Friday, December 14, 2012

What's On in the Winter

One of the most frequent questions that Shelburne Museum staff are asked during the winter months, especially at family gatherings and holiday parties, is, "What do you do after the museum closes at the end of October?" We've touched on this topic before--see Paige's post on Remembering the 2011 Season--so this time around I asked the Education Department team to share something surprising or unusual that they recently checked off their To Do List. Here's what they shared:

Daphne trying her hand at scrimshaw.

  • Daphne (whom you can meet here) is testing tiny handmade scrimshaw kits so summer camp campers will be able to try the unique carving popularized by nineteenth-century sailors.
  • Karen and Renee have been comfort-testing chairs for the auditorium in our new Center for Art and Education!
  • For a special circus summer camp we'll be offering in 2013, Daphne found herself reading an article called "How to Run Away with the Circus -- in six easy steps."
  • Paige has been researching special events and came across unique ideas for how small businesses and nonprofits could affordably hold grand opening events. One of their prime examples? A turkey tossing event that involved launching frozen birds through the air!

Of course, in the fall of 2013 we will not close our doors but rather open a brand new set of them. Stay tuned to learn more about the opening of The Center for Art and Education. In the meantime, we update our Flickr page periodically with pictures of new construction. It's an exciting winter to be at the Museum!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Shelburne Museum Does NEMA

Recently Burlington hosted the 94th annual New England Museum Association (NEMA) conference. Staff from Shelburne Museum participated in several sessions on a wide range of topics from new building construction to LED lighting.

Paige and I co-chaired a panel discussion called, "Open Doors, Open Minds: Serving Special Audiences on a Budget," in which we spoke about Art at Hand, our tours for visitors who are blind or visually impaired, and Mornings at the Museum for people with Alzheimer's. We also worked with Paula Rais, Director of Community Engagement at the Children's Museum of New Hampshire. She runs Exploring Our Way, an acclaimed program for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Paige and I are both "Emerging Museum Professionals" or EMPs; we haven't been in the field very long, and neither of us had been to a professional conference before. Chairing a session was a true honor, and we had been preparing for it for almost nine months!

It began back in February with a call for proposals. This year's conference theme was "Pushing the Envelope: Innovation and the Future of Museums." We knew the special audiences we serve are quite unique; many institutions are just beginning to explore their potential. We also recognized that some of the museums well known for their array of accessible programming, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, have a designated "access coordinator" and corporate sponsors who facilitate and fund their tours. We wanted to show smaller institutions with more limited resources that they can offer meaningful programming to audiences with special needs.

Mornings at the Museum

Art at Hand
Throughout the spring and summer we coordinated with Paula, outlining our session and elucidating some general principles we've all learned. They included:
  • Assembling a team of advisors who are experts in the audience you are engaging
  • Soliciting feedback at every point in the process
  • Seeing special tours and programs as stepping stones to individual museum visits; anticipating and encouraging participants to return on their own.
When the day of our presentation finally came, we were thrilled to share our experiences with forty fellow museum professionals looking to start their own access programs. We fielded questions on everything from wheelchair guidelines to staff training. I found it empowering to share both the highlights and the challenges of these programs, and came out with new energy and excitement about our special tours--which was well worth the time spent. Thank you, NEMA 2012!

Monday, October 29, 2012

In the Gardens at Shelburne Museum

Fall is upon us in the gardens at Shelburne Museum.
The change in season has taken its toll, it's time to put the gardens to bed for the season.

Museum garden volunteers make quick work of cutting down hostas at Alyssia's Garden.

Dahlia's and cannas are dug up and stored for the winter,
to be used again next season.
In the proper storing conditions, tubers of dahlias and cannas can be stored and enjoyed
over and over again for many years.
In the Bostwick Garden, Siberian iris are dug up and divided.
Periodically dividing your perennials will insure their future health and performance.
You can purchase lilac seedlings, peonies, daylilies and divisions of museum plants at the Shelburne Museum Store during the season.

I hope you enjoyed the museum's 22 gardens this past season. We are already planning for next season!  Jess Gallas, head gardener.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Staff Brings Science Fiction to Haunted Happenings

Haunted Happenings, 2011

This year, Haunted Happenings is boldly going where no theme has gone before:  science fiction! The Museum staff is working hard to bring their favorite science fiction characters and stories to life for the event this Sunday.  Renee Compagna, the Museum’s Family Programs Coordinator, admits that this year is a dream come true.  “I’ve always wanted to have a Star Wars’ themed event at the Museum,” she says.  “Having a sci-fi themed event and incorporating Star Wars compliments the temporary exhibition Time Machines: Robots, Rockets and Steampunk.”

