International Museum Day
People from all over the world will be celebrating museums on May 18th, International Museum Day. (Why not? If Love a Tree Day can be celebrated on the 16th, Peace Day on the 21st and National Grape Popsicle Day on the 27th, then museums deserve their 24 hours of glory, too.) When leading a school tour for younger children, I often begin by asking them, “What is a museum?” First we discuss all the varieties. They range from natural history, science and technology centers, historic sites, nature centers and children's museums to aquariums, arboreta, botanical gardens, planetariums, and zoos. According to the American Association of Museums (AAM), their common denominator is “making a unique contribution to the public by collecting, preserving, and interpreting the things of this world."
American museums average approximately 865 million visits per year or 2.3 million visits per day. (Lake, Snell & Perry, 1999) According to an AAM survey for 2003, zoos have the highest attendance—520,930, followed by Science/Technology Museums (183,417) and Arboretum/Botanic Gardens (119,575).
The Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum is also celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, having opened on May 8, 1931. Coshocton should be proud. I doubt there is another rural community in the US that can boast having a museum as eminent as JHM. There is a lot to celebrate, too. For one, its collections (“the things of this world”) are notable and valuable. Its American Indian collection of baskets and beadwork, prehistoric tools and points, and Asian collection are significant on a national scale. Secondly, the artifacts (about 17,000) are in very good condition thanks to dedicated staff that have spent hours documenting, cleaning and creating a safe environment for the objects. Thirdly, for the past 75 years JHM has been devoted to education—interpreting the objects through programs and exhibits as well as offering diverse special exhibits and educational programs to the public.
If you were at the museum yesterday, you would have witnessed each aspect of a museum’s work, “collecting, preserving and interpreting the things of the world.” Although we did not accept any new pieces into the collection (“collecting”), we worked on a temporary collection of objects—over 150 paintings and prints by Benton and Matt Clark that have been loaned to JHM for our next exhibit. A number of these needed hanging devices applied to the backs so staff worked on selecting and attaching eyes and wire. Meanwhile, two professionals worked with staff in the area of “preserving.” A textile specialist from the Midwest Art Conservation Center examined our Chinese collar (30 inches wide by 20 inched long) from the Ch’ing Dynasty (1644-1911). The collar has elaborate cut-out fingers that drape over the shoulders. Applied to the silk background material are about 100 pieces of carved jade as well as coral, pearls and ornaments made from kingfisher feathers. The consultant explained what should be done to the collar to preserve it for the future. While she was upstairs in the Asian gallery, an exhibit designer was putting together a new case in the American Indian Gallery, the intent of which is to preserve large objects that can’t fit into the current cases. The third strand of a museum’s work, “interpreting the things of this world,” was also woven into the day. Staff gave three school tours and worked on writing labels.
Give yourselves a pat on the back on May 18th, International Museum Day, for your part in supporting that sparkling gem of a museum in our town. Also, you (the public) are invited to the kick-off celebration for JHM’s 75th anniversary. On May 23 at 7:00 P.M., Alice Hoover will be performing a first person drama of Margaret Johnston Renfrew, the grandmother of the Johnson brothers, JHM’s founders. Following the presentation we’ll celebrate with birthday cake and a toast to past achievements and future promise. Celebrate with us as we commemorate 75 years of “doing” museum.