Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Museums Can't Please Everyone, or Can They?

Museums can’t satisfy everyone, but they can seek to serve more of the public than they have in the past. Recently, Claudine Brown, Program Director for Arts and Culture at the Nathan Cummings Foundation, remembered a "Town Meeting" that she attended in Detroit where community members argued over a future plan for a museum that would serve to educate the public about American slavery was especially poignant. Some are ignorant to believe that all African Americans feel the same about how that episode in history should be portrayed, displayed, and conveyed to succeeding generations of all Americans. The presumption is that everyone in a community, in which there is a shared heritage, religion, etc., are on the same page about anything could be seriously damaging to a museum’s public relations.

There is a responsibility on the part of the museum to hear more voices and consider the views and interests of ever greater numbers of the public. One respondent at the "town meeting," according to Brown, wished that her children not be exposed to the graphic portrayal of slavery. Another opposed that view arguing that it was necessary that this part of his heritage be remembered by this and future generations. Both of these public respondents had valid arguments. The two clashed, and their respective views were eventually overshadowed by personal insults. The important thing is that they were given a forum to voice their opinions and were heard by museum planners.

This anecdote made me think about new mediums of communicating in and outside the museum, like Internet blogging. Such mediums might serve the task of reconciling such arguments and others in response to new museums, their missions, and their exhibitions. In fact, blogs promise a more effective public forum for both present and future exhibitions. In such a scenario, a mediator, the museum’s voice in a blog created by the museum itself, can more effectively bring opposing views to a common ground. They can use such a tool to sell their ideas as well as meld them with some of the community’s. The condition of writing one’s response and sending it allows for greater consideration and less impassioned reaction. One can write and revise one’s thoughts before sharing them. What has proven so effective in emailing is true for blogging too.

Of course, blogging can be expensive in that it is a time glutton for paid museum staff, but isn’t this important if the museum is committed to knowing the views of the public and if it is interested in "new audiences"? The respondents to such a blog about an upcoming event or one presently underway will be limited, but it is important that the museum has been responsible for such a public forum. It is important that they have been responsible for a dialogue with their visitors or potential visitors. Such dialogues don’t often happen. This venue has allowed visitors to communicate among themselves about art and history that they feel impassioned enough about to respond to.

Blogs can be used in the actual museum’s exhibition labeling, as I have seen done recently. Such a venue allows the possibility of the museum reconsidering their choices and gaining further insight into the views and interests of their community. We must be reminded that these considerations are the antithesis of the museum in the past when an elite considered their own interests and values and used the museum to impose these on the public en masse. The blog is one more communication tool in a new era which promises a shared forum for those with long-held influence in assuring their imprint on what museums do and can do with those previously alienated and anticipatory of a shared stake in the future message of museums.


Brown, Claudine, Program Director, Arts and Culture, Nathan Cummings Foundation, Guest Lecture, Tufts University, Medford, MA, 22 Oct. 2007.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Modest Proposal for Educational Outreach and Programming at The Curran Homestead

The following was presented before the Board of Directors of The Curran Homestead in September, 2008 by Robert Schmick.

A Proposal

The most important initial step for any such proposals is to develop a website for The Curran Homestead that exemplifies an active and vigorous attempt at developing further educational programming. The new website should be linked to popular sites related to Maine museums and other institutions. There are ways to move such a website towards the top of search lists related to Maine life, rural life, small museums, living history museums, etc. on search engines like Google, and these should be sought out. Such a website could be a vehicle for initiating more effectively the proposed programming below and all other proposals for educational outreach.

This website would not only include digital images characterizing the farm site and its offerings but a text of its mission, future, and currently evolving educational outreach. It would be a resource that would be invaluable to the process of soliciting interest in programming by the public and school districts (teachers, administrators). Such a site would also serve as a ready reference to grant providers and potential donors. So much can be said for having the ability to say “Visit our website.”

Since there are relatively few museum websites that provide resources like lesson plans that link standards and curriculum with their collections for teachers, serving in “teaching across the humanities,” there is a perfect opportunity for The Curran Homestead to become a vibrant and useful resource for an area where there are relatively few history museums competing for visitors (DiSalvo 2007). Providing lesson plans that connect specifically to the museum’s material culture would be a way “to increase” their “impact” on the community and draw more teachers and students to both website and physical site. These resources could be made as printable documents on the website. Certainly with rising fuel costs, school field trips are becoming harder to justify. This reality and the added work of linking the specifics of the Curran Homestead to a teacher’s curriculum make a trip to the site an increasingly harder sell to both administrators and teachers alike. Creating some finely tailored resources online that would be attractive and pertinent to standards would serve as a hook to get schools to the physical site and also serve frequently as an alternative when coming to the site is cost prohibitive. Such resources could be easily created with little or no cost.

The website could also serve as a meeting place for those who wish to share their rural Maine experiences both past and present. The Curran family has a website that documents their history and briefly their connection with the Homestead. The Homestead, both the physical one and the website, could more immediately and effectively become the “Homestead” of other Mainers and others with similar rural connections. A website could become a type of scrapbook of stories and images about Maine rural life evolving into a digital component of the museums “collections.” The numerous photos taken in the past at gatherings at the site, and that have filled the pages of past printed newsletters, should be archived on the website, for they too add to the museum’s evolving narrative. Such a “collection” that would evolve through contribution and interaction from the public could further add to the resources from which educational programming is developed. There have been a number of small museums similar to The Curran Homestead that consist mainly of historical structures but lacks unique material culture, like photos of known people in rural Maine, known settings in rural Maine, and the agricultural material culture it does have in use. A partnership with a local institution does have such images within its holdings might be something to pursue. What makes a museum a museum and its “artifacts” worthy of museum status is that they are effectively attached to a narrative. Building a collection of photographs related to the current collection and mission has been the response and success of other museums like The Curran Homestead.

This focus on building a collection of donated digital reproductions of vintage photographs from the public allows would serve The Curran Homestead effectively. These digital images would not require the tedious and often expensive preservation and care of original photographs. Such a scheme would embrace many new participants/patrons instead of merely traditional wealthy donors and the precious objects they alone can afford to donate. Their donated images could assist in the telling of an American story that is inclusive of all of the US rather than only a small community in Maine. Such digital images would further assist the museum’s use of existing material culture now present onsite to more effectively reach a greater number of educators and tell better stories for educational purposes.

Making that connection with the story of rural life beyond Penobscot or Hancock counties too, or even Maine itself, may serve in The Curran Homestead’s efforts to find funding in places never considered before. The population of Maine rural communities is becoming increasingly diversified; making them included in The Curran Homestead story would be important to its continued relevancy. Such an element could be a part of the museum’s website and be a part of rebranding efforts. For as The Curran Homestead is poised to develop a greater level of volunteerism, capital development, fund raising, educational programming etc., it would need to realize strategies that will serve multiple purposes like the above scheme, and it will constantly need to consider its own relevancy to the communities it intends to serve.

With greater concern for the limitations of our current energy sources and the subsequent cost rises effecting such essentials as heating and food in the US, Mainers may be especially receptive to revisiting traditions of the past that seek out the essentials of living more independently of global markets and embracing greater self sufficiency. Such points might be key elements to marketing strategies, and rebranding, as well as educational programming that would serve to generate revenues for the museum. Many domestic traditions like canning fruits and vegetables, sewing, knitting, crocheting, soap making, gardening, animal husbandry, and the like once characterized rural life in Maine, but the knowledge and skills required for these have largely slipped from the contemporary lives of most. Creating a program of short courses that promise to reintroduce and nurture such skills and pastimes among contemporary Mainers may be appropriate to the educational outreach of The Curran Homestead and serve to generate added revenues. Such offerings of “experiential education,” or “learning by doing,” is more appropriate than the more common alternative of lecture, gallery talk, and guided tour which are fundamentally flawed pedagogically for kids on a trip to a museum for the first time or the tenth time (http://www.history.org).

