ECHS: Week 21 (Objects!)

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At the American Swedish Historical Museum, it was a small wool women’s hat with flowers embroidered with bright colors.

At the American Philosophical Society, it is Ben Franklin’s molar encased in a gold acorn (a reliquary for a man who is a saint in the eyes of many Philadelphians).

At the Penn Museum it is a wood bowl, carved into the shape of a beaver that was collected on the Louis and Clark Expedition.

At the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, it is a photograph of a bicyclists lined up with their high-wheelers in front of Memorial Hall in Fairmount park. The photograph is taken just minutes before the men mount their bikes and ride through the park. This ride was an act of defiance. At that time, bicyclists were only allowed in the park at night, when the paths were clear of carriages and pedestrians.

With every project or possible project, there is an object that is my favorite, or a number of objects that get me excited. This week was the week that I identified a number of objects that got me excited. (After receiving material samples, this is my favorite part of a project.)

First, a staff member brought me what looks like a complicated pair of mechanical sheep shears. To me it looks so industrial, the connecting rods are heavy and a bit clumsy, but it is something that I’ve never seen. There is a significant amount of rust, so this is an object that I am going to try to get conserved.

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Next—and this is when my week started to feel like a scavenger hunt—I met with the station manager for WICU, who took me to their transformer building to show me the video cameras the station had used in the ’60′s. Again, I got excited about the possibility of including this amazing example of the technology employed in early TV. I was even more excited when, back at the station, she pulls out a black-and-white photo of a commercial being shot with one of the cameras in the corner of the frame.

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The bulk of my research this week as been about plastics. A few weeks ago, I toured a tooling shop, where I got to meet with their engineer and see how they first build a 3D model of a plastic product, then he demonstrated how they build a model of the mold around it. This mold is what will be tooled out of steel and installed in injection-molding machines, which will then create the final plastic lid, jar, etc.

Working in 3D modeling programs, I wanted to show two things in the plastics gallery: the steps of taking a drawing or idea, creating a 3D model, modeling the mold, tooling the mold based on the information in the computer model, then the final product made from the mold. I also wanted to show this process of making molds before computers and 3D modeling programs.

I was introduced to a collector of Marx Toys, a plastic toy manufacturer that used to operate in Girard and Erie. Before I met him, I heard he had a wood prototype of a Big Wheel, but that he may not want to loan it for the exhibit.

But then I met him and I explained what I wanted to show a process from drawing to prototype to finished product. He went on to list many of the drawings and sketches, prototypes and finished products he has—including the wood prototype for a Big Wheel. He then invited me out to visit his collection and to pick whatever I want to use in the exhibits.

Finally, another one of my favorites just landed at my feet. While I am working on the research and design for the exhibits, the Collections Manager and her crew are quickly packing all the rooms in the Mansion. As they come across objects that may fit with a gallery topic, they set it aside for me. I then shuttle these objects to my staging area behind my office at the History Center (a few blocks away) One of these boxes contained wool men’s swimsuits, made in San Francisco, and likely worn at a pool in Erie or on a beach on Presque Isle. I love the colors and style of the swimsuits and made a joke to my intern about how I wished men wore things like these today. I can see hipsters adopting this style if it wasn’t made of wool.

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