Collections Care at Montpelier
When visitors come to Montpelier, they see what is visible – the objects that furnish the house and those on display in our galleries. What visitors don’t see is all the work that goes into maintaining Montpelier’s decorative arts collection, the house furnishings, and interiors as well. The Curatorial and Collections Department is responsible for the care and keeping of the objects in our collections – safeguarding and preserving them for future generations.
On this Project Page, we are excited to invite you beyond the museum doors to explore the work that it takes to keep our historic house museum running. You’ll learn about how we take care of objects, how exhibits come together, the caring of historic house interiors, and why we have certain rules such as no touching and no flash photography.
We hope you’ll join us!
After being on display for quite an extended period, it was time to take the objects in the duPont Gallery off of display to rest. While it is a good practice to rotate all types of objects, it is essential to rotate textiles as they are the most sensitive to light exposure, dust, and dirt. With this in mind, we turned our attention to two sets of shoes on display in the Grills Gallery. One pair of shoes are 19th century and connected to Dolley Madison, while the other pair of shoes are 20th century and belonged to Marion duPont Scott.
A major part of the work by the Curatorial & Collections Department is to be caretakers of the objects in the Montpelier Collections. Preventative conservation plays a significant role in our day-to-day responsibilities – everything from monitoring the light levels coming in, to the routine dusting and cleaning we do to keep dust and dirt off the objects that are on open display. However, sometimes due to various circumstances, objects experience deterioration in a way that needs professional help – this is where conservation comes in.
The duPont family scrapbooks are a collection of 15 scrapbooks that chronicle the duPont family, William Sr. & Annie and their children Marion and Willie, who owned Montpelier collectively from 1901 – 1983. In order to provide access to the information found in the scrapbooks, yet maintain and preserve them, we have an ongoing project to digitize the scrapbooks and then to preserve them for long term storage – as delicate works on paper, we want to limit the amount of handling to essentially none. The project essentially divides into two parts: photography and preservation.
Annual January Closure
January Closure is a vital time of year- providing the Curatorial and Collections Department and the Preservation Department with essential time to complete important maintenance and cleaning projects which otherwise cannot be completed when we are open to the public. While our team of Museum Technicians spend several hours every day cleaning in the house before it opens to the public, January Closure provides us with the time to access those areas that are usually inaccessible on a normal day. We move furniture around and bring in tall ladders to help us access areas usually out of reach – all things that cannot be done on a typical operating day.
Museums take certain steps to extend the life of an object. This includes special care in the areas of cleaning, and for metal objects, polishing. When caring for an object, our goal is not to make it look perfect, rather maintain its stability. Cleaning the silver- removing dust from its surface- takes place regularly throughout the year, whereas polishing- removing tarnish build-up- is done annually, to reduce the chance of damage.
All museums, no matter what size, conduct inventories. From the largest item on display to the smallest piece in storage, all parts of the collection is counted and its condition assessed. At Montpelier, our complete inventory happens every 5 years.
So, how do we begin this undertaking?