwegian Americans–and researching both the Norwegian immigrant experience in the United States and the experience of their descendants has allowed me to see the progression of culture, identity and ethnic pride in the Norwegian American heritage that is so prevalent throughout southern Wisconsin.
Lovoll, Odd S. The Promise of America: A History of the Norwegian-American People.Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999.
Martin, Philip. Rosemaling in the Upper Midwest. Mount Horeb: Wisconsin Folk Museum, 1989.
Nelson, Marion, ed. Norwegian Folk Art: The Migration of a Tradition. New York: Abbeville Press, 1995.
Service Learning Update: Katey Smith – Middleton Area Historical Society
“How is the kid? Suppose you are having a great old time, wish Kate & kids and I were with you. Well don’t forget us will you?” This message was written on the back of this postcard (below) and was sent to Mr. Leonard Brite of Milwaukee, Wisconsin on September 10th, 1917 . The postcard has been a way of connecting with loved ones, sharing memories, and sending many “wish you were here” messages since the early 1900s. I have had the opportunity to decipher these hand-written personal messages and am looking forward to sharing this collection.
Over the past two months I have been working with the Middleton Area Historical Society to digitize a portion of their historical photograph collection for the Wisconsin Heritage Online database. I have always had an interest in photography and I have recently completed the landscape architecture program at UW-Madison. I am interested in many topics that this broad major encompasses and this summer I wanted to gain more experience with Historic and Cultural Landscape Preservation. This internship allows me to gain hands-on experience, while blending my love of photography and historic landscapes.
Starting out I had absolutely no idea what type of historical photographs I would be digitizing and researching for the digitization project. Wisconsin Heritage Online Outreach Specialist Emily Pfotenhauer advised me with a few logical ways to start: 1. Find a topic that interested me or related to landscape architecture 2. Narrow down the photograph search to a street or area within Middleton or 3. Focus on a topic important to Middleton’s history.
All of these approaches proved to be difficult for me and I was really starting to envy the Material Culture interns who already had a project started or designed for them. I felt pretty lost and for a few weeks I just focused on helping the other volunteers scan photographs and enter information into a data storage system. Luckily, this helped me become familiar with the Middleton Area Historical Society’s collection and what type of information was important to the citizens who visited the museum. By listening to visitor’s conversations with the museum docents, and constantly hearing “Oh I remember my grandfather having…” and trying to help them when they asked for yearbooks, family photographs, etc. made me realize that people were searching for that special way that they could connect with Middleton’s vivid history.
When I came across the large collection of postcards I was totally captivated by them. I liked deciphering the personal messages on the back and felt like I was peering into a small slice of life in the early 1900’s. Often times, the messages on the postcards are very similar to things that I would write on a postcard to a family member or friend today. I felt very connected to history at that point in this experience which made me realize – I too was searching for that unique connection!
As I kept searching through the postcard collection, I discovered some really high quality images. I personally love the image above of the Weinberg Building (currently housing the restaurant Villa Dolce) because it shows an active street life, thriving businesses, and a great social atmosphere. I also especially like images that have old automobiles or signs in them like the two below. (Parmenter Street and High School).
So far, my time with the Middleton Area Historical Society has been very fun! I enjoy finding something new each day, whether it’s a really old photograph or an interesting piece of information. The knowledge and hands on experience I have been gaining is very beneficial. I want to thank Mike Davis (City Administrator), Brekk Feely, Carol and Dave (Lead Volunteers at the Society), as well as all the other Society volunteers who have been extremely trusting and accommodating throughout this entire experience.
Service Learning Update: Maddie Hagerman – UW Madison Anthropology Collections
For my Summer Service Learning internship, I’m continuing my student job in the Anthropology Collections at UW-Madison. I work with Senior Curator Danielle Benden as a collections assistant with the ethnographic artifacts. The first part of my project entails making mounts for the nearly six hundred ethnographic artifacts in the collection. In the second phase I began the process of publishing the ethnographic artifacts to UW Digital Collections to better attract potential researchers.
