This will be my final post. My experience at the Mathers Museum has been one of the best experiences I’ve had in a long time. I’ve learned so much about what goes on behind the scenes and how much planning and building goes into making exhibits what they are. I’m really grateful I had the opportunity to be a part of this institution. For most of my life I’ve had no idea what I’m doing or what career path I wanted to take. However, after working here the past few months, I know that I would like to work in a museum. As of right now, I graduate in May and have been looking for jobs daily. I just got an offer at the Monroe County History Center for another internship, and I think I’m going to take it in order to get more experience working in museums. It’s really exciting to finally know what I want to do career-wise. I’m really sad to be leaving the Mathers Museum. This is the first job I’ve had where I actually look forward to coming into work everyday. The people I work with play a huge role in that too. Everyone has been wonderful and accommodating and willing to teach me things when I don’t understand something. I’m going to sincerely miss being a part of this museum.
Today one of the other interns and I were able to wander around campus in order to take pictures for our 800 Seasons exhibit that’s opening in August. It was a beautiful day and the weather was finally starting to warm up. There is a 200 year old tree on campus near the IMU. We’ve been trying to get pictures of it during every season in order to see how it changes. Today we were able to get some good pictures since many of the leaves are budding. Afterwards we headed back to the Mathers Museum and I continued some of my research on various historical sites around Bloomington. Today I researched the old RCA plant. Its history is significant to Bloomington because it provided thousands of jobs until it closed in the late 90’s. It also helped the war effort during WWII. I’ve been learning so much about Bloomington by doing research for this exhibit. I’m sad that I will no longer be a part of the museum once 800 Seasons opens up.
Now that we are done with the Shipibo Exhibit setup, we are finished setting up any new exhibits until August, and unfortunately my internship will end before then. The exhibit that’s coming in August is called 800 Seasons, and it will be about how the landscape of Bloomington has changed over the years. The museum is going to be using an app called Clio, which is an app that allows users to visit various historical places and find information about them. It’s really quite ingenious, especially for people who would like to learn the history of Bloomington, Indiana (or anywhere else for that matter). So, I was given an administrative password for the museum in order to do research and make edits to the Clio app. Researching the history of Bloomington has been quite fascinating. I didn’t have much knowledge about this town prior to doing this, and being a history buff, I’m having a really great time doing research about it. I’ve learned so much about the history of IU, the founding of Bloomington, how its changed over the years, the water reservoirs, wooded areas, buildings, etc. I miss doing exhibit setup because I was on my feet most of the time, and I prefer to be active as opposed to sitting at a desk. However, finding this information has been so exciting that I’m not even really thinking about it.
Saturday I went into the museum early to help with our Shipibo Exhibit that’s opening after spring break. The International School of Indianapolis brought some of their cultural anthropology high school students in to help with setup. Frederic Allamel and his wife Bernadette are the Shipibo collectors and hold doctorates in social anthropology. They both helped with the artifacts and setup on Saturday. It was endearing to see high school students get so excited about handling artifacts. It took us about 8 hours to get most of the exhibit done. Again, the part that took the longest was dressing the mannequins in some of the artifacts. One of them had a belt that was made out of thousands of beads and was very heavy. It took about 2 hours of fumbling with it before we got it to stay without the risk of damaging the artifact. We had to clean all the plexiglass before hand and make sure we handled it with gloves so we wouldn’t get fingerprints all over it. Luckily we had already planned the layout of most of the items the week before, so all we really had to do was place the items in their correct spots and add labels. However, we did end up adjusting things around a little bit in order to ensure the presentation would be immaculate. It was a really interesting day and I learned a lot about the behind the scenes aspect of setting up exhibits. Everyone worked really hard and put in their best effort.
Today I was trained on how to file all the information and paperwork we use for exhibits in our databases. It is pretty straightforward and I’ve worked with databases before so it didn’t take me very long to learn. I’m shocked at how much paperwork and informative documents go into filing for each exhibit. Some exhibits only have six items in them, while others can have upwards of hundreds of paperwork. I filed some exhibits from 2016 and it was interesting to see some of the exhibits I didn’t get to help with and get an understanding of the set up process. There is a considerable amount of work that goes into this stuff, and many exhibits are planned years in advance. I also have to file emails that are about the exhibit and some of them were pretty funny. It’s interesting to see how people in the museum interact with their colleagues and all the bantering that goes on about how they want things set up. Exhibit filings aren’t exactly my favorite thing since I prefer doing research, set up, and handling the artifacts. However, I understand that paperwork is part of every job.
