"I suppose you can all have a rest now" is a comment I have heard when the museum closes its doors at the end of September. So what happens when the main hall is cleared to make room for the winter meetings, art shows and fairs? As we get ready to open for the summer season on April 30th, I thought it might be interesting to give readers an idea of what we do during the winter, and to answer some of the questions that are often asked.
Putting the museum to bed.
Where does everything go when it's not on display? Like all museums, only about a tenth of our collection is on display at any one time. There are three store rooms in the main museum and they are almost full to capacity. The new extension has given us an additio l ground floor store and one upstairs, which is currently being fitted out to hold the museum's archive of photographs, documents, plans and books, including the John Leather collection. Shelves are all numbered and items from the summer exhibition are put back in their allotted place. The words quart and pint pot often come to mind!
How do we keep track of all the artefacts? A regular task of the Accessions Officer is to complete the paperwork for every new acquisition and place the item in a store. This information is entered into a written register and then put onto the computerised inventory, which means that any item can be located easily. As the stores have undergone some upheaval since the building work, much moving around of artefacts and updating of records is needed.
Looking after the stores.
How do we ma ge the environment in the museum? Maintaining the correct levels of temperature and humidity is very important for the preservation of artefacts, when items of many different materials such as wood, metal and paper must be kept in conditions that will not cause them to deteriorate. As a small museum ,we have limited funds and can only do our best, with advice from conservation experts. We have two thermohygrograph machines which monitor temperature and humidity levels and produce monthly readings which would show up any unusual changes. We are also using small USB stick readers and if necessary small adjustments can be made with heaters or de-humidifiers.
Planning next season's exhibition.
When do we decide what the theme will be? We start to hold planning meetings in January, but will have been discussing ideas for some time. This year our main display will be about Mersea schools, and there are two special anniversaries to mark in 2011: the Dabchicks' cente ry and the 90th anniversary of the Royal British Legion on Mersea. During the winter we work out a floor plan and start to assemble material for the exhibition, both from our own collection and other sources. You will sometimes see appeals in the Courier for items that might be needed, such as school memorabilia.
Commitee member and wildlife specialist David Nicholls creating a new display in the Benham Wing of the museum, showing birds in their tural habitat along the waterline.
Getting on with the winter jobs.
What other tasks have to be done? Like BT selling gas, committee members are very versatile and rarely do just one job, so you can often find the IT ma ger wielding a paint brush or the attendants' officer printing and assembling books. There are shelves to be put up in the stores, displays to be built, information to be put on the database, speakers to be booked for next winter's talks and many other activities which keep everyone busy in the closed season.
Preparing to open.
The month of April is a very busy one and most of us spend more time in the museum than we do at home. Normal life is put on hold for four weeks but it is always rewarding to see the exhibition taking shape. And in common with a certain young couple, we hope everything will come together successfully at the end of the month after a winter of planning behind the scenes. The museum will be open from Saturday 30 April until the end of September this year, from 2pm to 5 pm Wednesday to Sunday each week, plus Bank Holidays, and we look forward to welcoming members and visitors to this very special place.
Published in Mersea Courier 29 April 2011