Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Now hear this: the Artizan Factories A-2 Band Organ

With the museum closed for the season, the question I’m most frequently asked is “What are you working on?” The fast answer is usually objects that need to be cleaned, stabilized, or restored for the exhibitions that the curators are working on. Those are the priority, but- truth is- there are a few projects which aren’t tied to exhibitions that we’ve been working on in the Conservation Department over time. Perhaps the largest (and loudest) is the Artizan Factories A-2 Band Organ, made c. 1927.
Shelburne Museum's Dentzel carousel being taken down c. 1950
The Artizan Factories A-2 band organ c. 1959 when the Dentzel carousel was being taken down
The Artizan Factories A-2 band organ from Shelburne Museum's Dentzel carousel today
The Artizan Factories A-2 band organ today

This band organ came into the collection in 1961 along with the museum's Dentzel carousel, produced in 1902 for the Sacandaga Amuseument Park. Though it’s not the carousel’s original organ, it is a very rare one and appears to have had little work done to it prior to coming to Shelburne. Artizan Factories in North Tonawanda, NY only existed from 1922-1929, and many of their models that survive now have had their works replaced. This was commonly done so that organs could be made to play more current music. This one survives with its original mechanisms, one song roll, a tuning roll, and painted surfaces. It does show evidence of use, particularly oil splatter from the steam engine that powered it, but little evidence of maintenance.

Director of Preservation and Conservation Rick Kerschner wanted to see if we could get the organ working again but in a manner that would have the least impact on the original materials. With working artifacts, like musical instruments, there’s a paradox – we’d like to preserve the physical nature of the piece but we also want to hear what it sounds like, and by operating it, we’re creating wear and tear. So to get this band organ back into working order and to create guidelines for how to play it in the most responsible manner possible, we assembled a team of experts.
John Watson (left), Bob Watters, and me having a first look at the various mechanisms from the back
Initially the team consisted of Rick Kerschner, me, musical instrument conservator from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation John Watson, and organ restorer Bob Watters. This first team assembled in 2007 to document the organ, and determine what course of action would be appropriate.
Here's the underside of the organ. The pipes are everywhere! Bob Watters repaired two of these pipes that had broken.
 In working through some of the questions that arose during the documentation process we met carousel organ restorer Tim Westman. We then engaged him to perform some of the more complex repairs to the pneumatics which required specialized equipment, provide an electric motor to drive the organ (which was originally driven with a steam engine), and fabricate missing parts for the organ. He also helped us find more music rolls that would work with this organ - they're reproductions with tunes appropriate to the mid-1920s- so that we don't further damage the fragile song roll that came to us with the organ.

I cleaned the fa├žade, which had been stored separately from the organ itself, cleaned the interior of the bellows and the carcass, replaced the deteriorated rubber tubing that no longer provided a proper air seal, and replaced the snares on the extant drum.
I traced and labeled where all the tubing went before removing it.

Here’s what it sounded like after tuning and with the snare drum in place, as Rick was troubleshooting.

Admittedly, there's more work to be done, and we're slowly working towards completion as we work on objects required for exhibitions. The organ came to the museum without a bass drum, and Tim has located a replacement for us and will be getting that to us soon. Though there’s no specific plan to display this carousel organ (yet!), we have played if for occasional public tours of the conservation lab. Keep your eyes peeled for future opportunities.

This work was undertaken, in part, with funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Thanks are also extended to scholar Fred Dahlinger for sharing his knowledge of this organ as well as the Bruder organ which was originally supplied  by the Gustav Dentzel Company with the carousel they made for Sacandaga Amusement Park.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Art of Peril

The last time we met, I told you about Ogden Pleissner, Landscape Painter, a new rotation of watercolors in Pleissner Gallery. Today I'll introduce another show I've been working on for the summer season, one that takes destruction as its subject.

Back in 2011, when I was going through the print collection in storage, I noticed that there were quite a few prints focusing on catastrophes such as fires, shipwrecks, and railroad accidents. I've always been interested in historical disasters, so when I started finding these prints, I knew I had to do a show about them. 

The result of this initial interest is The Art of Peril: Fires, Shipwrecks, and other Disasters. It will open on June 22nd, and will be exhibited in the lower level of Webb Gallery.

The exhibit isn't finished yet, but the pieces are up on the walls now, and I'm currently working on labels for them.

Some of the prints that will be on view

Three-dimensional objects will also be included in the show

The fun part about this show is that I get to learn a lot of great history. Some of the disasters I'll be featuring, such as the Great Fire of Chicago of 1871, are still famous today, but other catastrophes have become obscure over time.

Currier and Ives with their take on the Chicago fire

Take the story of the Peacemaker, for example, which occurred in 1844. This was the worst peacetime disaster to occur in the United States up to that time, but chances are you haven't heard of it. I certainly hadn't.

The installation of the Peacemaker was an unintentionally explosive celebration

Here's the story. The Peacemaker was a newly-installed cannon on the U.S.S. Princeton, the most advanced American warship of the time. To commemorate the Navy’s achievement, a formal celebration was held aboard the ship, with attendees including President John Tyler, his fiance, and several members of the presidential cabinet. Unfortunately, the Peacemaker exploded during a firing demonstration. President Tyler survived, but six men, including two of his cabinet members, were killed, and several others were injured. 

You can read a more detailed account of the event here.