Poster for 1954 Disney Adaption of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
The Office of Registrar plans to bring visitors a unique science fiction experience that ties into the exhibit with their ode to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  "It's sci-fi, written by Jules Verne, and it's very steampunk.  Plus it was such a campy movie," explains Barbara Rathburn, the Museum's Registrar.  Right now, they're working on a sunken shipwreck with a blast on the side that will sit on the Stagecoach lawn in front of a painted backdrop of the Nautilus -- Captain Nemo's high-tech submarine that secretly explores various underwater worlds.  Look for Barbara as she lurks around in her homemade squid costume. 

The science fiction take on Haunted Haunted is filling the Museum departments with enthusiasm and energy.  “Staff are really excited about this year’s theme since it is an area that, as a Museum of Art and Design, that we do not generally get to explore,” Renee says.   I went off to investigate what other departments are planning for the 3,000 visitors expected to join us on Haunted Happenings.
“I need to find some slime – like blood, only green,” Account Clerk Denise Morrell suddenly remembers as she describes to me the Administrative Department’s plan to transform Owl Cottage into a Roswell site.  It won't take long for you to discover the U.F.O (unidentified flying object) that has mysteriously crashed into the children’s activity center.  I won’t give away what the department has up their sleeve for inside the cottage.  Let’s just say that Denise admits her department “doesn't mind doing a little scary.” 

In 2011, the Administration Department recreated Batman's
bat cave in the bottom floor of the Round Barn
Have you ever thought about what kind of music would be played at a Star Trek dance party?  I asked Katie Titterton, Membership Manager, to tell me what music the Development Department believes the Enterprise crew boogies to while cruising in warp drive.  “Mid to late 20th century music—really loud,” she deliberated.  You can find the Development Team enjoying throwing a Star Trek dance party on the Dutton House lawn.  Titterton will dance along with visitors as a generic crew member of the Star Trek Enterprise, but she’s pleased to announce that Shelburne Museum’s Director of Development, Sam Ankerson, will take charge as the famous Captain James T. Kirk. 
Development stuck with the party theme this year after throwing a fun 'pizza' bash
as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles during 2011's Haunted Happenings.

Sara Woodbury and candy, 2011
Enough science fiction, what about the candy? If you recall my Preparing for Haunted Happenings post from a year ago, Curatorial Fellow Sara Woodbury allowed the Education department to stash all 40,000 pieces of candy into her office.  The torch has now been passed to Adult Programs Coordinator, Kim McCray.  Why the office change?  "Because I'm sweet," Kim retorts.  But, she's not bitter about the mounds of boxes taking up an entire wall of her office.  "It's kind of exciting," she confesses. "The boxes constantly remind me that Haunted Happenings is coming up and since this will be my first one I'm really looking forward to it."

Kim McCray and candy, 2012

Haunted Happening is 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 28.  Admission is $5.  Children age 2 and under and members are free. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Some New Views of Pleissner

Things may be winding down here for visitors at Shelburne Museum, but here in curatorial, we're busy working on next season's shows. One of the shows I'm putting together is a new rotation of paintings for our Pleissner Gallery.

Exterior of Pleissner Gallery

Visitors enjoying Pleissner Gallery

Pleissner Gallery also includes a recreation of the artist's Manchester, VT studio

If you haven't seen the Museum, or have never visited the Pleissner Gallery, this building is dedicated to the works of Ogden M. Pleissner, a 20th-century American painter.

Self-portrait of Ogden M. Pleissner in fishing gear

 A close friend of the Webb family, Pleissner is probably best known for his sporting scenes today.

Blue Boat on the Ste Anne, one of Pleissner's most famous paintings.

 Yet Pleissner considered himself a landscape painter at heart, calling himself "a painter of landscapes who also liked to hunt and fish." A well-traveled artist, he painted in locations as varied as Wyoming, Scotland, Italy, Spain, and New England. Pleissner was introduced to many of these places during World War II, when he served as an art correspondent, first for the Army Air Force, and later for Life Magazine.

I went down to the storage room for Pleissner Gallery a few weeks ago to take a closer look at some of these landscapes, and was struck by their beauty and display of painterly skill. Check these out:

Pebble Beach Golf Course, ca. 1950-1965, watercolor on paper, 7'' x 10'', gift of Peter Bergh, 1991-52.8

Pleissner enjoyed fishing and fowl shooting, but he also played golf. Pebble Beach was first opened in 1919, and is renowned for its views of Carmel Bay.

Burnside, date unknown, watercolor on paper, 7'' x 10'', bequest of Ogden M. Pleissner, 1986-26.153

Burnside is located in Scotland, and Pleissner visited this region to shoot grouse. Many of his famous shooting scenes are set in this area, but this little painting is all about landscape.

St. Malo, date unknown, watercolor on paper, 7'' x 10'', bequest of Ogden M. Pleissner, 1986-26.144

St. Malo is a port city in Brittany. Pleissner first encountered this landscape during World War II, and visited several times after the war to paint it.

One thing I'm learning to appreciate about Pleissner is his efficiency. Watercolor is a difficult medium, but Pleissner skillfully used it to create naturalistic scenes without overwhelming his compositions with superfluous details. With just a few deft strokes of paint, he's able to turn abstract lines and color...

