Wednesday, August 15, 2012


So today, before Lauren arrived, I was tasked with writing up catalog sheets for some quilts. When writing up a catalog sheet, we document the name of the item, it's location (like shelf or box number), a description of the item, an evaluation of its condition and any additional information we can provide about the item based on its appearance.

The first quit I unfolded game me a serious case of the warm fuzzies:

Baby quilt!!!!! It was so adorable!!!! I drooled over it for a long time. Here are some close ups of the adorableness:

Cow, chickens and a chicken coop
Sheepies and a barn
This quilt was amazing because it was completely hand sewn and I have a lot of respect for whoever made it.  The stitches are tiny and incredibly neat:

Applique stitches
Quilting, as a verb, is when you sew the top layer of the quilt to the back. Usually, this is done in a uniform pattern all over the quilt. This quilt had small square quilting that made the quilt look very beautiful because the quilter was able to keep the lines extremely straight and the stitches very very small:

Amazing quilting

The second quilt I came across was definitely my favorite. Upon first look, I was completely mesmerized by the beautiful 1930s prints and simple design. 

1930s hand sewn quilt:

Pretty micro floral prints

While I was working on my write up describing the 30s floral micro prints, I noticed that the squares looked a bit different than they usually would. It seemed that the squares were overlapping a bit and that the edges seemed a bit more prominent than usual.

Love the bright colors
Unusual edge
I looked closer at one of the squares that had come apart at the edge:

Very common damage

And realized that this quilt wasn't pieced (or sewed together), in the usual fashion where the edges of the fabric are held together, sewn and then ironed flat at the seam, like this:

But that the quilter had used a much more difficult method to sew the pieces together. They had done it the way you sew the binding to the quilt so that you don't have any raw edges. It's very difficult and takes a lot of focus. You have one edge folded over and ironed, so that you don't see the raw edge and sew the square on at the fold. The stitch is usually visible, but if it's small enough, you usually don't notice it:

The folded edge
So the folded piece is laid on top of a flat square overlapping it, and then sewn on to it from the outside edge. 

The bottom piece is flat underneath
This technique would involve so much dedication and work that it is staggering to imagine. I considered for a while why they would have taken the trouble, and I believe it's because when the quilt seams start to come apart, as they will do months into being used, these loose seams are far less noticeable than the traditional seam.

This was one of the most damaged seams, and you can hardly tell!

This quilter was a genius. I was extremely excited to come by another quilt that I suspect was done by them. This quilt however, is mostly likely from the 1940s because the prints are more typical of the fashionable 40s color scheme and the prints were more abstract shapes rather than floral.

Dresden Plate design
I believe this quilt was done by the same quilter because the quilting was very similar and the fabric choice/quality was identical.

This quilt however, was a bit strange because the top and bottom edges looked very odd.

What the heck?
By the time I started this quilt, Lauren had arrived and was helping me with the description of the quilt. We were both baffled that the white fabric was much heavier than the rest of the quilt and was sewn on so irregularly. 

After considering the quilt for a while, throwing around ideas as to why it looked to strange, we finally stumbled on the answer. This quilt had been used and loved so much that the top of it had started to fall apart and the next generation of the family had reinforced it with a stronger fabric. Even patching it a second time in one place:

Based on the colors and the textures of the new fabric, we guess that these repairs were done sometime in the 1960s, when fabrics took on a much more synthetic feel, rather than the lightweight cotton of the 30s and 40s.

Lauren looking up what the quilt design was called

The quilts were a really fun way to start the day. I love being able to sit down with a quilt and attempt to glean as much as I can from the craftsmanship, fabric and wear. From what I observed, my guess is that the woman making these quilts lived in an urban setting and very much loved making the quilts and spent a tremendous amount of time on them making sure that her stitches were all even and that the blocks lined up perfectly. From the amount and type of wear the quilt displays, her family, or her friend very much valued the quilt and worked very hard to preserve it, even though they were not the most skilled quilter. This guess is based on the new binding of the quilt.

The white on the right is the new work

Their stitches show that the person was an experienced seamstress, but not necessarily a seasoned quilter. It was incredibly touching to see the love put into the quilt and how much it was used. This piece is definitely something that needs to be saved and preserved.

Rehousing Scrapbooks and Textiles

Two weeks ago, Lauren and I undertook the really labor intensive task of reorganizing scrapbooks that the previous intern, who quit because he had trouble doing the simplest tasks, had made a giant mess of on the shelves. The books were haphazardly stacked and facing in multiple directions, making it impossible to find the inventory tags on most of them.

You can see them in their disorganized state in this picture in the bottom left hand corner.

The navy blue and tan things
These are a collection of scrapbooks that follow the St. Paul Winter Carnival from 1938-1992. Each year has it's own scrapbook, with a few years having two or three. The creator of the scrapbooks has cut out and saved what seems to be every news article published in Minnesota regarding the Winter Carnival. Here is what the 1938 book looks like:

Every page is this full of articles...
These things are massive and extremely heavy. I was only able to carry at most, three or four at a time. They were very unwieldy and we constantly had articles falling out.

Our task was to take every scrapbook off the shelves, organize them by year and put them back on the shelves so that they were all neat and tidy with their tags easily accessible. This task took us nearly four hours.

Tah dah!!!!!
Woah! You can actually see the tags!
While this was an extremely tedious and smelly task, it was pretty cool to take a peek into the scrapbooks. We weren't interested in the articles at all, but it was fascinating to see all of the everyday advertisements. Usually, you only see the really high budget and flashy ads in textbooks and antique shops, but it was really interesting to see what types of ads were more typical. Here are a few from the 1950s:

Way less "nuclear family" than you usually see
Here is a look at the articles in a 1970s book:

These scrapbooks are an amazing piece of Minnesota journalism and an incredible glimpse into each year and the shifting styles of writing, photography and advertisement.

