Monday, September 28, 2015

Megan's Mystery Monday - Jessie Hamilton Print

Hello again history lovers! I’m back with another Monday Mystery for your reading pleasure.
Let me introduce you to this hidden beauty, artifact 2015.0.2.

I stumbled upon this small print while cataloguing a filing cabinet filled with similarly sized paintings, prints, and miscellaneous baubles that had been used as canvases for portraits and the like. Initially, this lovely little piece was trapped within a very dingy old frame, and when I say trapped, I literally mean trapped. Over the course of this print’s life in our hands, someone had scotch-taped the edges of the frame, the back of the piece, and even the glass covering to the frame itself. Every spare inch of wood was covered in destructive, nasty tape and believe me, it was a challenge to get it all off without damaging the print or the frame. I wish I had a picture of the bundle of tape that came off this thing because it was equal parts horrifying and impressive.

Let this be the first of many preservation tips to you all: never use scotch tape on an artifact. It’s a great tool for wrapping presents or fixing a tear in your homework, but the stuff is not meant to be used for object preservation. Materials that degrade, release chemicals, or are harmful as they age are avoided like the plague in modern museum preservation. From the age of this tape, this was probably done back in the 60s or 70s, back when museums weren’t as concerned with the type of materials they used to fix an old frame or patch a ripped fabric. Thankfully over time we’ve learned safer and smarter ways of maintaining objects for the future. So, everybody reading this, repeat after me!

Do not use scotch tape on artifacts. 

Save it for your gift wrapping, not the museum preserver tasked with undoing all of your hard work, because I assure you they will not appreciate it nearly as much. 

Anyway, back to the story. Normally when I find an object in need of cataloging, I look for the accession number. This number, like 2015.0.2, is almost always located on the object itself or on the material housing it. There was no sign of a number on this print or on the frame, before or after the tape took off part of the finish. This presented a problem for me. With no number, I had no idea where this print came from, how old it was, if the frame was original to the print, or anything that could give me an idea of the life of this piece. The only hint I had was a tiny pencil signature on the print itself that read “Jessie Hamilton.” 

Any Fort Wayne native who frequents the parks here in town should recognize the name Hamilton. The Hamilton Sisters, famous for their work with the Hull House, countless civic works projects, and humanitarian efforts have statues in Headwaters Park. Jessie Hamilton was a cousin of the famous sisters and was known for her art, which was what I had apparently found. You can imagine how excited I was to find this. 

Though I was unable to find more information on how this piece wound up in our collection, I was able to give the piece its own number, a new protective covering free of any scotch tape, and its own shelf in the filing cabinet. Object 2015.0.2 has a small database entry with the information I was able to provide, but beyond that, it remains largely an unknown piece. Some mysteries may never be solved, but at least we can make sure they’re preserved for any future detectives to try their hand.

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