For a nominal fee, area residents would be offered seasonal programming at the museum’s campus or nearby meeting place. Area experts would be sought out for the purpose of instruction. An incentive for these proposed future instructors could be, if needs be, an agreement to share the collected tuitions from the student participants with them, profit sharing.

Adult After-School and Weekend Programming

Instructors would have to be sought out, interviewed, reviewed, and contracted to carry out such an endeavor. There would also have to be recruitment and training of volunteers who could be called upon to carry out such tasks as setting up, preparing materials for courses, setting up instruction areas on a weekly basis, and assisting instructors, if necessary. There are a number of institutions that might assist in developing the human resources for such an endeavor. The University of Maine has its own museum with an historical and agricultural theme, and students run it. Perhaps students could be sought out for such an endeavor, if there is an interest among them. Museum Studies programs could be solicited for summer interns. Local schools often require community service for graduation; students might be recruited for a time interval. Boy Scouts and youth groups are potentially seeking opportunities for volunteerism that would provide leadership experiences. Grants could include funds for staffing some educational programming.

Where could all this programming take place? As a 501(c)(3) non-profit it would be prudent to have some or all of the programming to take place onsite; this would also serve in building public exposure to this institution and its offerings. That is the point after all of a living history museum, life onsite. There are a number of out buildings that could be used for such purposes in warm weather. The Curran Homestead has repeatedly used tents and canopies for “gatherings,” and these are a good way to achieve shelter for such programming in warm weather. The main house and gift shop building are possible sites for inclement weather and colder seasons. The possibility is there for year round programming, and that practice would further The Homestead’s role as an ongoing and permanent educational resource in the community rather than an occasional place of functions. Areas within the farmhouse that presently serve as historical tableau might serve greater purpose as areas for active and participatory educational programming.

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) provides funding for educational programming for museums, and there have been a number of institutions similar to The Homestead that have found funding for making their collections of material culture effective tools for learning about the arts. The NEA’s Learning in the Arts For Children and Youth Grants should be of particular interest. Given that there is currently no arts programming linked to The Homestead’s material culture, a decision would need to be made to broaden the focus of the museum to include “creativity and education in the arts” as part of its educational mission. This would not in any way effect the current mission but simply create new ways of appreciating and utilizing the facilities and collections for educational purposes. Such a grant, with its emphasis on “children and youth acquiring knowledge and understanding of and skills in the arts,” could fit nicely with the museum’s current collection and the educational needs of the community. The museum’s offering of potential “hands-on” learning experiences centered around rural, agricultural life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries offers a potentially good match to this grant’s goal of “participatory learning” for community-based learning, outside the “regular school day.” There is a potential for creating weekly after-school programs with the existing material culture onsite.

This “learning” could be accomplished not only through after-school programming but “summer arts education” as well. Such summer programming could similarly focus on school-age children acquiring new “knowledge and skills” as well as gaining a lifelong interest in not only arts and culture but local community, history, and livelihoods, which is directly linked to Maine standards for fourth graders. The Homestead would have to staff the site with “skilled artists” and “teachers” from the area to make such a program possible. The museum’s own collection of tools, farming implements, buildings, landscape ( including specimens of flora and fauna), domestic appliances, furnishings, and, potentially, the development of recorded, print and audio, narratives associated with them and their origins could all be subject to arts programming. Such programming could be a significant source of earned income for the museum as well as serve to humanize it in the eyes of its constituents.

There are a number of other grants that are available for further development of educational outreach to particularly pre-school children, and these would be worth further research by the museum. The Institute of Museum and Library Services (ILMS), specifically, its National Leadership Grants, provide funding for the development and implementation of educational programming with “engaging activities to help develop the skills needed to reach [school] readiness as well as for an “after school arts and a homework assistance center” that “supports mothers and children through learning and play” in recent years. Such a project would be applicable to both the needs of current and potential future visitors. Such grants emphasize “welcoming and supporting activities for parents to participate with their children as families” (ILMS).

The fact that The Homestead is located near the Fields Pond Audubon Center is especially fortuitous, for it could allow for partnership programming which would justify parents and caregivers traveling out to The Homestead on a weekday or weekend for something more than one purpose and for more than one hour or two for a specific program at The Homestead. Both institutions could simply seek to have their unique programs scheduled so that the public could participant in both; this would appeal to those concerned with conserving fuel expenses and limited time. Certainly, proximity to this well established institution warrants nurturing the potential residual effects of its student and family visitation.

Networking the stories The Homestead tells and the experiences it provides in order to have greater impact and relevancy to its visitors’ experience might be realized by creating programming that specifically complements the themes of nature and environment so important to the Fields Pond experience. This type of networking would provide greater impact and relevancy to its visitors’ experience. It could be the “hook” to get Fields Pond visitors down the road to The Homestead too, and “once you get them in then you can get them back” says Carl Nold, President and CEO of Historic New England and Chairperson of the American Association of Museums.

The fact that one of the 2003 recipients of ILMS Learning Opportunity Grants was the similarly small institution the Essex County Historical Society, in upstate New York, evidences that there is a possibility for funding similar projects at The Curran Homestead with large federal funding institutions. Such a proposal would likely seek funds for a “permanent presence in local schools expanding educational services.” It could also seek to create a “presence on [its] museum website,” which could begin before the protracted and required application process with proactive steps to incorporate educational resources in the website content. The tuition for public participation in such programming could, like the Essex County, NY grant recipient, could be sought through subsidization for targeted low-income families in Penobscot and Hancock counties. Ronald McDonald House Charities is yet another organization that provides grant money “for sponsored membership and free admissions for low income families, and this is worth consideration once educational programming has been organized; the Maine Discovery Museum has been a recent beneficiary of this funding (2007). The “application and review process” for such grants is often time consuming, taking from eight to eighteen months in the case of ILMS grants. Having a comprehensive educational plan with some programming in place and ongoing would be necessary before beginning the application process for grants promising tuition subsidization.

One of the most important considerations in planning marketing and development for an institution like The Curran Homestead is continually broadening its audience. A website would serve in targeting new people. A potentially receptive audience is the parents of sixth graders and under, and the children themselves. The museum has served an audience of children and their parents, relatives, guardians, friends, and caregivers; there could be an increased emphasis on children and those who accompany them. Programming should provide greater emphasis on an experience for children. Family and community based learning experiences should be further emphasized. Such a circumstance might be a focus of marketing as the museum continues to seek new audiences. Knowing who parents are should be a focus of current marketing concerns, for these will ultimately affect the pursuit of grants for educational programming. New families are migrating to Maine. Gen-Xers are a significant part of this demographic, and these may be a group that the museum specifically focuses on in the future.

Educational programming can be an integral part of a museum’s earned income revenues (Genoways 155). The museum could be marketed specifically to parents seeking programming for their pre-school children during both the work week and weekend. “At home” mothers and fathers are always seeking new daytime activities, and there are only so many story hours, swimming lessons at the “Y,” and playtimes scheduled within a community the size of Orrington and its environs. Advertizing scheduled weekly offerings of story and/or activity hours that connect thematically with Maine traditions, heritage, landscape, and agriculture could be a draw for this audience. Revenues would come by way of subscription to such activities whereby a seasonal or monthly bargain fee could be charged for each child or family participating. A membership card to this activity could identify subscribers. Paying per visit would be a more expensive alternative. Such programming for especially children of pre-school age is never sufficient in any community.

