Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Project inventories, organizes artifacts

An estimated 10,000 historical artifacts such as those laid out here belong to Cleveland County’s people. They are located in the former county courthouse building standing in the center of Shelby, N. C.

Dusty and silent, they’ve been locked away for years since the former historical museum housed there was closed. Its handwritten accession registers list a bit of their history – who donated them, when, and sometimes a hint of their significance.

County governmental leaders have taken what steps they could to protect the artifacts. For instance, they’ve seen that the old courthouse roof is in good repair, to avoid water leak damage, and kept on the lights and necessary heat and air.

And now, through a community effort, work is underway to inventory, organize, and care for the artifacts (both objects and archives/documents), toward a day they tell their stories once again.

The History Committee of Destination Cleveland County (DCC) has undertaken a voluntary project with the overarching mission:

To preserve, inventory, and provide access to every object and archive in the historic county courthouse for the citizens of Cleveland County and all other interested parties.

The work of the committee is addressing some serious objectives:

--Ensuring proper care and management of the collection of artifacts, which might be in jeopardy and deteriorate without attention.

--Identifying and inventorying these historical treasures that belong to Cleveland County's citizens.

--Providing ways for citizens to have access to these artifacts, now closed away unseen.

The not-for-profit DCC envisions a time when the artifacts are not only properly preserved but also undergird exhibits, interactive displays, and educational programming in the historic courthouse building revitalized as the Earl Scruggs Center – Stories and Songs of the Carolina Foothills. Another goal is to computerize photographs or scans of all artifacts, with cataloguing details about them, so they can readily be viewed and located. And to eventually enlarge the public’s access to them by “virtual museum” on the Internet.

Inventorying and preparing items for proper storage are the first steps in this major undertaking. These steps have been underway since August 2006 and quite likely will take many months more.

The History Committee engaged professional expertise to help it plan and organize the detailed inventorying processes for objects and archives. At their center is a museum-standard cataloguing methodology, and at their heart is a growing group of volunteers who turn out for Saturday “workdays” at the old courthouse.

On a typical workday, a volunteer might report at 9:00 am, pick up a stack of Object Catalog Worksheet forms and a sharp pencil, choose an artifact from the “to be processed” box, and set out to document it by filling in as many of the 22 blanks on the form as possible. With luck, the artifact will have an accession number on it and a record of its source or donor can be found in the former museum’s handwritten registers. The volunteer documents that, but goes further and assigns the item its proper museum standard classification – sort of like the standard way libraries classify books. Then comes detailed description – how the item looks, its dimensions, its color, its maker and provenance (if known), its condition, and more. Then it’s on to the next object.

Completed forms are turned in to be computerized by another volunteer, using Past Perfect museum collection management software.

Once documented, objects are temporarily prepared for storage and organized in the old courtroom upstairs, laid out on benches according to classification. When plans for the building’s renovation proceed, the artifacts will be taken offsite for safety.