Sunday, June 7, 2015

"Maintenance is Preservation" - My First Week at Independence National Historical Park

             In the last month I’ve completed my first year of graduate school, went to Brooklyn for the first time, and began my internship at Independence National Historical Park right here in Philadelphia. Working with the National Park Service (NPS) is a dream come true. My journey to the NPS has been an interesting one, a series of events that catapulted me straight into an internship at Independence. After reading the “Imperiled Promise” report in the fall of 2014, I became intrigued with the NPS’s position as a focal point in public history and wanted to become involved with some of the great projects that they work on.

                This past March, I had the opportunity to do just that. I participated the George Wright Society’s Park Break, a week-long fellowship that invites graduate students to work on projects in natural and cultural-based parks. Independence was chosen this year, and I had the chance to work on a project in New Hall, a military museum in the park. You can read here for more information on that project:

                While working on the George Wright project, I also conducted research on the NPS’s international contacts in the 1950s and 1960s at the height of its expansion during the Mission 66 years. The culmination of these events led to an unexpected opportunity at Independence, where our project directors from the Cultural Resources Management Department, Doris Fanelli and curator Karie Diethorn, remembered my interest for curatorial work and collections management. During the George Wright week, Doris and Karie mentioned that an air handler fire had erupted in the Second Bank of the United States. Completed in 1824, the Second Bank was built in the Greek Revival style and holds an extensive portrait collection. I had no idea that I would be invited several months later to assist in the cleanup and preservation process of the 10,000+ objects in the storage areas that may have affected by soot from the fire. 

Second Bank of the United States, located on Chestnut Street between 4th and 5th Streets.
Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.
                My first day was this past Monday, where Karie showed me around the Second Bank, including the amazing Portrait Gallery on the first floor of the Bank. We got started right away. Karie brought me to the storage areas, where we began inspecting the cabinets for any soot damage. Metals are porous, and if soot begins to seep into the microscopic pores, it can cause permanent damage to these materials. I went through all of the free-standing cabinets and encountered a wide variety of artifacts. Pottery, twentieth-century Liberty Bell memorabilia, textiles, ceramics – you name it. I worked on these cabinets through Thursday, where I carefully cleaned artifacts and the drawers in which they were stored.

                While working on the project, I noticed a painting that had hung in Independence Hall that is now in the storage area. Karie had asked a conservator come in to assess the painting. I had the opportunity to watch the conservator look at the damage and offer some of his suggestions for preserving the artwork. Using a UV light, Steven looked at the painting and found that it had been retouched several times throughout the years. It was a great opportunity to be able to see how an outside conservator works with the NPS, as well as witness first-hand someone's expertise in something I know very little about.

                On Friday, I worked primarily on the flat file cases. These cases hold paper-based files – documents, books, drawings, etc. This was by far my favorite thing to look through. I found a book published in 1801 written by William Penn, as well as plans to build the Mall during the mid-twentieth century. I worked to inventory these items to ensure that everything was in place, as well as inspected them for any possible damage.

                Having access to Independence’s amazing collection has exposed me to how these artifacts contribute to the park’s significance in local and national histories. I hope to use this blog as a way to not only chronicle my experiences, but to also feature some of the great pieces at Independence. I’m looking forward to a great second week! 

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