Fruits in Decay: An exhibit from the Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants

by Vanessa Formato

All these fruits are dying. Wisps of grey mold stretch out from the bottom of a sickly, shriveled strawberry. Plums blush an unnatural shade of teal. A pockmarked peach hangs from a branch, the bark discolored, its leaves curled and scaly. But what makes for a ghastly discovery on an apple picking excursion becomes a work of art in Harvard Museum of Natural History’s Glass Flowers room. This autumn, celebrate the year’s most macabre season with a visit to Fruits in Decay, a special exhibit of botanical blight and beauty.

The exhibition marks the first time in almost twenty years that these unique models will be on show as part of the Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants. The Ware Collection, often simply referred to as the Glass Flowers, is made up of 4,300 blown glass recreations of plant life spanning nearly 800 species, all crafted by renowned glass artisans Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka between 1887 and 1936. The first director of Harvard’s Botanical Museum, Professor George Lincoln Goodale, was inspired to commission these stunning models after observing the Blaschkas’ realistic glass models of marine life that were already a prized part of Harvard’s collections. Goodale saw the potential for similar models to illustrate the beauty and complexity of plant life for both his students and the curious public. At the time, botanists-in-training primarily relied on delicately preserved plant specimens and papier-mâché scientific models.

With the help of funding from Mary Lee and Eizabeth C. Ware, Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka created the highly realistic flowers in their Dresden, Germany, workshop, through masterful heat shaping and glass blowing techniques. In order to achieve the plants’ vivid hues, the Blaschkas used a combination of colored glass and cold painting. This painstaking process certainly paid off: to this day, the Glass Flowers are among the museum’s most unique and treasured collections, and a consistent crowd-pleaser. During my time with Fruits in Decay, the gallery was never empty, and visitors eagerly engaged with docents ready to explain the history and construction of the flowers. “Are they really glass?” is a frequent question you overhear. The models are part teaching tool, part optical illusion.

The mold-ravaged berries and blighted pears of Fruits in Decay were all created by Rudolf Blaschka toward the end of his life, between 1924 and 1932, as part of a commission by then-Director of the Botanical Museum Oakes Ames. Concerned about the aging glass artist’s ability to pull off the ambitious project, Ames sent Mary Lee Ware to his Dresden studio to observe Blaschka’s creative process. Ware captured this experience, which she described as “breathless to watch,” in a letter to Ames, now excerpted and displayed on panels alongside the fruits themselves. Reading Ware’s firsthand account of the studio and Rudolf’s meticulous work is transporting, and it will surely enrich visitors’ understanding of the models as an artistic accomplishment.

Of course, the fruits encourage visitors not only to find the beauty in unexpected places but to learn more about the depth of our connection to the natural world. They model a variety of botanical ailments and injuries, from mold to fire blight, soft rot to frost damage, that can have a profound effect on daily life, an idea that feels especially poignant in a time when the effects of climate change and the importance of sustainability are increasingly urgent. In a video about the special exhibit, Donald H. Pfister, curator of the Farlow Library and Herbarium of Cryptogamic Botany and Asa Gray Professor of Systematic Botany, notes that one of the most “topical and important” lessons visitors can take from the collection is a newfound appreciation of “food security and food sources.”

“It’s another way to reach out and reach the public,” says Pfister, “and because of its beauty, because of the rarity of these models, and because of the stories that we can tell around the apples and their diseases, we think that the public will leave with a broader appreciation of both museums and of biology of plants.”

When you’ve finished taking in these fuzzy fruits, be sure to venture further into the museum, where you can see the Blaschka models of invertebrate animals on display.

For more information about Fruits in Decay and the Glass Flowers, visit:


The Rainbow Arcade at Schwules Museum

Banner from Rainbow Arcade Kickstarter
Banner from Rainbow Arcade Kickstarter

by Jonathan Fryerwood

The RAINBOW ARCADE exhibition hosted at the Schwules Museum in Berlin presented itself as the first major exhibition of queer content in video games. The event ran from December 2018 to May of this year. The project was overseen by the museum and the LGBTQ Video Game Archive, whose mission involves documenting the history of the LGBTQ community in video games.

Entrance to Rainbow Arcade, originally published at:

Spanning from the 1980’s to the present, the exhibit featured both well known mainstream titles that involve queer content, and independent works by queer creators. Items on display included playable games, preserved documentations of online game communities, concept art, and even modifications and “hacks” by queer fans that seek to adjust or add relevant content to existing games. The official press release for the exhibit states that it “[took] stock of contemporary pop cultural questions of representation, stereotypical and discriminatory narratives in entertainment media, and our cultural memory.” To this end it highlighted the often turbulent history of queer themes in prominant games. Harmful stereotypes, underwhelming romantic narratives compared to straight counterparts, and disingenuous representation have been issues in the game industry since the beginning, and the curators of RAINBOW ARCADE aimed to show how things have changed and how they have not over the years. Conversely, underground and “indie” spaces have a long history of of queer art and community that has hardly been documented. The digital history of these communities, often hosted on abandoned forums and outdated operating systems, is ephemeral and much of it has already been lost to time. By preserving and highlighting these materials, RAINBOW ARCADE provides a valuable view into a small but vital part of the twentieth century pop culture zeitgeist.