River, date unknown, watercolor on paper, 7'' x 10'', bequest of Ogden M. Pleissner, 1986-26.41
 ...into reflections of trees on water.

There are plenty of other lovely scenes that will be featured in this show, so be sure to come and visit next summer if you can! The Museum opens on May 12, 2013.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

i-loview, Accessible Technology!

This season Shelburne Museum received a generous gift from the Vermont-based accessible technology company, Ai Squared -- two i-loview handheld video magnifiers for  visually impaired museum visitors. Equipped with sophisticated cameras, the devices allow users to see an image up to 32 times its original size.

Intern Nina uses an i-loview magnifier on an Art at Hand tour of the Ticonderoga
We have put the magnifiers to good use in our Art at Hand program for the visually impaired. We've used them, for example, to see the tiny anchor pattern that dots the dining room carpet on the steamboat Ticonderoga. Later this month we will employ them at the General Store for up-close look at objects behind the counter or high up on the shelves. The i-loview magnifiers have been indispensable on these special tours.
Now, the devices are even more accessible to our visitors. Through closing day on October 28th they are available to check out at the Information Desk just behind the Museum Store!

Anne displays the i-loview magnifiers now available for visitors to check out at the Information Desk
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Rebecca White, Marketing Project Manager at Ai Squared, who wrote her own article about Art at Hand on their "Zoomed In" blog. She explains that while the company's flagship product, ZoomText magnification and reading software, has been on the market for over twenty years, the i-loview is an innovative development in accessible hardware. "We do everything we can to stay on top of technology," she says. "The i-loview helps our customers on the go--whether they're at the grocery store or an art museum." The device, White emphasizes, allows people who are visually impaired to "stay connected to the world and maintain their sense of independence."

White expresses a passionate belief that cultural institutions should be accessible to the tight-knit community of visually impaired Vermonters whom Ai Squared knows well. The company moved to the southern part of the state 1992 and, as she describes, its corporate culture just "feels Vermont." Then she pauses, realizing that, "maybe that only makes sense to Vermonters!" Certainly we at Shelburne Museum take pride in our deep regional connections and are glad to establish a partnership with such an esteemed local business. Ai Squared makes it a point to give back to the state they call home, and we thank them heartily for their generosity.

Update: If you'd like to learn more about Art at Hand, check out this article published in the Burlington Free Press on Sunday, October 21st.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Conclusion of the Saga of Seal and Polar Bear

Greetings, fellow adventurers! At last, we’ve come to the end of our journey.

Last time we met, I had told you that there are at least three versions of this painting. As much as I wanted to pursue this story further, however, I needed to focus on getting our own Seal and Polar Bear ready for exhibition.

I first talked with our conservator, Nancie Ravenel. She ascertained that the painting was structurally stable, but dirty. We then consulted a paintings conservator, Suki Fredericks, who gave the painting a gentle but thorough cleaning. Thanks to her expertise, the sky appeared more colorful, and details such as the texture of the bear’s fur became more visible.

While the painting was being cleaned, I worked on the exhibition’s layout. 

I went through many copies of the Webb Gallery floorplan as I figured out the layout.

I admittedly haven't said much about the show itself since the first chapter of this adventure, so let's take a moment to revisit it.

How Extraordinary! Travel, Novelty, and Time in the Permanent Collection explores the pursuit of novelty in 18th and 19th-century Europe and America, and is split into three sections.

The first part considers geographic travel. Some of the artists I feature here never visited the places they depicted, while others traveled extensively, but they all shared an interest in showing new places to their audiences. 

Martin Johnson Heade, Brazilian Hummingbirds: Two Sungems and a Crimson Topaz, 1866

The second section introduces some of the ways in which nineteenth-century Americans and Europeans incorporated novel elements into daily life, from exotic fashions to trompe l’oeil paintings.

Le Moniteur de la Mode Series: Coiffures etc., ca. 1860

The final area considers novelty through the idea of time travel, and features four paintings depicting the story of Rip van Winkle. 

Albertus del Orient Browere, Rip Van Winkle Asleep, 1879-1880

Okay, now let's get back to our story.

Seal and Polar Bear best fit into the first section of the show. Raleigh never traveled to the Arctic himself, but he was clearly interested in showing his viewers this region.

Now I needed to determine the painting’s exact placement. I wanted to showcase Seal and Polar Bear, since it had never been exhibited at Shelburne Museum before, so I gave the painting its own wall, making it the first work you see when you walk down to the exhibition. That’ll get your attention!

Once the layout had been figured out, it was time to write and revise the labels. I also had the gallery walls repainted a dark red, a dramatic color that works well with older paintings. 

After the labels were finished, our fabulous preparators hung the show and adjusted the lighting.

After months of research, writing, and contemplating, my show was finished, and I couldn’t have been more pleased.

At last, a delightfully weird Shelburne Museum gem is getting its moment in the limelight. Huzzah!