Down in the District

Spent a recent birthday weekend in the nation’s capital due to the generosity of Dad #3 and his lovely wife.

It was an especially wonderful gift as I got to see the eldest for the first time in months.  She’s interning at a museum in one of their conservation departments.  I was worried that she’d spend the summer doing tasks she already knows how to do but while she may be doing some of that, she’s also learning new and interesting skills.

Maybe she’ll be willing to spend a bit of time to teach this old dog some new tricks.  It’s nice to have grown up my own little professional resource.  She’s not in the exact same field as mine but there are enough areas of overlap that we can understand what each other are saying.

It was good to see her.  She’s obviously doing well and enjoying her time in the capital.  She’s taking advantage of the opportunities she’s worked so very hard for and seeing what she can while in a new city.

It was good to have the eldest as a tour guide, she was able to steer us to what we wanted to and should see in a relatively painless fashion.  It was also interesting to go to a museum with such a wide variety of people, ages and experience.  Being a curator I can’t help looking around and seeing what works, what doesn’t and what I can draw on for inspiration for my own site.

Sometimes it’s the subtle things that detract from a visitor’s experience, like the cars that desperately needed waxing.  So many fingerprints even though there were stanchions.  I’ve seen better finishes on privately held cars at amateur car shows.  Get in some car enthusiasts as volunteers and those beauties will shine!  Then again, I understand the kind of wrangling and managing volunteer programs require.

I noticed that people gravitated towards the objects they could touch and interact with.  The car from the Chicago ‘L’ c.1950 that vibrates and you can actually enter and sit down on the seats was very cool.  People spent more time sitting in the train car then they did reading the well crafted labels that are everywhere.  I can’t really say much about that though because unless I’m looking for specific information I tend not to read labels either.

I took 309 photos in less than three days.  It’s good to be able to review after I’m no longer hot and tired and see what’s worth picking and choosing for my own site and side-work.

This item struck my eye at the time while I standing in the museum, buffeted by fellow visitors, for its banality.  It’s something that was produced by the millions and while I didn’t have these exact product packages in my medicine cabinet and daily satchel, I did have a descendant.  Think of it as going to a family reunion and seeing your Uncle Charlie’s brilliant blue eyes in a grandchild of his.  It’s the same flash of recognition even if the exterior is slightly different.

When I look at the photograph now on my computer at home what I see is everyone that was necessary to get something as simple as an adhesive bandage box to that place on the shelf where I saw it along with literally millions of other visitors from all over the world.

So, how many people did it take to get this item on the shelf?

My eldest cleaned it.  Someone else designed the case it’s in, another built it.  Someone else moved it to that place, actually probably several someones from the truck driver to guy who provided gas for the truck.  How far out do you want to take it?

But at minimum there are designers and curators, lighting people and electricians, carpenters and handlers.  Conservators and administrative staff.  Those who raise and give money.  And don’t forget, the person who actually donated the object.

Such a tangled web we weave just to get this one item on the shelf.

In my own professional universe I perform the duties that in a larger institution would be assigned to several staff positions.  I’m a curator, collection manager, registrar, art handler, basic conservator, photographer, photograph archivist, basic IT support, educator, interpreter, grant writer, project manager and other duties as needed.

I never realized how small and light bats were until I had to remove a dead one from a piano on display in the historic house.  Just where is that in the job description?

Small sites like mine run lean (on money) and light (on staff) so I’ll take preformed ideas that have been developed by institutions with more staff and time to innovate and run with them anytime.  And I’m thrilled when someone does their own twist with an idea that I helped bring to life.

Ah, the hamsters are churning on their little wheels tonight.

Not that we ever have a shortage of ideas in the museum field, no matter what your position or responsibilities.

Always plenty of ideas but never enough time or money to implement them all.

We visited three memorials before leaving.  I understood now why the eldest made comments about hating the tourists.  So many people, so little understanding of why these sites existed.

The Lincoln Memorial and those for the Vietnam and Korean Wars are not places for selfies or a quick run through just so you can check it off of a list.  They are places to remember the cost of the freedoms that we enjoy and the national events that tie us all together no matter when our families arrived on these shores.

So many names.

As it says on the Korean War memorial, “Freedom isn’t Free.”

It’s our job as citizens to make sure that the sons and daughters of this country are paying that ultimate high price for the right reasons.

How can we know if we don’t understand where we come from or how we got here as a nation?

This is why the work I do matters.

It’s good to get a reminder occasionally.

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