To Protect and (Pre)serve

Our guest blogger this week is Kate Nummer, a Graduate Student in Eastern Michigan University’s Historic Preservation Program. She will receive her Master of Science in Historic Preservation in December 2019.

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Late in the spring, I was a part of the Eastern Michigan University Historic Preservation Field School hosted at Cranbrook (read about the amazing week here). That week I discovered what a magical place Cranbrook is, and was inspired to ask Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research Associate Registrar, Leslie Mio, about doing my graduate final project here. The Center agreed to have me, so after three years of working hard on my Masters, I’m finishing up here at Cranbrook. I have worked closely with Leslie two days a week since August, mainly focusing on the Smith House and “other duties as assigned.”

 

The Smith House is a beautiful Usonian Frank Lloyd Wright house (1950) that was owned by Melvyn Smith and his wife Sara. Cranbrook acquired the house by donation in 2017. The main project I have been working on is numbering objects and updating The Museum System (TMS, Cranbrook’s digital database of objects) as we go along. This has been a monumental job: not only did Cranbrook acquire the house in 2017, but also everything that was in it – over 1,800 objects!

 

Numbering a jar in Smith House. Photo by author.

Numbering a jar in Smith House. Photo by author.

Numbering objects isn’t for everyone, it is a slow and repetitive task. But, it gives me a chance to look over the object, confirm that the location is recorded correctly in TMS, make any additional notes about its appearance, and even appreciate the object itself.

Here I am working in the kitchen of Smith House. Photo by author.

My final report for my degree won’t just be about numbering, but about collection management. This is considered the development, storage, preservation, and organization of collections and cultural heritage. I am consulting resources like MRM5: Museum Registration Methods by Rebecca Buck, and Things Great and Small by John E. Simmons, and applying information gleaned to what Leslie and I are doing in Smith House.

 

Other duties I have had since August: helping prepare a disaster kit for Smith House, so objects and people remain safe in the event of a disaster (especially since it’s off the main campus); meeting with conservators who are helping to restore furniture in the house;  helping prepare for the Center’s fundraiser “A House Party at Cranbrook”; rolling textiles for better storage; and helping move and process new donations.

 

I say, “other duties as assigned” because one thing I’ve learned in my semester at Cranbrook: the work of a registrar is never boring. We may have our main plan mapped out, but sometimes you must go with the flow.

 

Kate Nummer, Eastern Michigan University Historic Preservation Program 2019

Minks in the Rainforest

The week of May 19, the Center for Collections and Research hosted the Eastern Michigan University Historic Preservation Program as they conducted their annual Field School. The EMU Historic Preservation Program is among the largest graduate programs in Historic Preservation in the United States, and this was their third year working at Cranbrook.

Two groups worked on documenting the exterior and landscape of Lyon House.

Lyon House Site Plan with Landscape Features, documented May 19-24, 2019 by Eastern Michigan University Historic Preservation students.

Lyon House Site Plan with Landscape Features, documented May 19-24, 2019 by Eastern Michigan University Historic Preservation students.

The third group once again tackled Tower Cottage. The cottage started its life as a simple Tudor Revival cottage that was designed by Albert Kahn, who also designed Cranbrook House. Built in 1908, it mimics the style and design of Cranbrook House. The cottage itself has seen many changes but over time it has retained its original character and style. Tower Cottage, along with Cranbrook House, is among the original structures belonging to the Booth family.

Tower Cottage circa 1915 with water tower behind.

Tower Cottage circa 1915 with water tower behind. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Long unoccupied, the building’s historic window sashes required rehabilitation, painting, and replacement of missing pieces. The students restored a number of windows and worked on a paint analysis of Tower Cottage with Ron Koenig of Building Arts Conservation.

Ron Koenig of Building Arts Conservation discusses paint sampling with the EMU students.

Ron Koenig of Building Arts Conservation discusses paint sampling with the EMU students. Photo Desai Wang, CKU ’19.

What they discovered was far more colorful than the simple brown paint that adorns the house now. Koenig took various samples of the trim, stucco, and window sashes. He did preliminary examinations on site, looking through a special magnifying glass to see where best to sample.

Desai Wang, CKU '19, the Center's Senior May student, looking at the sample on the window sash.

Desai Wang, CKU ’19, the Center’s Senior May student, looking at a sample on a window sash of Tower Cottage.

In his workshop, Koenig used a microscope to see the various layers (or campaigns) of paint. From this microscopic sample, he was able to determine the color of paint used on the house in the 1920s  – the era when the additions to the house were completed by architects J. Robert F. Swanson and Henry Scripps Booth.

Microphoto of the color campaigns of the Tower Cottage sashes, South Elevation. Courtesy Building Arts & Conservation.

Microphoto of the color campaigns of the Tower Cottage window sashes, south elevation. Courtesy Building Arts & Conservation.

Koenig matched the sample to a color on the Munsell color system (a system to visually identify and match color using a scientific approach) and from the Munsell color to a Benjamin Moore paint color. Our colors were Mink (#2112-10) for the trim and Rainforest Foliage (#2040-10) for the window sashes. The secret to historic paint colors is that while a company such as Benjamin Moore, founded in 1883, may change a color’s name, the reference number stays the same. If you know the identification number of a paint that you had in 1949, you could find the same color in the catalog today.

We couldn’t keep this great color combination to ourselves. We decided to paint a sample of it on some of the windows at Tower Cottage.

Rainforest Foliage green sashes and Mink brown trim at Tower Cottage, June 2019.

Rainforest Foliage green sashes and Mink brown trim at Tower Cottage, June 2019.

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Close-up of the green sashes and brown trim on Tower Cottage, June 2019.

Next year, should our friends form EMU return for their field school, the rest of the cottage’s trim and windows can be painted with its historic colors.

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

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