Goshen News, Goshen, IN

November 23, 2012

Elements pose threat to county museum materials

By SCOTT WEISSER
THE GOSHEN NEWS

BRISTOL — What worries Matthew Schuld? Light and temperature, among other perils.

Schuld is the museum manager at the Elkhart County Historical Museum in Bristol. In his line of work, the mundane can pose a threat to the artifacts and records documenting the past.

A new showcase at the museum, the Indiana Historical Society’s “Endangered Heritage,” highlights the risks. The exhibit includes banner displays describing various threats — water, light exposure and pollutants among them — that can damage museum collections. The displays are coupled with examples inside the local Historical Museum.

“There’s risk to the places, the artifacts and documents that make up how we come up with the past,” Schuld said. “Our understanding of the past is created from all these items. Threats to those items are threats to really our understanding of our history.”

Examples include deterioration to museum items that sat out too long in areas that weren’t climate-controlled. Schuld also pointed out a photo documenting the first time the New York Central railroad went through Bristol; light exposure has led to some deterioration of the picture.

Then there’s “red rot,” which is impacting the county clerk recorders’ books at the museum.

“Most of our collection was stored in a non-climate-controlled area until around five years ago when the community and the Historical Society got together to build a first-rate storage annex,” Schuld said. The books are still afflicted with red rot, though.

“...It spreads to different books occasionally,” he said. “And it really just degrades all the binding of the book. So the paper is pretty well saved but most of the rest of the resource is being lost, and that really hinders our ability to be able to store it.”

A goal behind the exhibit is raising public awareness of the risk to historical materials, and also to generate public financial support for their preservation and conservation.

“It gets the public behind projects that might help us raise money for these types of things,” Schuld said. He also feels it brings attention the efforts of the county Historical Society and Parks Department in preserving local history.

Guided tour

At 1 p.m. Dec. 1, the public is invited to the Elkhart County Historical Museum to join Curator of Collections Liz Haeuptle for a guided tour of “Endangered Heritage.” Attendees are invited to bring an example of an object or document they want to preserve, and museum staff will direct them to the right resources.  The cost to attend is $1 per person.

The “Endangered Heritage” exhibit runs through Dec. 17 at the Historical Museum, located at 304 W. Vistula (Ind. 120) in Bristol. Museum hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. There is no charge for admission, but donations are accepted.  For more information, visit the website www.elkhartcountyhistory.org.