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Creating the Collector’s Corner

by Samantha Dorsey, City of Bowie Museums on

Most of my challenges from working in a small museum are from two things: money and time.

When the City of Bowie Museums needed someone to write conservation instructions, create a public program, and find volunteers to help polish the silver in our collection, I developed “Collector’s Corner,” a connoisseurship and conservation workshop.

It was fun, it was dirty, and by most accounts, it was a success!

Although no one was willing to polish silver, I did discover others dealing with the same issues of money, time, and help.

Enter my partnership with the Hammond-Harwood House.

This eighteenth-century architectural gem has one of the best collections of fine and decorative art in the area. Our institutions may have different audiences, but our collections and staff have many identical needs. The Assistant Director and Curator, Allison Titman, and I decided to share our time, attention, resources, and audiences to discover just what we could accomplish.

We soon began rotating a bi-monthly “Collector’s Corner” workshop series between our sites. We emphasize affordable and sustainable collections care and conservation practices preferred by museum professionals. Our treatments are relatively easy and sensible. We take participants through the history of each material (silver, furniture, textile) so we can identify, discuss, and demonstrate (often hands-on) the best treatment plan. Colleagues (over half of our audience) and collectors leave with a handout listing terminology, supplies, suppliers, and treatment techniques.

So far, we have welcomed over one hundred participants from four states. Only the occupancy restrictions limit the size of our workshops. We’re working to fix that by hosting these presentations at other museums in the coming year.

Allison and I try to keep costs as low as possible. We devote a moderate amount of time to produce each workshop. We meet with fellow curators, conservators, and collections managers to discuss best practices. We also review and re-write conservation literature in more accessible prose. We try to spend less than $50 for our hands-on activities supplies. Leftover materials – like cotton balls and calcium carbonate – are recycled into our collections management kits.

Our post-workshop program evaluations aren’t just encouraging; many even suggest additional topics to cover in the future. Several agencies have also promised funding to purchase take-home supplies.

We hope you can join us for one of the six new workshops, starting this fall. We still have a lot to learn from each other.

Feel free to email Allison Titman or me, Samantha Dorsey to reserve your seat. If you can’t attend, we’ll gladly send you a digital copy of the workshop handout.

  • Silver Reprise: October 28, 1-3 p.m., Tudor Place, Washington, D.C.
  • Photographs: November 18, 2:30-4:30 p.m., GreenbeltMuseum, Greenbelt, MD
  • Ceramics: January 27, 2:30-4:30 p.m., BelairMansion, Bowie, MD
  • Glass: March 24, 2:30-4:30 p.m., BelairMansion, Bowie, MD
  • Fine Art: May 19, 2:30-4:30 p.m., Hammond-Harwood House, Annapolis, MD
  • Paper and Ephemera: July 21, 2:30-4:30 p.m., Belair Mansion, Bowie, MD

(Also, if you’re dying to polish historic silver, Allison and I have plenty that needs attention. Just email us!)

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