The ethnographic collection contains artifacts from around the world amassed in the field by UW graduate students and professors. Because many of them are composed of organic materials, the artifacts ideally should be stored in closed archival boxes. When I began, most of the artifacts were kept in open shelving, simply protected by tissue paper. To provide the artifacts with the optimal protection, I mounted them on either “blue board,” an archival cardboard, or carved individual ethafoam supports. I designed this basket mount to stabilize both the bottom and sides of the basket. The archival linen “twill tape” only applies pressure on the foam rather than the fragile basket.
The digitization process is more involved than I could have imagined. Right now I’m photographing each object with a Nikon D300 camera and a professional lighting system. Before I could start to photograph, I created a unique nomenclature for our collection. A nomenclature consists of a standardized set of terms to describe objects. This helps to make the artifacts more easily searchable within the digital collections database. In August I will continue to photograph artifacts. I also have to check over the metadata (information such as time, place, and materials) for each artifact to make sure it is correct.I’m thoroughly enjoying my summer internship. My favorite part is designing mounts. It really pushes me to think critically about protecting objects while still conserving paper and other supplies. The digitization process has challenged me to work with data entry rather than physical objects. I hope to be a collections manager some day so building off my coursework in material culture, anthropology, and history to learn digital aspects of collections management will be very useful in the future!
With support from the Caxambas Foundation, the Material Culture Program is sponsoring three undergraduate service learning opportunities this summer. Each student has partnered with a local historical society in Wisconsin to help them digitize and share their collections through Wisconsin Heritage Online, a statewide digitization program.
A Service Learning Post by Katie Dreps–McFarland Historical Society
Over the summer, I have been working with the McFarland Historical Society to turn a portion of their collection of Norwegian artifacts, assembled by local resident Albert Skare, into an online resource. Skare, who’s parents emigrated from Norway to McFarland in the 1850s, began collecting traditional Norwegian objects sometime in the early 20th century. His extensive collection includes farm implements, household and kitchen objects, and trunks and furniture, most dating from the 19th century or earlier. Skare originally displayed in several buildings on his Hidden Valley Farm outside of McFarland, including several cabins constructed by early settlers. According to information collected by the McFarland Historical Society, the artifacts were specially displayed for viewing at family reunions as early as the 1930s and 1940s. Shortly after Albert Skare’s death, his niece Margaret Greene Kennedy donated his entire collection to the McFarland Historical Society in 1969.I was particularly interested in working with the McFarland Historical Society when I heard about their collection of Norwegian artifacts. My grandmother grew up on a farm outside of Lodi, Wisconsin, the granddaughter of Norwegian immigrants. And while my Norwegian heritage is relatively easy to trace, before this summer, my knowledge of Norway involved only vague notions of fjords and the smell of lutefisk. This internship has been (and continues to be) a great opportunity for me to connect with my Norwegian heritage in a direct way.
As a history major with little prior experience working with artifacts, I began the process of creating a digital collection with some apprehension. But with much help and encouragement early on in the summer from Wisconsin Heritage Online Outreach Specialist Emily Pfotenhauer, I began to familiarize myself with Albert Skare’s collection of artifacts, and learn the professional methods of archiving a digital collection. In June Emily and I spent a whole day in McFarland photographing a portion of Skare’s collection. As Emily photographed, I closely examined each object, recording measurements, catalog numbers, and details like paint colors, cracks, and evidence of repairs. Much of my work for the summer has been transforming the notes I took that day into the organized information required for a digital collection. Eventually, these photographs and notes (and notes from subsequent visits) will form the base for the digital collection.
In addition to cataloging each artifact in the database, and editing the photographs for color adjustment and to bring out detail, I have been researching to create informative descriptions for each object. It has been difficult to trace the ownership history of specific objects. While some objects are marked with a date and even with initials, it is very difficult to say who owned them, or when they came into Albert Skare’s possession. Rather, I have been focusing on researching the techniques used to create the objects, like bentwood boxes or turned bowls. Some of the techniques used to create artifacts in the collection date all the way back to medieval times in Norway! Understanding the traditional techniques used to make these objects has deepened my appreciation for their forms, and my research on the immigrant experience has deepened my appreciation for the fact that these objects even exist for us to view. Specially selected for travel across the Atlantic, many of these objects were an important part of settlers’ early days in Wisconsin. I imagine my own ancestors packing trunks with similar household goods, preparing for a new life. I hope that the descriptions will facilitate a more thoughtful experience for those who view the collection online, and maybe help others connect with their own immigrant heritage.