The Peacemaker accident is just one of several fascinating events I've been learning about. As I keep working on this show, I'll share a few more historical events with you to whet your appetite for destruction.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Conversations: Art, Nature, Sprit

At Shelburne Museum we are fortunate to be part of a local community that embraces the arts. Head north on Route 7 and down Harbor Road and you'll find Shelburne Farms, a 1,400-acre working farm and National Historic Landmark. Go south and take a right on Bostwick and you'll find a small drive that leads you to All Souls Interfaith Gathering. Five years ago, we partnered with these Shelburne organizations to offer an annual series of "Conversations" that explore the fascinating ways in which art, nature, and spirit interact. Hosted by Fran Stoddard, this year's series explores how we might awaken to transformation through artmaking, engaging with the natural world, and undertaking spiritual practice.
Fran Stoddard asks Sam Guarnaccia and Cami Davis about "Emergent Universe Oratorio"

The initial conversation, which will be rebroadcast on RETN (Comcast and Burlington Telecom channel 16) March 21st at 8 p.m., featured composer Sam Guarnaccia and painter Cami Davis. They are in the midst of a collaborative art project that will debut at Shelburne Farms this September. The "Emergent Universe Oratorio" traces the development of our universe over the course of 13 billion years. It begins with the spoken word and unfolds into an operatic performance featuring a 100-voice choir and chamber orchestra. Davis's art, displayed in the space, will provide a dynamic visual component to the experience. 

When Stoddard asked Davis where she finds inspiration, she replied that conceptualizing the universe is like standing on a mountain. It's larger than you, and yet you internalize its presence, a feeling, a power. Her challenge is to translate that onto the canvas. Guarnaccia added, playfully, that their piece attempts to capture the "intimate ultimacy and the ultimate intimacy" of the natural world. As I watched them grapple with these big ideas, I began to think of the incredible landscapes in Shelburne Museum's collection (Andrew Wyeth's Soaring, to name just one), and consider how those artists confronted their physical environment.

Conversations with others in our community have the potential to open our minds and expand our thoughts. We hope to see you this month as we awake to transformation through art, education, and spiritual practice. Here are the dates for upcoming presentations in the series:

  • March 13: Ecology of Learning, Leadership and Change. Naturalist Matt Kolan shares ecological principles, rhythms and cycles of nature and how these offer clues to guide human patterns including systems thinking, problem-solving, and educational design. He is joined by Margaret Burke offering insights from her work with young people at Shelburne Farms and recent research on the transformative impact of nature-based programs on adolescents. 4 p.m.

  • March 20: Awakening the Power of Spiritual Practice. Sustainability is linked to healing of poverty, injustice and environmental degradation. Rev. Mary Abele of All Souls Interfaith Gathering and Pastor Nancy Wright of Ascension Lutheran Church share insights on the potential of spirituality to raise consciousness and motivate action.

Both programs are free and are at All Souls Interfaith Gathering (pictured above) in Shelburne.

For information please contact Kim McCray, adult programs coordinator, at 802-985-3346 x3368 or kmccray@shelburnemuseum.org

Monday, March 4, 2013

Reaching Out to Vermont's Alzheimer's Community

2012 Mornings at the Museum Tour of  Time Machines:  Robots, Rockets, and Steampunk Exhibit in Webb Gallery.

Preparations are well underway for the 2013 season of Mornings at the Museum: Shelburne Museum's tour program for people with early stages of Alzheimer's disease and dementia. The program’s team of specially trained guides is proud to continue their efforts in providing monthly tours to memory care residents from the Arbors, the Lodge at Shelburne Bay, and Wake Robin.

2012 Mornings at the Museum Tour at the Stagecoach Inn

Unlike a traditional art tour, guides place the focus on participants by using the Museum collection as a tool to stimulate the expression of thoughts, memories, and opinions while maintaining a safe and caring environment. Research studies have shown that art engagement (museum visits, art making, music, etc.) can significantly improve the quality of life for a person with dementia.  On another level, public programs, like Mornings at the Museum, can help people with Alzheimer’s reaffirm dignity and self-esteem while staying active in the community.

I have been using the winter months doing outreach to members of Vermont's Alzheimer’s community: specifically individuals with Alzheimer’s living at home with their loved ones or care partners.   During my visits with support groups throughout the Chittenden and Addison counties, I describe the Mornings at the Museum program and how people with dementia can benefit from regular visits to Shelburne Museum.  To help caregivers and their loved ones plan trips to Shelburne Museum, I have developed the Mornings at the Museum TO GO program. 

The TO GO program offers monthly complimentary guide packets to help organize and plan self-guided tours on our grounds during the 2013 Summer Season.  Each packet features a mapped out visit to one of the 37 buildings on Shelburne Museum’s Grounds.  While exploring the building, TO GO users can take advantage of the questions and facts provided about four specific objects in order to start conversations with a partner, a family, a group of friends, or even members of a local support group.  The TO GO program provides the freedom to experience art at one’s own convenience and pace.

Many support group caregivers admit they have difficulty finding activities to do with their loved ones.  With that in mind, Shelburne Museum is taking a small steps towards offering positive and memorable experiences for the greater Alzheimer's and dementia community of Vermont. 

Interested in learning more information about the Mornings at the Museum TO GO program?  Please email Shelburne Museum’s Education department at education@shelburnemuseum.org.