Friday, November 19, 2010

Fun on the Farm: Perspectives from an Intern

Hi folks, my name is Townsend Hart and I’m a historic preservation and museum studies minor at the University of Mary Washington. I’m currently interning with both Gretchen Goodell (Curator) and Abigail Newkirk (Director of Interpretation and Education).

The objective for the internship is to research various objects belonging to Stratford and create interpretive proposals. Initially I planed to work on five objects in total, but some of the objects required more in depth and time consuming research. It has really been a learning experience and I’m thankful for the opportunity to do such involved, fascinating projects.

The first object I began with was the nursery fireback- marked with two cherub angels and the date 1745. I was able to find some interesting things about both this particular fireback as well as firebacks in general. For example, the fact that the Lee’s even had one greatly tells of their wealth considering firebacks were rare and only in the possession of the upper class at the time. To complete my research I looked through archival information (early RELMA notes, Lee family member accounts), books on iron works, and Robert E. Lee biographies.

The second object that I worked with was a handwritten book of Sermon’s attributed to Hannah Lee Corbin (originally dated to around 1780). My initial task for the book was to determine who actually penned the book because there is no name written. For this I completed a handwriting analysis comparing some letters written by Hannah Lee Corbin and her son-in-law George Turberville. Next I attempted to find a single original source...what a crazy experience this was! Google Archives proved to be an excellent resource. I was able to search an individual sentence and come up with original sources, many from 18th century journals. If it was Hannah Lee Corbin who penned this, it really shows her moxie and intelligence.

I have loved getting to see the inner workings of a historic house museum first-hand. There really is no better environment to have this experience than at Stratford. I enjoy taking breaks to feed the horses, or Zander and Steve as I call them, but I highly doubt these are their actual names. I’m looking forward to making way on my next project: thinking of something cool for the coaching event in the spring as well as come up with some creative ideas for the interpretation of the coach house.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Hands-on History

Most history buffs and museum enthusiasts have a specific memory of being at a museum as a child (sometimes called "sticky memories" because we remember vivid details even as adults). Sometimes it is a story that was told, or a specific room. Often it relates to a game or activity...something that could be touched. Accomplishing this in a historic house like Stratford Hall can be difficult, so this fall the new Hands-On Activity Room was opened. Located in the East Slave Quarters, this room is designed to be family-friendly. We first blogged about the project in April.

The building is located to the south-east of the Great House and furnished with child-sized furniture, a colorful rug, costumes to play dress-up, and building blocks. The centerpiece for this new room is a custom made Discovery Chest. This piece of furniture has nine drawers filled with books, stuffed animals, dolls, fake food, shark teeth, and colonial games. Each drawer has a box that can be lifted out, allowing families to bring the items to the carpet or tables to play.

This area will continue to grow and evolve as we get feedback from our youngest visitors, but a great step forward in providing families with a memorable experience at Stratford Hall!