A marketing campaign specifically devoted to recognizing the needs of twenty and thirty something parents would serve the causes of increased participation and visitation. Gen-Xers (1965-1981) are the parents of “three fourths of [all] elementary school children” in the US, says James Chung, president of Reach Advisors, a Massachusetts-based marketing firm and specialist on the generation ( Gardiner 2006). Knowing them would help to bring greater numbers to The Curran Homestead fold.

Gen-Xers are a “different breed” than their baby boomer predecessors, for they are more likely to move for college or career, “marry later,” “have children later,” and “likely to find themselves distant from family support networks,” and more likely to take time off” for the sake of their kids ( Johnston and Chung). Fathers are especially unlike the generation before with their “paternity leaves,” rejection of “overtime,” and rushing home to spend time with their kids (Wen 2005). They are a generation that characteristically likes “getting involved and meeting new people,” yet are “not living up to the giving patterns to non-profit institutions like their parents may have been.

Given these factors, it might be prudent for The Curran Homestead to direct some marketing towards the specific characteristics of this parent group. Focusing on this group’s participation through “volunteerism” has been seen as a means to compensate for the widening gap in this group’s negligible giving habits, and this is being seen in New York State’s capitol region where one Gen-X volunteer, among a growing number, claims “volunteering gives him a sense of gratification and credibility in an uncertain world” ( Gardiner 2006). The museum should emphasize a role whereby it serves as a conduit for interaction between community members thereby targeting specifically this group’s characteristic disconnect with community. A strategy might call attention to the fact that The Curran Homestead brings parents with similar experiences and lifestyles together as well as people of all ages. Greater understanding of this by the museum might serve to turn specifically Gen-Xers on to giving to this newer institution when they as a demographic are more characteristically “turned-off by the cultures and images associated with long standing charities” ( Panepento 2005). Inviting individuals to the site for more frequent social gathering is a means to insure greater volunteerism.

The Curran Homestead has the potential to be more effectively touted as a vehicle for community building through the development of greater educational programming. A relationship with area schools will be an important step, but overtures should be made to day-care providers and pre-schools too. Weekday (i.e. after-school, field trips) and weekend programming on and offsite could be developed. The museum could assist individuals or groups in satisfying increasingly demanding curriculums; for example, resources can be provided for Grades, 1, 3, 4, and 6 that include a study of family, societies, and communities in Maine. Maine history, commerce, and livelihoods embody The Curran Homestead experience, and, therefore, it is perfectly suitable for assisting teachers in satisfying state standards and aligning itself with Maine State Learning Results. Core curriculums like social studies, in addition to English language arts and the visual arts, would be targeted through programming that focuses on the use of the museum’s material culture for purposes of discussion, writing, reading, story telling, and the use of a variety of art media, among others.

In conclusion, The Curran Homestead would be well served by a vigorous campaign to interest area childcare centers and schools that specifically serve pre and elementary school children in educational programming. Programming that focuses on arts and humanities making use of not only onsite material culture but digital representations, i.e. photographs of it, online though the museum’s website. This programming would focus on state standards in a variety of disciplines. Grants, offered by the ILMS, NEA, and others (The Maine State Archives), that promote inclusion of low-income audiences, community-based learning, arts education, school readiness, after-school, and summer programming should be actively pursued after initial steps are made to create a comprehensive education plan for the museum and its website.

Proposed Adult and Youth Courses and Programming for After-School, Fun Saturdays, and Summer

Rural Maine Life and Its Global Connection: There are many possibilities for partnerships with local institutions for funding and programming. There are also possibilities for partnerships with distant institutions. The World Awareness Children’s Museum (WACM) in Glens Falls, New York maintains an ongoing cultural exchange program and partnership with schools in the US and abroad. Part of their mission includes collecting youth art that is thematically linked to a student’s culture. Through an arrangement with teachers, art is created that characterizes the lives of schoolchildren which is subsequently exchanged with artwork similarly created by another class in another part of the world. The point is that schoolchildren can communicate through visual art with a global community about their cultural identity. Greater understandings about each other evolve without the stumbling blocks of verbal communication.

The WACM has always been successful with acquiring art produced from abroad but getting American teachers to participate has often been a challenge. Given the mission of The Curran Homestead, a program that allows for a conversation about the unique characteristics of Maine rural life and its traditions with school children could evolve through a program which allows a museum educator to visit area schools and facilitate art making centered around this theme. The art produced could be merchandized and used for traveling exhibitions (displays at local and statewide businesses). The art work could be exchanged with classrooms abroad, and such a conversation about others like us in other lands can evolve with the public through a variety of methods of presentation. Overtures could be made to WACM to develop a joint project and joint application for funding.

Saturday Games

This would provide a venue for parents and their kids to play games together rather than stay at home and watch TV or play video games. Tents with tables could be the environment for good old fashioned board game playing and the like. Musicians could be invited to practice as accompaniment to the play or old records could be amplified through a PA system. The point would be that the Curran Homestead becomes associated with fun for families and as a place for the community to come together and interact. Games provided. Admission fee for parents and children necessitated.

Square Dance ( “Ho-Down Saturdays at the Curran Homestead”)

What happened to community dances (Block-dances, “Ho-down” in the barn)? This could be the theme for an adult fundraising event as well as an after school/Saturday program in which traditional folk dance and music is revisited and practiced in a fun learning experience.

An annual summer dance (the making of a new tradition) could become a fundraising event. Wooden flooring could be rented and set up on the lawn with tenting for inclement weather. Participants might be required to show up in period dress that connects with The Homestead’s origin with their ticket in hand. Live entertainment and food could be elements of such a fundraiser. Local media would be invited for public relations, and staff could solicit membership for The Curran Homestead, including among seasonal residents.

Say “Goat Cheese”

Goats require little land and are suitable to rocky terrains characteristic of Maine. How does one go about raising them, and how do you go about making cheese from its milk. Learn these basics. Make cheese.


A challenging offering, for it may be that such skills are maintained and regulated by the State of Maine? Leonard’s Mill offers a summer workshop in blacksmithing. Such skills were often a reality of the small family farm when larger blacksmithing establishments were not available. If possible, a portable and temporary work area might be set-up onsite for a weekend course. Such an offering would depend on the feasibility of being able to set-up such tools and work area in a reasonably short amount of time. The participants would learn the essentials of fire-making, bellowing, simple iron heating and bending, shaping. This may evolve into larger projects. Given that acetylene torches were available in the late 19th century, a course in simple welding and brazing could also be offered, and would undoubtedly be a popular offering. Safety would be a concern, and insurance issues might be quelled with the requirement that participants provide evidence that they are insured if injured. There are supplementary insurance plans that would cover a participant for such an educational endeavor, and these would be solely the participant’s responsibility. Such measures are taken by many area schools that are no longer responsible for carrying injury insurance for students. A form is sent home with students, and parents are required to provide insurance information and a signature affirming their knowledge of the insurance coverage policies. This would all be disclosed in the course application and literature.
Knitting: Students would learn the essentials of materials and tools. Participants will complete a project using a variety of techniques offered in class. Materials for completing or participating in this course could be offered in the gift shop for a nominal fee. A materials fee could be included in the tuition.



