By Tara Backhouse and Misty Snyder
Last February we brought you exciting news of our inventory project! Ok, you may be scratching your heads now, wondering how inventory can be exciting. If so, than you need to read Misty’s blog from February! As she demonstrates, any project with person-sized boxes is exciting.
It is also exciting because of the story behind the inventory, and the story of what we inventoried. We have a collection of nearly 200,000 items, and that collection is always growing. In the last 10 years, it has grown by over 700%! We now have over 2000 historic objects and pieces of art, 20,000 newspapers, maps, documents, works on paper, and audiovisual materials, and at least 145,000 photographs. Hundreds of our documents, letters, maps and newspapers date from the 19th century, and they tell us about the Seminole War period and the Seminole Tribe’s journey to self-determination. The postcards and photographs from the post-war late 19th and early 20th century show the Tribe’s journey to federal recognition and financial success.
The Museum is a special place. We serve the Seminole community and we are dedicated to preserving Tribal history as well as its current events. We continue to collect photographs, documents and audiovisual material that document the Tribe’s activities in recent decades. In fact, most of our photographs have come from the Seminole Tribune, the Tribe’s newspaper. The Tribune photographers have traversed all six Seminole reservations and associated communities for the last 30-40 years, documenting important people, events and community life, as well as featuring historical pieces about the Indians of Florida. These photographs tell the story of a tribe famous for leading the charge in Indian sovereignty during the decades they charted that path.
A 2015 donation of 30,000 photographs was quite a challenge to organize!
We were honored to have taken custody of these photographs. However, they rapidly filled our vault, and we wondered how we’d have space to properly house these objects. Also, we wondered how we’d be able to keep taking important donations for years to come. We knew we couldn’t make the vault bigger, so what was our next option?
Large Fixed Shelving Filled Up Fast and Left Two Much Empty Floor Space!
With the help of a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services we were able to begin a renovation project in the fall of 2016. The first step was to inventory and pack the collection, and this is when Misty had to use the person-sized boxes!
This step was complete in early 2017 and after the contents of the vault were moved to museum-quality off-site storage, we got into the nitty gritty of the demo phase. The carpet and dropped ceiling were removed. Then a layer of concrete was poured at the back of the vault in order to create a raised area where the movable shelving could be installed onto rails. The edges of the ceiling were sealed to prevent pest problems, and HVAC vents and lighting apparatuses had to be re-engineered in order to suit the preferred open-style ceiling. Then the entire vault was painted a bright light color, to maximize the illumination in the space. After that, five long rows of movable shelving were installed.
For the final part of the renovation project, we had a custom stainless steel table installed over a special oversized flat file that we left room for in the front of the vault. This table gave us a workspace while providing storage for historic maps underneath.
I think you’ll agree, the new vault looks great! We estimate that the new shelving will double our storage capacity, providing much needed space to continue to preserve Seminole history. We’ve started to bring the collection back and it’s good to see the shelves and drawers starting to fill up!
It will take time to unpack and re-install all the material, but we expect to complete the process by the end of the year. And we’ve got a lot to catalog in the meantime! We’re anxious to show everyone the beautiful new “bigger on the inside” vault in early 2018. Let us know if you’d like to see it!
In the meantime, you can see amazing items from all our collections check on our Online Collections Page here: http://semtribe.pastperfectonline.com/)
This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services [MA-30-16-0122-16]