This week, Kevin told Lauren and I that we would have to rehouse the large textile collections. This really needed to be done because three of us interns had somehow seriously messed up the textile housing process and lots of the textiles had gone into boxes without the proper labeling and cataloging. That meant that Lauren and I had to unpack every box of large textiles, sort them by type, baby/child clothing, adult clothing, linens and delicate lace stuff/other. After getting everything sorted, we decided to first start with one pile and work our way through the piles systematically so that we could lower our chances for error. Because there was such a tremendous amount of textiles, we quick packed each pile into a box and put them back so that we could focus on the baby/children's pile. We ended up with this:

Still a mess...

First, I found the inventory number sewn into each item of clothing, wrote it down on a whiteboard and took a photograph of the item with its number so that it could be easily identified later. Lauren would then check the number of the item against our bad lists to see if the item had a catalog sheet and/or was in the database. About 70% of the items did not have catalog sheets and we noted which ones needed them so that we could take care of it another day. Then, the item would be packed into a box. This process may not sound difficult or time consuming, but it took us about an hour and a half to get through about 60% of the baby clothes.

While the process was tedious and aggravating, we came across some fun things:

Such realistic eyes!

WWI nurse uniform

I loved the snaps

Veil made out of a handkerchief

Ginormous corset. This woman had to be super tall and super wide
But our favorite was definitely this. A bloody christening gown. HOW DOES THAT HAPPEN!?!?!?


Updated Tour of the Collections

Twoish weeks ago, some maintenance men came into our storage unit in order to do some work on some important pipes or something in the ceiling while Kevin was gone. He was very clear that the men needed to be careful because the whole room was filled with historical artifacts. Unfortunately, this happened:

That doesn't look good...

Yeah. That's Teflon. The smudgedness isn't from Kevin trying to clean it up. The workers noticed the spill, yet continued to work as they had been. So we get this:

Why stop when everything is obviously okay?
And this:

That will buff out
The Teflon got on everything.

When Kevin tried to clean it off some of the metal and wood objects, it only stripped the finish, so the items that were entrusted into Ramsey County's care have been marked and damaged because some workers were lazy and negligent. It's very sad.

On a more positive note, here is an interesting object in our collection:

Rusty wheel
Kevin researched and researched and was absolutely confounded as to what this piece of farming equipment is or how old it is. All he knew was that it came out of the barn at the Gibbs Farm, which is the living history 1870s farm owned and operated by RCHS. Eventually, a volunteer who had worked at the farm years ago was browsing the collection, as we frequently do, and found these. He was incredibly surprised to see it labeled as an artifact because it was a modern tool that the employees at the farm had made in order to move heavy equipment around. So while this had a catalog number, and therefore a historical Gibbs piece of equipment, it was completely modern! This wheel was a really good lesson in being careful about artifacts in a collection, because anything can have an inventory number written on it.

Cool Gibbs tag

Here are some fun pictures of stuff I found this week:

Some sort of farm something

Newly donated Mounted Police jacket

Mounted Police shirt

Bicycle. Keep away hipsters. Not yours.

I ended up not doing my usual archaeology project today, but before Kevin called and told me to do something else, I got it all set up and loved these metal bits.

Good thing I got a tetanus shot. I think...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

How to Bag and Tag

Here is a step by step walk through of the Archaeology Project:

First, I start with a bag containing all of the artifacts recovered in a lot:

Next, I take out everything out of the bag:

The bags usually are grouped by type of item

Then, I line each artifact up in lines of five, so that I can keep a count of how many tags to make and make sure that I don't misplace the extra small pieces:

Insert Rain Man joke here
Using the master tag from the lot, I copy the information onto each new tag:

Once those are done, I generate catalog numbers for each item based on the year they were excavated, 1995, the lot they are in, and the individual item's new number in the lot:

So this piece will be item 4, in lot 176
 After the tags are finished, I start putting the tag (catalog number facing out), and item in the appropriately sized bag:

Almost done!
After everything is tagged and bagged, I put all of the individual baggies from the lot into a larger bag so that Kevin can enter them into the database.

Here is me hard at work!

Some of the items, like the bandaid, seem like they are not very worthwhile to bag. The lots that I worked on today had a ton of rocks in them. Kevin tells me that these rocks are important because they have a bit of mortal on them and were probably early foundations of Gibbs dwellings. I guess anything modified by humans was removed from the site.

This looks a lot like a normal rock collection
There's some history on this rock
Today, I worked on this project for eight hours and managed to get about 19 lots finished. The most common things I came across today were rocks, shards of glass and lots of burnt wood. So many pieces of burnt wood! The problem with the wood is that when the excavator initially bags them, there may be one or two pieces, however, after having been stored for twelve years, the fragile carbon has broken apart into dozens of small fragments. Each one of them needs it's own bag and tag, and the wood accounts for most of the work I end up doing. Like the balloon, I'm not quite sure why each small piece needs to be saved, but I'm sure that in the future the wood will be analyzed and be able to tell researchers important things about the way the Gibbs lived. I'm not quite sure what the important things are, but I'll ask Kevin next week and report back with his answer. My guess is that the wood is able to tell historians what types of trees were in the area and where the family did it's cooking, and therefore, its living. We'll see though.

Next Monday is going to be very exciting because we are all going to tour the Science Museum of Minnesota's collections and I am really looking forward to being able to talk to the curator about the various temporary exhibits and the things the museum does. My ultra dream goal of the trip is to see some old 19th century medical and science equipment. That would be super super cool!!!!!!!