Rug Hooking


With a large number of local weavers who produce fabrics etc., it might be easy to find people to spread the knowledge of weaving to a group of eager participants using a variety of locally produced raw materials like wool, alpaca fiber, and goat hair. Materials provided in the gift shop. Looms? Could include one instruction loom whereby participants are introduced to the essentials in limited classes with a limited number of participants.

Caning Chairs

Learning the essentials of materials and tools. Students could re-cane donated chairs. These would become part of The Curran Homesteads furnishings or they could bring in their own personal objects for refurbishment. Materials could be sold at the gift shop. Traditional materials like dried cattails might be had onsite and prepared as a Boy Scout project, students seeking community service projects for graduation, or through volunteers (docents).
Basket Making : A partnership might be formed with the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor for such an endeavor as could other course proposals be realized through some type of partnership allowing for shared responsibilities with local museums like the Maine Maritime Museum. Materials for such an offering could be had from onsite resources. This would be in keeping with the Curran Homestead’s mission of being a living history museum that also seeks to recreate the various industries that were once realized by small Maine farms.
Foraging : Identifying edibles in the wild. There are many interested in what there is for the finding, preparing, and consuming in the Maine wild. Parsnips, mushrooms, berries, greens, and the like are just some of the edible treasures. There are many with the expertise to show us what there is free for the taking. Caution observed.

Home Entertainment 1900 Style

Offer an alternative to our contemporary lives with a program that re-introduces the card games, board games, puppets, playmaking, and music of ancestors. Participants might include separate groups of specific age.

Fly Fishin’

How many of us are curious about the art of fly casting and fly making? Amateur experts share their knowledge. Participants learn the fundamentals.

Parlor Music Circa 1905

Participants will gather around the collections vintage Victrola and listen to music from the area. Eats and social interaction emphasized, and possibly dancing. Music enthusiasts can share their own records with the group and their stories, and this would obviously not focus exclusively on 1905 and thereabouts but from multiple generations of music appreciation through 78s, 45s, and 33rpm records exclusively. These gatherings, and the stories revealed about music tastes, might contribute to the museum’s oral history collection.

Jug Band Workshop

Participants will construct a stringed washtub Bass, tambourines from household items, and other music makers. Jugs and washboards provided. Participants will learn simple skills in composition and performance using instruments found or constructed. Lemonade served. Kids K-5, Teen Group, Adults.

Banjo Lesson Saturdays

Participants supply their own bangos. Accomplished bangos share appreciation for and the basics of banjo music. With this type of arrangement the museum could offer a profit sharing arrangement with instructors.

Naïve Portraiture

Even after photography was invented itinerant painters crossed the countryside with wood panels and brushes creating likenesses for a fee. Participants will learn the rudiments of oil painting.

Photography Circa 1909

Participants experience the ubiquitous box camera of the past through their own construction of a pinhole camera with found materials. They take pictures and share them.

Stamp Collecting

Especially with the long winters, and before TV and videos took their time away, Maine kids collected things like stamps. In the 1890s throughout the first half of the twentieth century kids spent much time with their collections, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt, one of the more famous amateur philatelists. This hobby is not just about finding stamps and sticking them in an album. There is knowledge about condition and the variety of types that is known be fewer. Stamp experts will impart this knowledge to them. Kids can trade and share their collections with each other in this Saturday venue. Stamp collecting supplies, which are sometimes hard to find today, could be had in the gift shop. Old timers could share their collections and the stories that go with them ( oral history ). Display ( compliments of the Curran Homestead) could be set up at local businesses or institutions like banks for further PR.

The Curran Homestead Gift Shop could offer for sale materials related to course offerings.

Maine State Archives Grants

This institution is still in the midst of making its offerings available for this year; these grants are solely dependent on the State’s budget. It is anticipated that there will be an opportunity to create an educational partnership with area schools through such an award. The following could be funded by a number of grants both State and Federal.

With each day unfortunately many with valuable skills and stories from the past to share are lost. A program of documenting Maine’s past on audio cassette/digital storage could assist in preserving and utilizing a potentially rich resource for learning about Maine identity for students now and in the future. Some possible themes that would be worthy of seeking out and collecting as oral histories might include:

The Curran Homestead

Who were the Currans? Interview contemporary Currans and their memories of the family homestead. What was here that isn’t here now?

The Curran Homestead Restoration and Refurbishment

Have volunteers from the past fifteen years tell the story of what the Curran Homestead looked like at the beginning of its museum status and how its present condition was achieved.
This week I spoke with Irv Marsters , and he informed me that oral histories focusing on The Curran Homestead were done five or six years by UMO , but that no one had ever listened to the final project. These involved members of the Curran family. Tracking these down and getting copies would be a first step in planning out such a project. These oral histories could become part of The Curran Homestead’s website.

Tools & Materials

Explores the relationship between occupations and the tools and materials by which they were realized (logging, maple sugaring, farming, fishing etc.)

Native American Life

Hunting and Fishing

Building My Home


Downeast Maine

What is it that is unique about this region of the US? Participants would be made aware of some the unique traditions of this area and their origin.

Immigration (4th and 5th grade)

Who were these people? Who are these people?
What did they contribute to farming in Maine in the past and in the present?
Why did they come, and what attracts them today?
What traditions did/do they bring with them?

The Curran Homestead could create a scripted framework by which storytellers are introduced. This would more obviously connect these individual’s stories to The Curran Homestead and its specific history. A multimedia presentation could be part of this. Students would seek out their own oral histories to add to the collection making contact with family friends, relatives, or acquaintances with worthy experiences to share and be recorded. Students would propose to interview each interviewee to their teachers and these would require an approval by the teacher and a formal permission slip signed by interviewees granting permission to the State and The Curran Homestead to use the recording for educational purposes. This would insure that there would a standard of potential usefulness/pertinence for all the histories collected. In sum, Museum educators from The Curran Homestead would model the process by which interviews are given by students. Students would learn by experience an interview in class in which they also participate assisting in a Q & A with the guest storyteller in an initial visit to their classroom. Follow-up visits would also be part of this programming, and students would offer their progress for discussion. Ultimately, all participating students would make a visit to The Curran Homestead itself. The initial visit and oral history orchestrated by museum educators from The Curran Homestead would be recorded and would contribute to the collection of oral histories. Students would learn by seeing and doing. Teachers would contribute in nurturing the skills of interviewing, reviewing the results, and follow-ups about these individual storytellers connection to Maine identity. These would be further reinforced by subsequent follow-ups by the museum educator.

Developing a program of using oral histories to satisfy ELA and social studies standards would be at the forefront of current pedagogy with its emphasis on collecting and using primary source information for the purposes of critical thinking and understanding about the past and present. Student participants would be subject to such learning experiences as story telling and acquire such skills as first hand information gathering through interviewing and note-taking, among others. There would also be an element of public speaking because students would be acting as interviewers in these recording that would become a public resource. Students would share their experiences with this project. The Curran Homestead would provide guest storytellers who could offer informal narratives that in some way relate thematically to the material culture of the museum itself. The grant would provide funding for cassette recorders ( or digital recorders) and educators for the implementation of such a program.

The program would create a collection of oral histories that would insure the preservation of some of Maine’s past while also further contributing to The Curran Homestead’s evolving identity as an educational resource for Maine citizens and schools receptive to cooperative educational programming with the museum. Such a project could be used for public relations purposes, for such a project would be of interest to the local, state, and national media. The oral histories collected would become part of the Maine State Archives collection. Participating schools and The Curran Homestead would also preserve copies for their continued use.