I am thankful for the help of Emily Pfotenhauer, who in addition to walking me through the basics of artifact photography and photo editing, has pointed me towards helpful sources on material culture and provided a sounding board for ideas. Dale Marsden, president of this McFarland Historical Society, has been incredibly helpful, accommodating my hectic schedule and answering my questions about McFarland. I can’t forget to mention the rest of the gang at the McFarland Historical Society, including Gini and Ginny, Wes, Mary and Jackie! We’ve got some coordinating community activities in the works for the launch of the digital collection, including a special display at the library of objects featured online. I hope that this is only the beginning, and that the digital collection continues to grow, deepening McFarland’s connection to their history, increasing the appreciation of Norwegian folk art and handicrafts, and inspiring new interest in discovering the past.–Katie Dreps
A Service Learning Post by Andrea Hudson–Portage Historical Society
This summer, I am working with the Portage Historical Society and Portage Preservation Consultants to digitize a collection of 19th century photographs of local residences. These photographs have been in the hands of the Portage Public Library for all of the 20th century. And their collection doesn’t stop with the 72 photographs that I am digitizing. They have an extensive (and incredibly interesting) collection of anything and everything related to local history. My hope is that once this project is completed, through our collaborative efforts, Portage can digitize more of their local lore. As just one example, they have a journal from a 1940’s Portage photography club that highlights all of the members’ experiences and recommendations behind the lens. Anyway, back to the project that I am working on, which is just as exciting.
The photographs that I am working with are quite impressive in detail—especially when scanned at high resolution. They are all turn-of-the-century images of Portage residences. The main goal of the Portage Historical Society was to preserve these physical examples of community culture. I am scanning these images and researching the context of each individual photograph. Though the photos were all taken around the same period of time, through our collaborative research, we have discovered that it is likely that the collection is made up of photographs from two different studios. It is difficult to confirm this—but it is our suspicion. Also, some of the photographs have the homeowners posed in front of their residence, while other photographs do not. Finally, within the collection, there are repeated residences—but the photographs were taken at different points in time. They are separated by a few years. These variations have made the dating process more difficult. Nonetheless, these challenges have made the process far more intriguing.
With the photographs highlighting the posed residents, I have attempted to determine who is in the photograph, as well as when the photograph was taken. For example, in the image entitled, “Residence of James Baird,” I was able to identify (with a moderate level of confidence) the members of the family, through census data. In this photograph, which has been dated around 1902, are James Baird, his wife, Jessie R Baird, and their children, Agnes, Mary, Janette, and James G Baird. One wonderful aspect of the digital image is that the viewer is able to zoom in to see details that aren’t necessarily noticeable with the material original! This allows the viewer to observe, in greater detail, anything from architectural elements to reflections in the windows to the clothing worn by individuals in the photographs. In this manner, the digitization gratifies all types of curiosities.
Moreover, in each photograph’s summary, I will attempt to include architectural, biographical, and other historical detailing, so the images will cater to all types of researchers. Not all of the images have been as uncomplicated as the “Residence of James Baird,” in determining the who, how, and when, however. These challenges have allowed me to grow as a researcher. These sources include newspapers, censuses, biographical sketches, and property deeds, oral histories, surveys, and discussions with local historians.
It has been wonderful working with these individuals in Portage (shout out to Judy Eulberg, Peggy Amend, and Joan Indermark) and Wisconsin Heritage Online (shout out to Emily Pfotenhauer), as this project has been a collaborative effort. While I work on it in Madison, I have kept in constant contact with my partner institutions and made regular visits to Portage. I have shared the entire process and all of my progress (including frustrations) with them, so that we can learn from one another and achieve our separate goals, together. It is my hope that the product of this “Historical Residences Collection” will not be limited to the collection itself. I hope (and I know that the Portage Historical Society and the Portage Public Library hope, as well) that the aforementioned collection of primary documents in the Library’s collection will be digitized one day, as well, for preservation purposes. I even presented my progress to the Portage Historical Society, at one of their monthly meetings. They were enthused by our efforts and progress and excited about the project.
