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Historic Buildings and Landscapes as Museum Collections

by Thompson M. Mayes on

With a portfolio of 27 historic sites across the country, from Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan Connecticut, to the Cooper-Molera Adobe in Monterey, California, the National Trust constantly strives to find innovative ways to strengthen and enhance these historically and architecturally significant places — and to share those innovations with other sites.

Philip Johnson's Glass House, New Canaan, CT

Philip Johnson’s Glass House, New Canaan, CT

As reported in the summer issue of History News, one of our recent innovations was to revise – some would say radically – our Collections Management Policy. This might not be news but for the fact that, after extensive analysis and consultation with leaders at AASLH and at AAM, the revision to the Collections Management Policy included the historic structures and historic landscapes as part of the museum collections, alongside historic objects.

This change creates parity between the different types of resources that the National Trust preserves at its sites and reflects the interrelated nature of their stewardship and interpretation. A key practical effect of this change is that proceeds from de-accessioning that were once restricted only for use for the care of objects, may now also be used for the direct care of historic buildings and landscapes.

Belle Grove, Middletown, VA

Belle Grove, Middletown, VA

In crafting the revisions, we hewed closely to AASLH and AAM’s ethical standards and practices. Here are a few key points, among others, that ensure that this equal treatment of structures, landscapes, and objects remains within ethical standards:

Only historic structures and landscapes that are interpreted to the public are treated as part of the Museum Collections

  • De-accessioning of objects is a separate process from determining the use of de-accessioning proceeds
  • De-accessioning remains subject to intellectually rigorous standards tied to collections plans
  • The process for review and approval by the Trust’s collections committee and by a sub-committee of the Board of Trustees is enhanced
  • Proceeds may only be used for direct care.

Already, we are receiving inquiries from other organizations that are interested in implementing similar changes in their own collections policies. “We made these changes because they were logical and reflected the mission of the National Trust, even if they seem radical to some,” said Katherine Malone-France, Vice President for Historic Sites. “We’re looking forward to sharing our experiences with the broader community as we begin to implement the new policy.”

For more information, please see “When Historic Buildings and Landscapes are the Museum Collection.”  History News and National Trust Leadership Forum.

Thompson M.  Mayes, Deputy General Counsel, National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

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