Creating a website with audio offerings might be key to creating a resource for area teachers and others. No building would be needed to house audio cassette or digital recordings. All the recordings could be housed in cyberspace making them always available and requiring no staff to physically locate them. Of course, a webmaster would be essential for managing these files. This means of storage and delivery of “new collections” could be had relatively cheaply. Podcasting has become increasingly popular with not only techies but more general consumers. The software for downloading and editing digital audio are free with MacIntosh systems; GarageBand software is really a great product for downloading your digital audio files and producing quality recordings for sharing on the Internet. PC users can find the free download for Audacity software online, and this more primitive editing software can be utilized at no cost. The cost for making the proposed collection of oral histories available online would only entail having a large storage capacity for continual additions to the site as well as someone to manage these. Volunteers could be trained to manage these files.

Funding for such a project might be had through current grants like the National Archives and Records Administration’s Basic Projects grants, specifically, the Electronic Records Project. This supports projects that will lead to sustainable electronic records archives that preserve digital records with enduring historical value. The ILMS and the National Endowment for the Humanities provides funding for Digital Partnerships with their Advancing Knowledge Grants that might assist The Curran Homestead in such a project. Making a decision to take the first steps towards consultation with these funding institutions may be the first step in deciding the feasibility of realizing such a project.


DiSalvo, B.J., and A. Franzen-Sheehan. “Expanding Art Museums into Humanities Classrooms: Research on Online Curricula for Cross-Disciplinary Study.” J.Trant and D. Bearman. Eds., Museums and the Wb 2007: Proceedings, Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, March 31, 2007, http://www.archimuse.com/mw2007/papers/diSalvo/diSalvo.html (accessed August 5, 2008).

Gardiner, Bob. “The ‘Me’ Generation Gives Back.” Albany Times Union, September 24, 2006, http://www.timesunion.com/AspStories/story.asp?storyID=518854&category=BUSINESS&newsdate=9/24/2006 (accessed December 2, 2007).

Genoways, Hugh H., and Lynn M. Ireland. Museum Administration; An Introduction. Oxford: Altamira Press, 2003.

Institute of Museum and Library Services, http://www.imls.gov/results.asp?state=0&city=7description=on&inst=&keyword=&program=gt_1010&sort=year&year=8 ( accessed September 9, 2008)

Johnstone, Sally, and James Chung. “Moms Wanna Rock Too,” Ski Area Management, Vol.46-2, Page 44, http://www.saminfo.com/issues/article.php?tid=3545

Maine Discovery Museum, Bangor, Maine, Newsletter, December, 2007.

National Endowment for the Arts. “Learning in the Arts for Children and Youth Grants,” http://www.nea.gov.grants/apply/GAP08/LITA.html (accessed September 5, 2008)

National Endowment for the Humanities. “Advancing Knowledge: The ILMS/NEH Digital Partnership.” http://www.neh.gov/grants/guidelenes/Digital_Partnership.html (accessed September 5, 2008).

NARA ( National Archives and Records Administration). The National Historical Publication and Records (NHPRC), “Grant Announcement: Electronic Records Projects.” http://www.archives.gov/nhprc/announcement/electronic.html (accessed September 10, 2008)

Nold, Carl. President and CEO, Historic New England and Chairperson , AAM, Lecture, Tufts University, Museum Studies Program, Medford, Massachusetts, December 10, 2007.

Panepeto, Peter, “Connecting with Generation X; Charities Look For New Ways to Reach Out to the Under 40 Set,” The Chronicle of Philanthropy/Fund Raising (March 31, 2005), http://www.philanthropy.com/free/articles/v17/i12/12003301.htm (accessed December 2, 2007).

Peacock, D., and J.Brownbill, “Audiences, Visitors, Users: Reconceptualizing Users of Museum Online Content and Services,” J.Trant and D.Bearman, Eds., Museums and the Web 2007: Proceedings, Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics ( March 31, 2007).

Richardson, Jim, “Rebranding,” Museum Marketing Blog, (September 16, 2007), http://www.museumbrandingblog.co.uk/?cat=3 (accessed September 1, 2008).

Schwartz, Nancy. “Shape Your Nonprofit Website to Generate the Actions You Need.” (May 25, 2007) http://www.nancyschwartz.comeffectivenonprofitwebsites.html/ (accessed December 7, 2007).

Viera, Diane L. “Strike Up the Brand: Creating or Enhancing Your Museum’s Brand Identity, American association for the State and Local History Technical Leaflet 232, 2005.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Museum Near and Dear to Our Hearts

The following museum described might serve as a model for a proposed plan of creating both a photograph and oral history archives on The Curran Homestead's new website as put forth in the September, 2008 Board Meeting and included in the "Modest Proposal" posted on this blog site. We are an institution whose tangible collection consists exclusively of the farm homestead itself, tools and accoutrements, and household furnishing, applicances, and sundries, but there is another undeveloped resource that we have, and this is the many stories that people who come to Homestead as visitors and volunteers share with us. Additionally, it is The Curran Homestead's exemplication of American farm and home that make its purpose so powerful to not only Mainers but all Americans, for we all share that experience of family, friendship, and hearth in all its permutations. Creating a resource from which the public can learn about The Curran Homestead and share their own homestead histories and experiences seems to be an even greater realization of our mission.

We will likely never include in our collection a sizeable archives of paper documents, photographs, and the like for research purposes about the family farm, about the Curran family and their experience specifically, or rural folk in Maine and in general. Without these educational resources we are missing out on an audience for our living history farm and museum; we are missing out on the utilization of the most important communication and education medium of our time. The Shiloh Museum is a model for us to learn from because it has a collection of modest value and survives through modest funding. It, like most museums, sees a necessity to grow and to develop its educational outreach. Recent innovations like digitalization and a website provide such a museum of modest means the opportunity to build a collection of immense educational value with little money and with relatively no need for the expense of additional facilities and storage like never before.

Along with its physical plant, the Shiloh Museum maintains a virtual museum of incredible proportions that continues to grow through the donation of digital reproductions of real photographs from the public. To further assist The Curran Homestead in telling the story they have to tell and in teaching the things they wish to teach, a similar collection of digital photographs and digitized oral histories would not only assist in this but assist the present collection in more effectively serving its purpose. Take a look at my essay on this museum which we might learn from as we explore new development strategies.

The Shiloh Museum Serves a Unique Purpose

It is fair to say that the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History, which was founded in 1965 and opened three years later, evolved and is still evolving like most museums that survived their initial humble beginnings as a repository for a single collection of donated artifacts and resources, but this museum aspires to something unique. Originally conceived as an institution limited to acquiring and displaying "items of historical value and to encourage and promote historical and cultural interest in the Springdale [Arkansas] area," it was eventually given its present name which more than anything else declared an even greater "scope for potential visitors" beyond Springdale, a name that had replaced the original town’s name "Shiloh" in the 1870s, to embrace "other cities and counties" in Northwestern Arkansas as well as a worldwide community through its Internet website. Its present manifestation has resulted from an aggressive collection policy and efforts to create better exhibits, educational outreach programs, and larger research facilities.

An original donation of some 10,000 Native American artifacts, 260 books, and pamphlets early necessitated, on the part of elected trustees, the employment of a part-time scholar for the purpose of cataloguing; this set the tone for subsequent decisions to make this endeavor more than merely a local historical society with minimal responsibility to its community; it sought the challenge of "documenting life in [the entirety] of Northwest Arkansas. The acquisition of vintage and contemporary photographs of the area, presently numbering to 700,000, initially evolved from a federal grant. This collection, which helped earn the museum an "Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History,"drew attention to it on a national level. The museum’s physical footprint has also grown considerably through the assistance of several significant federal grants which have increased its staff, services, and size. Its present campus of two acres includes, in addition to a new 1.1 million dollar visitors’ facility, six historic buildings from the nineteenth and early twentieth century moved to the site as well as several buildings of local value in situ.

