Castles full of treasures

Recipe for Disaster..I mean ADVENTURE!

A Baker’s Dozen of Donuts

Bagels & Cream Cheese

2 sets of Mapquest directions to the wrong address

4 Museum Professions Students

1 Phone GPS Lady who can’t even locate my car

Mix all of these ingredients together in a boat/car named Veronica and you end up with a beautiful scenic drive to the Mercer Museum and Fonthill in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.  Caution: Finished product may arrive 15-20 minutes later than planned.

I love fieldtrips and our trip for History and Theory of Museums to the Mercer and Fonthill was no exception.  A VERY long story short, Bonnie was in charge of navigation. Bad idea.  We just happened to go several exits past the one we wanted and ended up taking a much more scenic drive through NJ/PA along the Delaware River.  It was a beautiful drive, freckled with quaint little towns, which I hope to go back and visit someday.

The Mercer Museum was created by Henry Mercer: tile-maker, antiquarian, artist, writer, world-traveler and archaeologist.  This place is incredible! Mercer completed his museum in 1916 to provide a home to his large collection of everyday American objects.  Mercer saw an importance in preserving the everyday objects at a time when industrialization was sweeping America.  Their brochure invites you to see “dramatic displays,” DRAMATIC is probably the most appropriate descriptor.  You’ll have to go see for yourself but it looks a little something like this…

Mercer Museum

There is literally stuff attached to ceilings and walls in random fashion.  My fellow students and I quite enjoyed checking out the actual gallows they have, along with other interesting ‘death and crime’ instruments.


Fonthill is Mercer’s home located just miles away from the Museum. Imagine a castle: towers, terraces and all, completely adorned inside with hand-crafted tiles.  My only regret is that I can’t stay there for a weekend simply looking at the walls. Personal favorite: in one of the home’s 44 rooms there is tile layout depicting Mercer’s travels to a cannibalistic colony.  We museum people are known to have a bizarre sense of humor.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get to tour through the tile works building, but that’s definitely on my list of things to do next time.

Finney's Pub


As I’ve mentioned before, sometimes the history of the museum is as interesting as the artifacts in it.  The Mercer and Fonthill are definitely these types of museum and I recommend them to anybody traveling in or around Doylestown.  Finney’s Pub on Main Street is also worth a try, they serve up a pretty mean cheese steak!


Sneak Peek at the Metropolitan Museum of Art!

First things first, this post would have been written hours ago if not for The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s new real estate website.  Someday, I will buy my home from this very site.  I would like the Italian Villa that is listed right now and if you would like to donate to the cause, please let me know.

We’re going to be getting out of order for a little bit.  As the semester winds down I’ve had a lot going on and so haven’t been getting to my blog as hoped. However, winter break is coming up and I have a month off from school and my graduate assistantship. This = catching up on the things I’ve been meaning to write about for months. That said…

An excellent thing I’m finding about grad school is the great privilege of having professors with no shame; professors who are willing to call up just about ANYBODY and ask them for a tour, or to come talk to one of our classes.  The students in the Seton Hall Museum Professions department (myself included) have had an amazing semester.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art brightens any dreary day!

Tuesday, for Exhibitions A to Z (Steve Miller is the possibly the King of shameless opportunity seeking) we had a 2 ½ hour tour at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) in NYC.  Let me just say, celebrity to some people includes Brad Pitt or Whoopi Goldberg, to me big time museum people are my celebrities. Our tour was with Michael Batista, Exhibition Design Manager at the MET and Sophia Geronimus, Graphic Design Manager, who joined us for the first portion of our tour.  How amazing to meet these people who are the BEST of the BEST in our field! A big thank you to both of them.

Our visit began with a literal walk-through of the exhibition The World of Khubilai Khan: Chinese Art in the Yuan Dynasty on display September 28, 2010- January 2, 2011. I can’t wait to go back and actually SEE this exhibition; there are some 300 amazing artifacts! Michael and Sophia talked us through their process of everything they do in planning an exhibition. I think the biggest point that was stressed was how incredibly important communication is.  When you have many different people, from different fields/specialties and often IN different countries, it is imperative everybody be on the same page.  Michael showed us the exhibition floor plan and model of the exhibition, and what a treat it was. To actually see that whole process in front of you is much different than just talking about it in the classroom.