The project was realized in part by a Kickstarter campaign in 2018. The Kickstarter allowed the RAINBOW ARCADE team to produce a catalog of the exhibit and its featured games, which boasts the claim of being the first comprehensive guide to the queer history of video games. Though initially only given to Kickstarter backers, the book is now available for purchase. The success of this campaign allowed for not only the exhibit and catalog themselves, but an extensive supplemental program as well.

Rainbow Arcade exhibit, originally published at:

The RAINBOW ARCADE exhibition is the result of a collaboration between the Schwules Museum, Temple University, and the LGBTQ Video Game Archive, and it was funded by the Berlin Senate Department for Culture and Europe. It was an official part of gamesweekberlin, an industry-wide networking event hosted by Berlin-based tech company Booster Space.

The LGBTQ Video Game Archive is a grassroots organization that, by its own admission, is not a “true” archive. Though it has not yet collected enough primary materials to consider itself a full archive, it does maintain a database of information spanning over 1000 LGBTQ and queerly read games, aimed to be a resource for researchers. The success of RAINBOW ARCADE has afforded the organization greater visibility and attention, which will hopefully lead to similar projects in the future and allow for the collection of more objects.

Modernism at Harvard Law: Celebrating 100 Years of Bauhaus

by Lindsay Olsen

All across the Cambridge campus from February to July, Harvard University is commemorating the birth of Bauhaus, the modernist school of art founded by German designer Walter Gropius in 1919. Events are on the calendar showcasing some of the school’s most creative affiliates, whose material is housed at the Harvard Art Museums, Harvard Film Archives, and Houghton Library. But it may come as a surprise that Bauhaus’s deepest connections are to Harvard Law School, which became home to the campus’s first example of modern architecture.

In 1948, HLS Dean Erwin Griswold commissioned Gropius, then a professor at the School of Art and Design, to build a $1.5 million student residence hall and common area in his signature utilitarian style, featuring heavy concrete and exposed support beams. The structure was christened Harkness Commons, and provided communal facilities that HLS was sorely lacking. Since the building is still in use today as the Caspersen Student Center, HLS wanted to take advantage of the centennial to share a little history about the spaces in which their students live and work every day.

On February 4, the Harvard Law Library Historical & Special Collections opened “Creating Community: Harvard Law School and the Bauhaus” in the Caspersen Room, the library building’s grand reception suite. Exhibit promotion kicked off on March 15 with a special edition of “Fridays @ Four,” a regular social event series hosted by the Human Resources department. Although Caspersen’s ornate décor gives off a strong “do not touch” vibe (the rare book collection lining the walls lives behind a thick sheet of glass), guests were invited to mingle freely with cocktails among a full spread of hors d’oeuvres. It wasn’t long before students and staff poured in, happily chatting and munching on chicken skewers while perusing four traditional display cases containing the photographic history of the modern art movement and the origins of Bauhaus at Harvard.

Of particular interest to attendees was the “Student Voices” display, featuring images from the archives of students, faculty, and Gropius’s team interacting during the planning process, as well as documentation of the overwhelming student input Harvard received about the project. Archival issues of the HLS publication, the Bulletin, pointed to the delay in allowing women to integrate into the space. Other exhibit cards blended historical reactions to the style of the building with present-day quotes from some of the former students who occupied the 364 starkly-decorated dormitories – most were humorously negative.

Statements from alums Elizabeth Papp Kamali and Arthur Greenbaum draw attention to the Joan Miró mural commissioned by Gropius to occupy a large space within the student center dining facility, unbeknownst to many who visit. Other artistic details remain hidden in plain sight, including brick reliefs by Josef Albers, glasswork by Herbert Bayer, and a wood sculpture by Hans Arp. Based on the minimal student reactions to the art over the last few decades, curators have guessed that many of the pieces have “faded into the background.” The “Creating Community” webpage states that, among other things, the exhibit will “[help] students get reacquainted with the art around them.”

Curated by HSC Manager Karen Beck and Public Services & Visual Collections Administrator Lesley Schoenfeld, “Creating Community: Harvard Law School and the Bauhaus” remains on view every day from 9:00am-5:00pm in the Caspersen Room through July 31, 2019. For those outside the Boston-Cambridge area, a truncated version of the exhibit has been made available online.