Historically, Shiloh serves some of the same populist goals evidenced by many museums in America since the 1930s with its mission centered on contributing to public education for all through programs reaching the young and the adult alike; these programs, which have included "lecture series, crafts workshops, and tours for school classes" have sought to add to a greater understanding of a regional landscape, its people, and history within the mosaic of America. Its educational outreach programs to school children make use of such standard tools to museum education as "discovery boxes" and "portable programs" brought to the classroom. It is here that these future inheritors of Shiloh’s important collection of photos, garnered from donations from the humble family albums and shoe boxes of one-time or long-time residents of Arkansas and others, benefit from the unique stories they can tell about the past. The museum has an ongoing outreach for donations or loans of photographs of or related to the Northwest Arkansas, and this promises further growth for the museum.

These primary documents especially promise great future educational value for not only those visiting the museum or benefitting from its educational programs directly, but to a worldwide community of the interested through digitization, and this is undoubtedly anticipated in Shiloh’s attention to its offerings for scholarly research via its evolving website. In a 1993 exhibition entitled "Vanishing Northwest Arkansas," the museum essentially proclaims through this title the rationale at the heart of its aggressive collecting of photographic images of a rural area of one-time fruit and timber production that has seen both boom and bust repeatedly, human migrations, the disappearance of folk traditions, and an acceleration of life that once "moved at a slower pace."

Such a museum as Shiloh, born in the early tradition of organizing a local institution to house bequeathed cabinets of curiosities, in this case Native American artifacts, and the like, offers in its evolved manifestation something far greater and unique to the public through its focus on the humble private collections of Americans’ photographs. Through this collecting strategy a priceless record of peoples and cultures is offered that larger museums have often ignored or overlooked in lieu of more iconic imagery that was first disseminated through mass media. This is perhaps best evidenced in the Shiloh’s current exhibition "Serving Our Clients: Rural Relief in Newton County," which is centered around an album of some 100 captioned photographs taken by a couple, the Nicolsons, who worked for the WPA Rural Relief Program in rural Arkansas in 1935. The donated album was recently discovered in an attic after the couple had passed away. These images are an invaluable addition to the ubiquitous images by Dorothea Lange, Arthur Rothstein, Walker Evans, Ben Shahn, and the like from the same era that many Americans know. Although intended as an "official" view of the Great Depression as it effected specifically the Ozarks by one-time employees of a government project, their re-discovery offers a fresh look at history through the eyes of its participants. The current Shiloh exhibit of these photographs by these onsite caseworkers is in sharp contrast to photos by Lange, Evans, and others that were condemned by contemporaneous administration officials as "too artistic and loaded with social commentary for their needs." With these types of collections presented through institutions like the Shiloh, there is an ever greater possibility of allowing the multiple stories that make up actual history to be revealed and examined by the public rather than tragically allowing one or two stories alone to serve the purpose.

Similarly, institutions like The Curran Homestead too may fill a void in history through their access to the many stories of its volunteers, visitors, and acquaintances, for among its many offerings is simply its role as a place where people come together and share their past family farm experiences and have new one. Creating an archive of these stories through use of new digital mediums to present oral histories and photographs via a website could be a valuable resource for educational purposes to ever greater numbers.

Mission Statement:
" The Shiloh Museum of Ozark History serves the public by providing resources for finding meaning, enjoyment, and inspiration in the exploration of the Arkansas Ozarks."

The Curran Homestead's Collections Policy

In order to complete a recent grant application I drafted and submitted the following Collections Policy. This is an important document for any nonprofit institution that collects and preserves a collection of objects. Although our collection is unique in that we maintain and preserve material culture for the purpose of using it in "hands-on" demonstrations and instruction ( something that we plan on doing a lot more of in the future ), we have an obligation to follow some of the practices of good museology. This "Policy" is by no means definitive, so your input will make it a better document than it is. It is not enough that we define our policy, but we will eventually need to realize it.

Collections Policy


Located in a bucolic setting on Fields Pond in rural Orrington, ME, The Curran Homestead is a turn-of- the-century living history farm and museum. The Curran Homestead is the result of the wishes of the late Katherine Curran, whose family operated a subsistence farm consisting of animals, crops, and a woodlot providing enough cash to cover necessities. When Miss Curran died in 1991 her will directed a portion of the homestead to be preserved in its original form. The Curran Homestead steering committee proposed the creation of a living history farm and museum incorporating the house, barn, and related buildings on roughly 35 acres. The Homestead includes seven buildings: the barn, the main house, the Field house, the ell, a small livestock building, utility building, and a heavy equipment building. The Field house was the original farmhouse built in the early 1800s and occupied by the Field family. The main house was the Curran family home and provides a good example of a rural Maine home with a large kitchen, pantry, and double front rooms downstairs. Housed within all of these buildings and on the property is a collection of farm machinery, hand tools, and other accoutrements dating from the mid-nineteenth century to the mid twentieth century. In essence, all that one would need to raise a limited number of livestock, grow and harvest crops, produce milk, and other supplemental forms of income like the harvesting of ice and firewood at the turn-of-the century.

2. Mission Statement

The American family farm is disappearing from the nation’s landscape, and the loss of these in the State of Maine not only impacts American culture but a unique regional cultural identity. Preserving The Curran Homestead insures for future generations the values and customs of rural America representing a time when self-reliance, cooperation, industry, and thrift were honored traditions. The Curran Homestead enriches the lives of our children, offers our community many opportunities for wholesome family fun, and serves as an excellent educational resource through its preservation and dissemination of family farm know-how, maintenance and continued use of nineteenth and early twentieth century material culture, and facilitation of hands-on activities and programs. As a cultural organization, our primary focus is the historical preservation of life on the Maine family farm at the turn-of-the-20th century.

3. Definition of Collections

The collection consists of appliances, furnishings, and household sundries that were extant when The Curran Homestead established its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status as a living history farm and museum. In addition, there was also an incomplete collection of tools, dairy equipment, farm machinery, and sundry agricultural items extant, and many of these were from the nineteenth century. Most importantly, there was a large collection of wagons, sleighs, sleds, carriages, and horse drawn farm machinery including harrows, cultivators, and seeders with appropriate original traces, harnessing, yokes, horse collars, and miscellaneous tackle for these. During the short history of the museum there has also been a major private donation to the collection that included mid-twentieth century tractors, late nineteenth and early twentieth century harrows, seeders, and plows, among other implements. This donation also included tools and accoutrements for maple syrup harvesting. Additionally, there have been mnay small donations of objects during the past fifteen years plus of museum, and these have been made use of, put on display, or stored. In essence, The Curran Homestead’s collection consists of everything one might need to continue subsistence farming presently. The museum will continue to discover deficiencies in their collection though and seek to amend these through the solicitation of charitable donations of objects and monies as it draws closer to the goal of becoming a working farm with daily functions.