Second, we went into the The Artistic Furniture of Charles Rohlfs exhibition. You all, of course, know my love of the Arts and Crafts Movement. This furniture takes it to a whole new level, wow. Thought it in no way goes together I will be buying the Italian Villa from the Preservation Nation real estate site and filling it with FLlW, Stickley and Rohlfs furniture. How do you like that?


Last, but the MOST EXCITING! Michael took us into the new Islamic Wing of the Museum. It won’t actually be called that, it will be the Galleries for the Arts of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia. What’s exciting about this you might ask? The fact that THEY AREN’T OPEN YET! They won’t actually be opening until fall of 2010, but we had a sneek peek!  I’m not going to tell you much, you’ll have to go see for yourself, but it’s going to be beautiful! Lots of art AND marble from all over the world.  Again, we got to see another part of the process. The building stage, something you definitely don’t get the full perspective on in the classroom.

Interesting fact:  The MET ACTUALLY cut a hole in the façade of the museum to bring in materials for the new Islamic exhibition space.  There is NO LIMIT to what we museum people will do to make the absolute BEST exhibitions we can for the public. Seriously, they just cut a hole in the side of the museum, I love it!

Museum Expansion in the Global 21st Century: The Case of Abu Dhabi

Students and faculty conversing with Andrew McClellan before the program.

This post published on the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums Blog on November 23, 2010.

November 18, Seton Hall University welcomed Andrew McClellan, Dean of Academic Affairs for Arts & Sciences and Professor of Art History at Tufts University, for his program Museum Expansion in the Global 21st Century: The Case of Abu Dhabi.

This incredible program included information about the unfolding developments in the cultural and tourism sectors in the United Arab Emirates. Recent revenues from the oil and gas industry have spurred economic booms in places like Qatar, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. These areas are utilizing this opportunity to build their cultural sector in order to create sustainable tourism and financial stability for the future.

McClellan briefly described the current impacts of growing tourism and cultural enhancement in Qatar and Dubai but the majority of the program was spent explaining the Saadiyat Island Cultural District that is being built in Abu Dhabi. The island will be home to four large museums and a performing arts center whose architecture, designed by five different Pritzker Prize winners, will be as stunning as the institutions themselves. The District aims to, “fuel the imagination, foster interaction, and encourage people of all backgrounds to embrace a common bond of creativity.” (Saadiyat Cultural District Website)


Projected view of the Saadiyat Culture District (photo from Saadiyat Culture District website).

Though some of the institutions aim to open their doors by 2013, the overall one hundred billion dollar cultural complex will not be completed until 2018. The following are the cultural institutions planned for the Island:

Sheikh Zayed National Museum, designed by Lord Norman Foster + Partners, will provide a testament to the life and times of Sheikh Zayed and his inspired vision. This museum with house both permanent and temporary exhibitions based in five categories: Environment, History, Education, Unity and Humanitarianism. A temporary exhibition at the Emirates Palace will open as an extension of the existing exhibition and will explore the concept and vision for the new museum.

Maritime Museum, designed by Tadao Ando, will shed light on the U.A.E’s relationship with the sea and their maritime activities. This stunning bit of architecture will actually allow for boats to pass through under the museum.

Louvre Abu Dhabi, designed by Jean Nouvel, will be a 24,000 square meter museum which will include 6,000 square meters devoted to permanent collections and 2,000 square meters for temporary exhibitions. This partnership with The Musee du Louvre and Agence France-Museums will seek to present paintings, drawings, sculptures, manuscripts, archaeological findings, and decorative arts collected from all over the world.

Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, designed by Frank Gehry, “…will be committed to representing the international nature of Modern and contemporary art, presenting key aspects of the Western historical canon while simultaneously highlighting the richness and diversity of Asian, African, South American, and Middle Eastern art during this period.” (Saadiyat Cultural District Website)

Performing Arts Centre, designed by Zaha Hadid, will host cutting-edge theatre, music and dance from around the world. The Centre will also house an Academy of Fine Arts.

Aerial Shot of the Culture District (photo from Saadiyat Cultural District website).

McClellan raised a number of interesting points/issues/thoughts about this large cultural complex and the potential impact it may have on the future of museums.

Many museums are merging with their cities’ identity. As the Louvre is synonymous with Paris, so will these museums be with Abu Dhabi. Can and/or will other museums start to strive for this recognition in their own cities?

The museums are located directly on a large body of salt water which will be in actually be in contact with some of the institutions. What effect will this have on the architecture and what conservation issues will it raise?