Today we installed the Mexico exhibit. Everyone pitched in to help in order for it to get finished as soon as possible, since it opens to the public this week. Last week I had to go over and repaint all the exhibit walls a color the museum calls “Glamour Cow.” However, before I could paint it, I had to go through and sand away at some of the seams on the wall. Today we brought all the artifacts out of the Stable and began laying them out. Removing the plexiglass tops off of the cases is kind of difficult because we have to make sure to do it without getting finger prints all over them and they can be quite heavy depending on the size of the case. The hardest part is getting them back on the cases after we’ve added the artifacts, because we have to be really careful not to accidentally damage one of the case’s contents. I think the thing we struggled with the most were these tissue paper cutouts we were putting in a plexiglass case. Static electricity would cause them to lift up when we tried putting the plexiglass on. After removing the plexiglass 4 times and several pins and non-sticky tape later, we finally got them to stay down. However, about an hour later one of the tissue paper cutouts popped back up and was stuck to the plexiglass again. This time my boss had the ingenious idea of wiping the front of the plexiglass with a dryer sheet and the paper cutout detached itself from the plexi.
Today we dressed mannequins in order to prep for our newest exhibit on Mexico. The artifacts needed to be brought up from collections. We have a padded museum cart that ensures the artifacts’ safety. There’s a large service elevator that is used for bringing artifacts up to the museum floor. The head curator, another intern and I both helped prep the mannequins for the Mexico artifacts. To my surprise, dressing mannequins with materials that have to be handled with care is more difficult than one would think. The clothes were for a female, so we had to make the mannequins look more womanly. This included adding breasts and hips. We have to take care not to put any pins through the artifacts, so getting them to stay on the mannequins can be tricky. We fumbled with the skirt for a significant amount of time until we resorted to having to add a couple pins in it. We initially tried to tie it up with cloth string, but the skirt was so heavy that it wouldn’t stay up. Luckily putting the shirt on the mannequin wasn’t as difficult as getting the skirt to stay on. Next week we’ll be opening the Mexico exhibit to the public.
Today we rearranged some of our storage rooms. We have two major storage rooms on the museum floor. One of them is called the “Stable” because it houses a life-sized plastic horse named Gallop. We usually keep some of the exhibit artifacts locked in there when we’re waiting to set them up on the museum floor for whatever exhibit we are prepping for. The second major storage room is called the “Unstable” because it tends to lean more towards being unorganized. Our job today was to try and rearrange the Unstable. We moved several museum cases back into the Unstable and it seemed a lot like playing Tetris. It is imperative that we make the most out of the spaces we’re given, so we had to move and rearrange a lot of these cases several times before they would all fit. It’s endearing watching the museum staff when it comes to moving heavy things. Everyone pitches in and helps to the best of their ability.
This week at the museum was filled with building and moving walls, and painting. We are getting ready to open more exhibits this month. There is a woodworking shop in the basement and we have an on-staff carpenter who builds all of the cases, walls, and anything else the museum may need for exhibitions. So far I have spent a significant amount of time helping him paint and move things around. I enjoy it because I would much rather be up and moving around than sitting at a desk all day. I’ve been an avid gym-goer for 4 or 5 years now, so I’m glad I know the proper way to lift heavy items. Some days I feel like I don’t even need to go to the gym because I spent so much time doing heavy lifting at work! Prior to working here I had never painted anything in my life so I was kind of nervous about messing up. It honestly wasn’t difficult at all and if I did mess up, it was easily fixed. If anything, I’m learning how much prep and physical labor goes in to setting up exhibits.
I typically go into the museum everyday not really knowing what to expect. Today I helped set up our Haitian Drums exhibit. There was about 6 of us to help. Set up consisted of printing photographs, labels, and descriptive paragraphs. We also had to move walls and move some stuff in and out of storage. I’m surprised anyone can remember where we store things because there are storage areas all over the buildings that make up the Mathers Museum. After we had everything printed and ready to go for set up, we had to plan where we wanted everything to go. Our floor manager had to figure out lighting in order to make the exhibit look as appealing as possible. I never realized how much effort goes into the lighting and the way things are set up before. Most of us had to stay late since we were somewhat short handed for the installation. I got to work with an anthropologist who spends half of the year in Haiti. Some of the information she provided for the exhibit was fascinating and I really enjoyed working with her. This was the first exhibit I helped with and it felt good once we were finished.