Tuesday, December 2, 2008

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

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