Who will visit Saadiyat? With such a large cultural complex going up at once how expensive will visiting be, and will it be a location people wish to go more than once? Will they be able to persuade 150,000 people to move to the island where condos and housing are being built?

New York University will have a campus of Arts and Science on the island. Will they be able to attract enough students, or will the program fail as did the program Michigan State attempted to start in Dubai?

Is there a plan for the museums to stand on their own? Most of the museums are currently partnering with other institutions for both curatorial assistance as well as collection loans. Will the museums have compiled enough collections to stand on their own when the current agreements run out?

A large issue discussed was the criticism of western museums “selling their names”. Will this hurt the respected image of The Louvre and The Guggenheim? 4,000 professionals in France petitioned against the Louvre partnering in Abu Dhabi, stating that France was selling its culture and heritage. McClellan stated the bottom line is that money is scarce and many institutions are struggling to survive. Also, we should guard against condescension of what’s happening in Abu Dhabi. There is an entertainment/tourism factor being tacked to Saadiyat, but that does not mean the institutions will have any less integrity

Visit the Saadiyat Island Cultural District website for more information and photographs.

Crunch Time

So, I blog all about my conference and launch my new website only to leave it for a couple of weeks.  It’s hitting crunch time of the semester and things are beginning to become urgent.  I still have a couple of blog posts backed up to work on, I promise I’ll get them out soon. The MAAM Conference about did me in, I’ll have to start a notebook of topics for a rainy day.  I have two big projects to finish up this month and lucky for me I’m enjoying both of them.

1. For History and Theory of Museum – 15-20 page paper on the history of an institution/museum/collection.  I’m researching the Old Barracks Museum in Trenton.  What an amazing place with such  rich history.  Built as a Barracks in 1758 it has served as barracks, housing for indigent women, a house of ill-repute, a school, a hospital, a site for small pox inoculation and more recently a museum.  Preserved as a museum by a group of patriotic women around 1902, this incredible piece of architectural history served as a nearby site to some of America’s most famous moments.  I spent five hours in their archives the other day and wished I could have spent the night!


Old Barracks Museum, picture from

How often do people really think of the history of a museum itself? Usually we are thinking about the history of the objects within the museum and in the case of the Barracks  the former is perhaps the more interesting of the stories.

2. For Exhibitions A to Z – Create a theoretical exhibition from beginning to finish, as finished as it can be on paper anyways.  This has been a fun project for me, “Simple Joys: Little Things That Make Us Smile” is being kept in the dark until either finished or I find a space that ACTUALLY wants to let me do the exhibition.   That’s my hope.

The other big thing on my agenda now is finding an internship/job for next semester and summer.  I’m hoping to come up with something amazing.  I’m over having a job just to pay the bills, time to get back to the point at hand.

Coming up in my agenda!


A Matter of Class: John Cotton Dana, Progressive Reform and the Newark Museum

Speaker: Carol Duncan,  Professor Emerita, Ramapo College of New Jersey.

Location: Thursday, November 18, 4 pm at the Newark Museum, Newark, NJ


Museum Expansion in the Global 21st Century: The Case of Abu Dhabi

Speaker: Andrew McClellan (he wrote the book we use for History & Theory of Museums class!)

Location: Thursday, November 18, 7 pm
Nursing Amphitheater (room NU113), Caroline D. Schwartz College of Nursing Building, Seton Hall University

A Fellow’s reflection on the 2010 Conference

Pam Schwartz holding an original signed (by Abraham Lincoln) Emancipation Proclamation during the MAAM Conference Opening Reception.

This post originally published on the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums Blog on October 31, 2010.

When I applied for the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums Bruce Craig Fellowship, I had just begun planning my move from Iowa to New Jersey to attend graduate school at Seton Hall University. I knew that it could be a good networking occasion, a chance to meet a few other professionals in the area, and familiarize myself with some of the museums. I never guessed that the four days of the conference would be one of the most enriching experiences of my career thus far.

The opportunities made available to working professionals and students alike were many and worthwhile. I attended seminars over a broad spectrum of topics from online museum models to sustaining historic homes. I made acquaintances with colleagues from all over the world and came face to face with the spooks during our tour at the Eastern State Penitentiary.

Throughout the conference I was continually impressed by the amount of passion I saw in individuals for all things museum. Though we as museum professionals often converse about the dismal outlook of our field, I believe that, with so many passionate advocates, museums will sustain as appreciated and irreplaceable centers of edification for generations to come.