I have discussed some projects to finalize my efforts with this individual online collection. Specifically, my Partner Institutions and I have talked about having a workshop, where I can show individuals how to digitize artifacts; a symposium to present the complete online collection; and a photography comparison project—one that would use the photographs I have digitized, juxtaposed against the present condition of the residences. As photography is a great passion of mine, that potential project could meld my efforts as an Art History student and novice photographer. These are all dependent on what my partner institutions would like to do, but I think they would all be a great way to involve the community in the process! Thus far, this internship opportunity has offered me indescribable benefits for professional and personal growth.
A Service Learning Post by Breanna Norton-Three Lakes Historical Society
For this service learning internship I am working with the Three Lakes Historical Society in northern Wisconsin to digitize a portion of their collection for the Wisconsin Heritage Online database. TLHS is a small historical society in the heart of the Northwoods, and this internship is an exciting opportunity to place a portion of their collection online for the wide world to access. Three Lakes is essentially a tourist town, so it population fluctuates greatly depending on the season, affecting how many people visit TLHS’s museum. By allowing the museum to be a part of the WHO database, their possible audience has increased tremendously and that can only lead to positive results for the Historical Society.
I began my internship with absolutely no idea of what I would be digitizing. I spent about a week during the beginning of June inventorying the Historical Society’s archival and artifact collections, attempting to get a picture of the possible topics that could be covered in the database. After talking with the curator of the Historical Society museum, Mr. Alan Tulppo, and discussing the most asked-after topics by visitors I decided to focus my project on the history of camps and resorts in the Three Lakes area. The history of Three Lakes follows a very distinct pattern that can be found throughout Northwoods Wisconsin. The lumber industry was the main industry in the region during the late 19th-early 20thcenturies, after which farming took over. Once farming began to wane, tourism flooded Three Lakes until just after the mid-20th century. Three Lakes is currently in a retirement and vacation home phase in which the area is dominated either by individuals who have decided to retire in the Northwoods or who are wealthy enough to own a vacation home up north. My focus is on the third phase: tourism. In order to make my project more manageable, I chose to spend the first half of my three-month time period working on the resort portion of the project, specifically focusing on the Northernaire Resort and Spa—the most popular and luxurious resort in the Three Lakes area.
Once I made my final object list regarding the Northernaire portion of the project, Emily Pfotenhauer, the Outreach Specialist for Wisconsin Heritage Online, brought to my attention that some of the published materials may be under copyright law and that I should spend some time researching this possible problem. I searched the internet and the library for who, if anyone, I should contact for permission to put these materials online. Fortunately, every company that printed the postcards was no longer around, and as such I concluded that putting the objects online should pose no problem. Those items that were printed or created by the Northernaire Resort and Spa I decided needed to be inquired about, along with each newspaper article. I talked with numerous editors and managers and much to my surprise I had no difficulty in gaining everyone’s permission to reproduce the objects online. It seems that local history, and being a part of it, is of interest to everyone. Finally, with the copyright problem resolved, I was able to move on to scanning and creating spreadsheets for the database.
I have been fortunate enough to have had a diverse array of experiences completing object research for material culture classes and internships, and those experiences have been extremely helpful with this particular project. Rather than focus solely on the use of written sources like I have in the past, I have had to rely on human sources for many dates and names. This change in technique has been a welcome one and has broadened my ideas on how to conduct research and what types of resources are available to the researcher. The use of human sources may seem unreliable to many researchers, but given the research topic they may be the best source available.
I have almost completed my spreadsheet regarding the first half of the project, the Northernaire. Once I have completed it I will begin work on the history of summer camps in the Three Lakes area. I am confident that through this internship I will not only be learning new ways of applying material culture studies to the museum field, but I will also be providing a vital service to a museum that otherwise may never have such an opportunity.