Orphans in the Attic
Orphans in the Attic
May 15-October 15, 2010
This year’s special summer exhibition, Orphans in the Attic, will help the museum to strengthen its base of community support by bringing to public view and awareness important issues shared with other regional museums: limited exhibition and storage space, the conservation needs of its objects, and funding priorities. Orphans in the Attic will not only satisfy the curiosity of local residents and visitors who often inquire about objects that are not on exhibition, but also provide the museum an opportunity to highlight some of the conservation challenges that it faces when significant objects require costly repairs or treatment. Visitors will also be asked to “adopt” the “orphans” by pledging contributions that will be matched by the museum with the objective of completing the conservation work and placing the objects on permanent view.
To cultivate an environment in which residents, visitors and collectors are willing to continue donating objects to the museum, an exhibition such as Orphans in the Attic and a related series of public programs such as specialized tours has proven to be educational and effective. A guest curator/conservator has assisted staff in selecting the objects for exhibition and personalized their display by creating individual “biographies” that explain their origins, history of ownership and use, and techniques for repair or treatment.
The museum has retained Ms. Judy Estes as its guest curator/conservator for the project. Judy serves as part-time curator for the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities (Cold Spring Harbor, NY) and is a consultant to numerous museums across Long Island. She is familiar with the Whaling Museum collection, having initiated a collections management program with funding from the New York State Council on the Arts (2006). As a long time resident and noted museum professional working here on Long Island, Judy has developed a special knowledge of local artifacts and their significance to the region; she has studied the material culture of the East End in particular and understands the unique characteristics and challenges of its coastal climate.
In her descriptive text panels, Judy will highlight the special needs that historical objects require in this environment, thus informing museum visitors not only about the objects on exhibit but also about those which they may have at home. The museum’s collaboration with a museum professional of her caliber will ensure a high level of project performance, both in the selection of the objects themselves as well as in the descriptive narrative associated with each one.
Working in collaboration with museum staff and volunteers, Judy has selected a group of interesting objects for the exhibition. These display a range of sizes, age, material composition, and of course, conditions issues. A wonderful sampler was chosen for its provenance (it was hand-worked in Sag Harbor), as well as for the fact that it was framed in the late 19th century and suggests a number of challenges including the lack of light-protective glass and the composition of its backing, which will cause eventual deterioration of the delicate fabric. An equally wonderful oil painting is also among the group; sadly, the portrait was badly cut and appears as if a pigeon had used it for a perch! With proper repairs and treatment, however, we hope to bring him back to life. A 17th century parchment indenture is featured as well. It is notable for its signature – that of Thomas Dongan (of Southampton Town patent fame) – and may only need a good cleaning and framing. Other objects range from a hanging blown glass oil lamp, a primitive wooden foot warmer, a leather water bucket and a coconut dipper. Each of these “orphans” will be described with their treatment options, in the hope that our visitors will help to make this possible.
The bulk of the Whaling Museum collection was assembled over many decades from local households, testifying to the community support that the institution continues to enjoy since its founding in 1936. Many objects were acquired in “as found” condition, however, and some are still in need of major repair or treatment. The exhibition is designed not only for seasonal visitors but also for year-round East End residents, as a way of educating and cultivating a stronger base of support for the museum.