My favorite aspect of the conference was the Leadership Luncheon on Monday. Great conversation developed between mixed tables of seasoned and emerging professionals who all came ready to the table with questions and tips for one another. From this experience I gained valuable knowledge about the expectations of employers in my field as well as getting pointers for my cover letter and resume.

Thank you to all members of MAAM and the supporters of the Bruce Craig Fellowships. Your contributions help several emerging professionals each year to offset the costs of attending the conference and in giving them the opportunity to grow both as a professional and as a person. My experience at the 2010 Conference has been an amazing opportunity and I am already looking forward to attending next year.

“Design as Interpretation”: How visual communication can be both message and medium

Morris Museum Exhibition. Photo from Morris Museum website.

This post originally published on the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums Blog on November 1, 2010.

This session provided an excellent crash course in creating cohesive and appropriate exhibition design. The principles discussed could be used in any type or scale of exhibition. With presenters from LHSA+DP, Morris Museum and New York Hall of Science this session also provided attendees with an extensive set of hand-outs covering the basics of design and a large list of resources.

The first exhibition design discussed was that of the Mechanical Musical Instruments and Automata from the Murtogh D. Guinness Collection at the Morris Museum in Morristown, NJ. Designers utilized historic patterns, advertisements, photographs and typographies to convey the time period they were exhibiting. Instead of creating a full reproduction Victorian period room in one area of the exhibition, they pulled elements from this era and morphed them into a sleeker and more modern version. Including wall space, furnishings and even flooring style gives a room a definite feeling of time without becoming a focus of the exhibition itself.

Rocket Park Mini Gold Course. Photo from New York Hall of Science website.

The second example was the Rocket Park Mini-Golf course at the New York Hall of Science. Each hole of this course is based on actual rocket science and the look and feel of the exhibition was inspired by space-age graphics of the 1960’s. The course was intended to teach visitors the physics principles demonstrated during a complete space mission from blast-off to splash-down. The design team created collages of typography, colors and graphics to gain a feel for how the elements would work together.

Design recommendations:

  • Create an immersive environment in which to contextualize objects, convey a time period do not replicate it unless that is what the exhibition calls for.
  • Design should support and enhance the presentation and interpretation of the collection.
  • Build a clear and concise hierarchy for multiple levels of information.
  • Create distinct personalities for each exhibit area. (i.e. Victorian style carpet or curtains in a room meant to look like Victorian theatre or in an area meant to represent historic Paris, create a cobblestone-like walkway).
  • Make sure there is a large contrast in color scheme choices especially between type and background.
  • Include a visual hierarchy, make it obvious what visitors should look at first, second and third. Make all elements proportional while maintaining consistency.
  • Make sure the visual elements are constantly reinforcing the content of the exhibition.
  • Prototyping visuals and layout is never a bad idea. This can save a lot of money and effort later if things don’t work out.

Which history, whose history? Finding common ground in a cultural tornado

This post originally published on the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums Blog on October 31, 2010.

Attendees proved to be willing participants in this session-turned-workshop on creating reflective discussion about change in museums. Participants walked into a room of several circles of chairs with white paper and pictures on the walls. Sitting at random, we were given a page of material on a certain topic as far-reaching as New Age knitting circles.Annual Meeting attendees in "Which history, whose history?" session

The first question each group was asked was:

What are the stories people need to hear and how do we know?

We were then directed to brainstorm what QUESTIONS, not answers, arose in our mind after reading the material and being asked the first question.

In the second round each group was asked to move to a different circle with a different topic. We were then asked a different question:

If museums are changing, does that mean they are better adapted for the changing culture? If not, why and what can we do about it?

During each round of this activity the presenters Linda Norris, Managing Partner, Riverhill and Ken Yellis, Principal, First Light Consulting, were impressed with participants’ eagerness to discuss the issues.

Conversation topics that were spurred included:

  • Who has the authority to decide upon or enforce change?
  • Do museums sometimes change just for changing’s sake? Is that a good thing?
  • Is the role of museums to resist or embrace change?
  • Are museums able to engage diverse audiences without necessarily catering to each?
  • At what point do you critique change?
  • What changes are only necessary from a financial, visitor, or internal staffing viewpoint?
  • Risk: how far do you go?

Participants in this exercise enjoyed being able to have open discussion with many people from different museums, instead of only hearing about a topic from two presenters. It offered a wide perspective and generated incredible conversation over many topics that are prevalent in museums today.

Wyck: Re-interpreting an historic house

This post originally published on the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums Blog on October 27, 2010.