4. Collecting Plan

Material culture that is functional for some of the planned future educational programming projects is always under consideration. It is anticipated that courses will be developed for nights and summers in the near future. These will include demonstration and hands-on experiences with caning, preserving and canning, cooking, embroidery, knitting, book binding, and wagon wheel repair, among others. The volunteer instructors and demonstrators of the past have usually used their own tools and equipment, but The Curran Homestead actively considers such tools for its own collection and use when they are offered for donation.
Because of a large donation of late nineteenth to mid-twentieth century equipment, farming implements, and tractors, the collection is presently dominated by objects that are beyond the originally planned period setting, the turn-of-the-century, for this living history museum. This donation though has made possible, without paid staff, a functioning and large vegetable garden, grounds maintenance, and a very popular maple syrup festival on farmland presently devoid of sugar maple trees. It is tentatively planned that some livestock, including draft horses, will eventually be part of the museum’s holdings, and that these will serve the function of future late nineteenth century farming demonstrations. Although the museum currently has much tackle for horse-drawn farming implements, carriages, wagons, and sleighs, the museum seeks the future donation of more functional versions of these, for many of the examples in the collection have been subject to deterioration making them only suitable for display.

5. Collections Management

There is a commitment to create both a comprehensive print record and computer-based record of all the holdings of the Curran Homestead within the next two years. Given the lack of a paid staff and the necessity to preserve and restore all the buildings that make up the physical plant of The Curran Homestead since its creation as a nonprofit entity using only volunteer labor and donation fifteen plus years ago, creating a collections database has not been a priority. Documentation of new acquisitions to the collection has only occurred in the past five years which leaves much of the collection undocumented.
Part of the task of creating a record of the holdings will be to organize those existing records of items donated to the collection in the past fifteen years. There will be a moratorium on the acquisition of any new donations to the collection during this organizational project in the near future, although many individuals are likely to continue as they have to make contact with the institution with the hope of securing a home for valued objects. These offers will be evaluated, and assurances will be given that we are temporarily unable to receive such a gift but will keep in touch and see to it that an arrangement can be made in the near future. A formal process of accession will be part of the record created in the next two years. Only objects that can benefit our current or future plans for fund raising and educational programming will be considered for accession.
As a nonprofit institution it is our responsibility to follow protocol regarding the donation of objects to our collection. This will involve the drafting of a form for the accessioning of objects, creating a list of third party appraisers so that charitable donations may be appraised and that donors receive compensation via tax credit for their charitable donation, and that the acquisition be formalized through thorough written documentation.

5A. De-accession

There are currently no plans to de-accession anything within the collection, but limited space and the financial means to better realize a specific moment in time, like the turn-of-the-century, will undoubtedly mean that older items will replace those newer ones onsite. A collections database will be the first step in formally accessioning objects into the collection, a task to date unrealized, thus providing a legally established time frame in order to eventually and legally de-accession objects deemed undesirable by the executive director and the board of directors.

6. Care and Maintenance

It is the goal of The Curran Homestead to use as much of its collection of objects of modest value for the purpose of both recreating life as it was and providing new educational experiences for the public. This necessitates that mechanical objects within the collection will be maintained in working order. Many of the larger objects in the collection, like tractors, require seasonal maintenance to remain in working order, and this should be of great importance when the financial situation of the museum permits. The cost of maintaining these objects should not take precedence over the museum’s ability to fulfill its educational mission.

6A. Conservation and Environment

It has always been the intention of the museum to not only maintain their collection of larger objects like farm implements, carriages, wagons, and sleighs but to initiate a program of restoration and repair making them all functional for the purposes of our seasonal events. The building of a blacksmith’s shed is anticipated for the site, and this will serve in making the maintenance, repair, and restoration part of the daily programming of the site. It is hoped that these will become learning experiences for the public.
Objects will be stored in barns and out buildings when possible, and these structures will be maintained to provide a dry and secure place of storage. It is especially important for the preservation of the collection that all objects large and small be sheltered during the winter months, although the limitations of space may prohibit this during the warmer seasons.
The Curran House will be heated during the winter months when possible to prevent damage to its interior, and staff will be cognizant of heat conservation by maintaining thermostats at an agreed upon temperature. The chimneys of the house will have regular maintenance, given that wood burning stoves are often in operation. Since the Curran House is currently the center of much of our programming its maintenance is a priority. In maintaining The Curran and Field houses onsite attention will be given to making these lead-free spaces as well as adherent to current safety and fire codes when possible and without altering visually the historical integrity of these structures. When possible references will be consulted to maintain other aspects of its historical integrity including furniture, wall coverings, paint choices, and fixtures; it is the desire of the museum to recreate the interior appearance of this structure as it may have appeared during the early occupancy of the Curran family.

6B. Inventory

A thorough inventory is planned in the near future.

7. Security

A comprehensive restoration of outbuilding and residential buildings has allowed for greater security. Doors have been repaired and fitted with new hardware. Greater security for the objects in the collection is necessitated, and a comprehensive inventory will be the first step in their defense. Once this inventory has been created a program of monitoring the entirety of the collection will be drafted.

November, 2008

Our Mission Statement and Our Role in Education

Mission Statement

The American family farm is disappearing from the nation’s landscape, and the loss of these in the State of Maine not only impacts American culture but a unique regional cultural identity. Preserving The Curran Homestead insures for future generations the values and customs of rural America representing a time when self-reliance, cooperation, industry, and thrift were honored traditions. The Curran Homestead enriches the lives of our children, offers our community many opportunities for wholesome family fun, and serves as an excellent educational resource through its preservation and dissemination of family farm know-how, maintenance and continued use of nineteenth and early twentieth century material culture, and facilitation of hands-on activities and programs. As a cultural organization, our primary focus is the historical preservation of life on the Maine family farm at the turn-of-the-20th century.

Our Role in Education

The Curran Homestead is a community education resource. It focuses on familial learning experiences. It provides both a place and situation by which adults, as well as children with their parents, guardians, or caregivers, may acquire “how-to” and “hands-on” knowledge associated with rural Maine life at the turn-of-the-century. It is hoped that the knowledge garnered at this institution will ultimately be applicable to contemporary life serving to enrich, improve, and develop it with entertainments and skills more familiar to previous generations. Through its extensive collection of the turn-of-the-century farm and farm household material culture, this living history museum recreates the past while at the same time facilitates new situations by which tools, equipment, and structures awaken a new sense of self-sufficiency and independence amongst the public it serves. We are committed to not only developing educational programming that emphasizes the interactive and interpersonal but also tactile and kinesthetic learning modes for a variety of age groups.

Blacksmithing Shed Grant

This is The Curran Homestead's submission for a grant that will fund the creation of a smithy onsite.

