When this reel lawn mower came to us, it was extremely rusted and in many pieces. The curators had to decide what condition we wanted to show this in. We wanted visitors to see how this mower is different from lawn mowers today and that was difficult to do in the condition it came in. However, we still wanted it to look like a typical used lawn mower of the 1950s; in other words, we did not want it to look too “new.”
Our volunteers and curator Cameron Wood set to work bringing life back into the mower. The first step was to clean up the mower of rust, dirt, and grass. As the mower was cleaned off, we were able to see the original colors, green and red. After several hours of cleaning and sanding, volunteers repainted the mower to its original colors. However, it was not entirely repainted as to prevent it from looking too new. Finally, as we attached the pieces together, we decided for safety reasons to prevent the blades from moving.
Museums typically have different types of collections for different purposes. At OHS we have permanent and educational collections. The permanent collection includes a wide variety of archival materials and museum objects, such as manuscripts, audiovisuals, newspapers, government records, electronic media, historic objects, works of art, archaeology and natural history specimens. OHS aims to preserve these treasures for current and future generations of Ohioans. Materials in the permanent collections are carefully stored, handled and exhibited under specific conditions. We do not try to restore objects in the permanent collections or try to make them “look new.” Basic repairs can be made by conservators, but preserving items in their current condition is the goal for permanent collections.
Our educational collection, on the other hand, are objects that visitors are allowed to hold and use so that they can better understand our past. In the 1950s exhibit, most of the items on display, such as the lawnmower, are educational collections. Because these objects are part of the educational collection and intended to be used, we were able to use different methods to make things look new or like our 1950s family was using them regularly.
Many choices have to be made when using objects in an exhibition. Are the objects authentic to the period? Will the exhibition conditions preserve the objects for future use? Are the objects safe for visitors to handle? These are just some of the questions museum staff ask on a daily basis. They are not always easy to answer. As curators, we aim to make informed decisions that allow visitors to enjoy our objects for generations to come.
What tough decisions have you had to make about your own collections?
Emily Lang, History Curator