Wyck is NOT a historical house museum. This was the monumental point of today’s session presented by Eileen Rojas, The Wyck Association; Laura Keim, Curator, The Wyck Association; Donna Ann Harris, Principal, Heritage Consulting Inc.; and Page Talbott, Principal, Remer and Talbott.

Though technically Wyck IS a historic house, the staff have undertaken an initiative to utilize creative, participatory, and dynamic but still historically accurate interpretation. Instead of creating simple period rooms the museum is hoping to portray 300 years of history in just four spaces. Wyck wants to move on from being a simple place to visit to becoming a place of vital discovery of the past.

The steps in Wyck’s interpretation development process:

  1. Research
  2. Workshopping and Interviews
  3. Develop Interpretive Strategy
  4. Development of Interpretive Plan
  5. Visualization
  6. Evaluation

Vital points and tips Wyck discovered in re-interpreting their institution:

  • They felt it was beneficial to visit other historic houses in order to familiarize themselves with what was out there; this also helped the individuals working on the project together to form a better relationship amongst themselves.
  • The presenters stressed the benefits of working closely with their Board. This includes many of the people who are most expressly passionate about the museum and want to see it succeed in its mission.
  • The museum is striving to keep ‘Wyckish’ traditions and core values but at the same time fit them into a new interpretive byway.
  • Realizing the full interpretive plan might be a long time coming but museums should set short and mid-term goals for implementation, making it a gradual process.

New interpretive tactics:

  • Creation of self-guided tours and a scavenger hunt for exploration
  • Flashlight tours that create a sense of discovery
  • More labeling and more artifacts on display
  • Continuing a tradition of sustainability and being good stewards of the surrounding property
  • The inclusion of more hands-on reproduction
  • Addition of user-generated activities or hand-on crafts
  • Relating activities to specific objects in the collection
  • Community curation w/ inter-generational activities like creative writing workshops

Free and engaging online exhibitions: The Museum of the Macabre model

This post originally published on the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums Blog on October 26, 2010.

Cheap is great, free is better! Co-Founders of the online museum, The Museum of the Macabre, Richard Fink and Robert Fink have developed a cost-free internet model that will allow museums to maintain a web presence at the excellent low price of free!

Though creating websites and online collections do take time there are many free sites and applications an institution can utilize in order to cut costs.  The following are the main tools the Museum has used to create their website.

Open source blog and website publishing application

Catalogue, manage and display your collection online

Interactive publishing for newspapers, magazines and brochures

Catalog, organize and search your book collection

Catalog, organize and search your video and DVD collection

Chat, message and generate feedback with users

Interactive mapping application and technology

To see a practical application of all these tools visit The Museum of the Macabre online.  Their website is built entirely using these FREE applications.  These tools have the ability to help many museums create an online presence in an easy and effective way.

Sustaining historic houses

This post originally published on the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums Blog on October 26, 2010.

More than ever historic houses are struggling to sustain and be relevant to their surrounding communities. Three case studies presented by museum experts are examples of thinking outside the box and generating unique ideas in order to keep these wonderful pieces of history open to the public.

Historic houses attempting to maintain a relevant place in the 21st century was the topic of discussion in this session presented by:

The presenters offered an interesting equation supporting the need for sustainability in historic houses:

16,000 visitors per year average to historic houses

X $7 average admission fee to all types of museums

$112,000 in income of historic houses

Does that budget cut it? Sustainability!

Morgan Log House. Photo by Flickr user road_less_trvled.

Morgan Log House. Photo by Flickr user road_less_trvled.

This panel covered three different types of sustainability options:

  1. Green Sustainability
  2. Collaborative Sustainability
  3. Engaging community involvement for sustainability

Green sustainability

This topic was discussed by Amy Hufnagel of Rutherford Hall. Rutherford Hall has undergone development to begin creating energy sources (hydro, wind, solar power) to sustain their own energy costs and create income. Rutherford Hall has been focusing on adaptive reuse, regenerative design, and historic preservation.

Collaborative sustainability

Rachel Dukeman illustrated several collaborations amongst institutions that helped to increase visibility to their institution, generate different points of entry for visitors, and allowed for shared services and multi-institutional programming.

Engaging community involvement for sustainability

The Morgan Log House has created an incredibly successful initiative for sustainability. By utilizing unused property they have been able to host a local farmer’s and arts/crafts market. With this initiative Morgan Log House has built community ties, increased visitation, and generated income.