Historical Facilities Grant Project Narrative: Blacksmithing Shed

Recently, the Curran Homestead received the donation of an extensive collection of blacksmithing tools and equipment from a number of sources supplementing its own original holdings of tools and equipment. In total these items would have adequately satisfied the needs of a turn-of-the-century blacksmith in rural Maine. Blacksmiths of the past may have been called out to farm locations for tasks like metal fabrication and repair when they were available to do so, but more often farmers would have to travel to a formal blacksmithing shop usually in town for such services. The construction of a permanent structure for collections storage, demonstration, and instruction is deemed necessary to preserve and utilize a unique collection rather than to rewrite history by creating a blacksmithing shop on the site where one has never stood or would have stood in the past. This is a multi-purpose structure for collections management and educational programming.
During the fifteen plus years of the Curran Homestead’s status as a nonprofit educational institution, blacksmithing demonstrations by local craftsman have been an integral part of its “gatherings,” or events. Domestic arts and crafts as well as the skills characteristic of nineteenth century subsistence farmers have been presented almost exclusively in a demonstrational format at the site. The museum is poised to develop greater educational programming. With the addition of the tools and equipment now available for the purpose of providing hands-on instruction in the form of weekday and weekend courses for the public by trained blacksmiths, the Curran Homestead sees the realization of a blacksmithing shop as an important step forward in the development of its educational mission to share the skills and knowledge of a rural past.
The simple structure would be of post and beam construction with a gravel floor and metal stove pipe attached to a brick chimney that would serve one of two period correct portable forges with built-in bellows in the collection (See Attached Diagram). Such a structure will allow visiting blacksmiths the convenience of having a functioning forge extant avoiding the timely and laborious task of repeated set-ups of forge, anvil, and other necessary tools. It will also serve as an onsite location for metal fabrication, repair, and restoration necessitated by an extensive collection of nineteenth century wagons, sleighs, and farm machinery. It will be a workshop for creating new blacksmithing tools when needed for the maintenance and repair of other objects within the collection that see frequent use. Currently, no structure at the museum site could be adapted to the purpose of displaying and utilizing this collection in hands-on programming. This proposed structure will be far removed from the series of interconnected buildings on the site currently out of a concern for fire safety. The security of these valuable tools and accoutrements are also of great concern, and the proposed design has taken into consideration measures to prohibit theft though the design choice of windowless reinforced doors with locks and narrow fixed windows prohibitive of human entry.
The proposed wooden shed’s interior will be 14 x 20 feet. The structures midpoint height will be 9 feet while the back wall height will be 7 feet. The framing will consist of cedar posts that will be set into the ground. Rough quality “utility” bundles of board would be preferred but other comparable wood materials may be used for its exterior vertical siding. The roof will be of metal panels. The floor will consist of a wooden frame of pressure-treated wood around the perimeter, and this will accommodate the loose gravel floor surface that is above grade and porous for drainage and fire safety. The structure will not be insulated, for it would be unnecessary in winter months when forge fires will maintain comfortable temperatures for students and instructors whereas in warmer weather the lack of insulation will assist in needed ventilation. The structure will not be electrified; a set of reinforced doors with security latches will often be open during work activity in the structure to provide light. Oil lanterns will used inside the structure for lighting when necessitated. A narrow strip of glass panes or a Plexiglass strip sealed in a frame will be on each side of the structure allowing natural lighting while at the same time prohibiting any illegal entry. The chimney will be constructed of brick, terracotta flue, and mortar; these materials have already been donated.
Storage will be an important aspect of this proposed structure. Since the point of having both tools and accoutrements necessary for a variety of blacksmithing tasks is to use them rather than solely exhibit them period-correct pegging will be a major characteristic of the walls of the structure. An iron ring will be fixed above the forge area to accommodate tongs as well as an iron bar rack for pincers and other tools. There will be benches and racks to accommodate hammers, pincers, tongs, and a hardy, when not in use, as well as a large hand operated post drill, post vises, anvil, and leg vise in the collection. As the proposed future blacksmithing onsite will ultimately result in the fabrication of objects by staff and students, open shelf storage will be created for the purpose of receiving these projects, and some completed objects would become part of the museum’s permanent collection displayed here. Wooden benches will be constructed and fixed into the floor for demonstrations.
The structure will be constructed by volunteers; this has worked well with the major renovations and restoration of existing structures on the site. Bob Robinson of Split Rock Forge of Stockton Springs, ME, a professional blacksmith, will be integral to this project, for he has been responsible for much of the museum’s blacksmithing programming in the past as well as acquiring, through donation, much of the museum’s collection of blacksmithing tools and accoutrements.
In conclusion, The Curran Homestead seeks funding for the materials to build this structure that will serve the purposes of security and storage of a collection, a classroom for demonstration and hands-on instruction by blacksmiths, and a workshop for tool fabrication, repair, maintenance, and restoration to a collection of wagons, sleighs, carriages, and farm machinery.

Historical Museum Collections Grant Narrative

This is the Historical Museum Collections Grant Narrative: Oral History Project that I submitted With The Curran Homestead's application for one of two grants offered by the Maine State Archives on December 1:
Central to this oral history project will be interviewing, recording, and preserving the story of Bob Robinson of Split Rock Forge of Stockton Spring. Since there are fewer practicing blacksmiths with the passage of time, Mr. Robinson’s knowledge of not only his experience as a blacksmith but of others who once plied their trade in Penobscot, Hancock, and other surrounding counties is invaluable; it will be central to the subject matter of this project. It is also recognized that Mr. Robinson’s experiences and knowledge is not exclusively that of a rural community of Maine but rather inclusive of many other American communities and beyond, and his narratives incorporate knowledge of blacksmithing as it has been practiced not only in Maine but in other places in his experience and his knowledge of the trade’s history.
An additional aim of this project is to make living connections with the contents of the farm itself, so a focus of the interviewing process will be the blacksmithing tools and accoutrements in the museum’s collection. The story of them will be revealed and preserved. It will be determined what each tool in the collection is and its purpose as well as its provenance when known, and Mr. Robinson’s integral role in acquiring these through donation makes him among the most qualified to provide such information.
The final and third facet of the proposed oral histories will focus on specific blacksmithing projects. Mr. Robinson will be interviewed during the process of preparing and lighting a forge, bringing metal to the desired temperature for bending and shaping it, and the step-by-step completion of a project. As many historians will attest, prior research and the use of photographs and other sources of information are invaluable as mnemonic devices for both interviewers and interviewees when seeking out particular information in an oral history project. Since the interviews, recording, and transcription will be carried out by Robert Schmick, it will be necessary for him to seek out such resources prior to the interviewing.
Such an oral history resource will assist in scholarly research as well as the future and continued use of the tools in the collection for the purposes of blacksmithing. It is recognized that such a collection will ultimately serve as a reference resource for those seeking to imitate and possibly apply the use of these tools and equipment, skills, and know-how to their own contemporary lives beyond the museum site. Oral histories associated particularly with blacksmithing will be preliminary to the goal of creating a more comprehensive collection of oral histories that serve Maine heritage through their focus on the material culture of the area’s rural past by The Curran Homestead. The museum’s own collection would be of central importance to this primary source information gathering, but beyond that many with first-hand knowledge of similar objects, their uses, and their personal experiences have come to be known by the museum on a continued and frequent informal basis as these individuals have sought connection with The Curran Homestead because of this. Realizing that these narratives of historical significance are destined to be lost soon, the creation of an oral history archive has been proposed; it is anticipated that this proposed grant proposal will be the seed from which a more extensive collecting project of oral histories will develop.
While the emphasis of The Curran Homestead has always been on preserving a particular time in history, the bridge between the nineteenth and twentieth century, there is also an explicit intention on the part of the museum to provide knowledge that may be used in the public’s present lives. This oral history resource would further serve that mission, for it will provide a lasting connection with a specific living individual in his voice using tools from the past. To insure further dissemination of these oral histories, space will be provided on the museum’s website to upload them as they are created to provide greater accessibility. The most labor intensive part of this project, and a standard practice of this type of information resource gathering, will be the transcription of the recorded oral histories so that a print record of them will exist for research as well as for the hearing impaired.
The museum seeks funding for a digital recorder with USB connectivity and a USB cable for uploading. We also require a portable external hard drive for storage of each of the anticipated large digital audio files and their transcribed print form. A laptop computer capable of processing and uploading large digital audio files from digital recorders as well as serve in the process of uploading digital audio files to the museum’s website is necessitated. A free download of digital audio editing software, Audacity, is available for PC users, and this will be utilized for this oral history project. An in-kind match for the anticipated 200 hours of volunteer time at 15 dollars per hour to realize the research/preparation, interview/recording, and transcription of an anticipated 25 hours of oral history is sought.