Botticelli: Heroines + Heroes at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

by Hannah Elder

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was created as the vision of its founder and namesake. Isabella Stewart Gardner created the museum as an aesthetic space, surrounding visitors with beauty and inviting them to think about the ways different arrangements of objects and art made them feel. Although she often rearranged the art in the museum, she wanted her vision to be preserved, and wrote a clause into her will that effectively prevented the rearrangement of the collection.  For many years, this restriction limited the museum’s exhibition program, but in 2012, the Gardner opened a new wing of the museum, designed by architect Renzo Piano. In this space, the Gardner has been able to use items in its collection in new ways, bringing them out of the context of Mrs. Gardner’s arrangements and bringing new perspectives to them.

The museum’s latest exhibition, Botticelli: Heroines + Heroes, uses contemporary cartoons to interpret Renaissance depictions of ancient Roman stories and brings those stories to a modern audience. The center of the exhibition is a pair of paintings by Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli: the Story of Lucretia and the Story of Virginia. They depict the stories of two women whose deaths brought about political change in ancient Rome. They were painted as a pair, but are now in separate collections; the Gardner owns Lucretia, while Accademia Carrara in Bergamo, Italy owns Virginia. This exhibit is the first time they have been reunited. In the exhibit, the Gardner pairs the paintings with cartoons it commissioned from Boston-based graphic artist Karl Stevens.

    One set of cartoons tells the story of how Mrs. Gardner acquired the Story of Lucretia. They are the first pieces of art the visitors encounter and help establish the importance of Botticelli’s work. The rest of the cartoons highlight the paintings’ relevance in the modern world, both stylistically and in terms of content. When the paintings and cartoons are placed side-by-side, it’s easy to see how Botticelli’s bold lines and bright colors relate to the work of today’s graphic artists. The cartoons also draw the viewers’ focus back to the women at the center of the stories. While looking at Botticelli’s work, where there are several scenes of a story in a single panel, the modern viewer can lose sight of the women’s central roles. The cartoons focus on the women and their experiences and are easier for the modern audience to understand. While it’s not clear whether the exhibit was originally designed with the intention of connecting the museum’s collection to the #MeToo era, the cartoons make the connection clear. The combination of the original paintings and the cartoons invite the viewer to contemplate the role that violence against women has played in politics and major events throughout history.

    The museum is using a few methods to advertise the exhibition. They often use ads on public transportation, like the sides of buses and posters on the T, to promote the museum, and they used them for this exhibition. They are also using sponsored content on social media, probably with the goal of reaching people outside of the Boston area who appreciate art and  museums. They also feature the exhibit in their non-sponsored content, including frequent posts and an opportunity to have questions about the exhibit answered in the Stories feature of the museum’s Instagram account. The exhibition was also featured in many publications, including Forbes, The Boston Globe, and Architectural Digest.

    In addition to the exhibition itself, the museum  scheduled a variety of programs to compliment it. They included a staged reading of an opera about the lives of Virginia and Lucretia and  talks on violence in Renaissance art, the art of Botticelli, and connections between the art and today’s social activism. The events appear to be successful; two of the three upcoming events are sold out and there was high attendance at the opera.

    Botticelli: Heroines + Heroes brings the collection of the Gardner museum into the modern world, exploring themes relevant to today and across time. The exhibition is open through May 19, 2019. For more information, visit

The Life and Serendipitous Afterlife of a Picture Postcard Exhibit

by Alden Ludlow


Alden Ludlow Greets Visitors at the Wellesley Historical Society

About a year ago I was tasked with putting together an exhibit for the small reading room at the Wellesley Historical Society. Having just reorganized and processed our Picture Postcard Collection, I decided it was ripe for use, featuring many images of a long-past Wellesley. The original exhibit morphed in unexpected directions. I have been able to adapt it for uses in different contexts, and it is becoming a versatile, expandable advocacy and outreach tool.

Our reading room is really a reading room in name only. It is a small, approximately 300-square-foot, multi-use space. Researchers do their work here; collection accession and processing occurs here. It serves as a lunchroom and as a space where the board of directors and various committees meet. As such, most of the people who spend time in the space are board members, volunteers, and staff. It is more of an “in-reach” space than an “out-reach” space.

My first task was to select postcards for the exhibit; my plan was to put enlargements of postcards on the limited wall space, and fill the display cabinet with items reflecting the related elements of postcard production and postal history. I developed selections based on three criteria, and ended up with about 25 enlarged postcards and a number of items for our small display cabinet.

First, the most interesting postcards were those manufactured during what has been called the “Golden Age of Postcards,” 1907 to 1915. Changes in postal regulations regarding the content and presentation of postcards led to an explosion of inexpensive, artistic cards featuring local landmarks all over the country. Many of the cards were manufactured in Germany, and World War I led to the decline in their quality and popularity.

Second, I wanted to highlight postcard use during that time. Often called the “postcard craze,” this time period found people using the cards much as we use social media today. At the time, most of the writers of the cards were educated, upper-middle class women. Wellesley, a wealthy town, with the added prestige of Wellesley College, was exactly the demographic postcards appealed to. My criteria were that the cards had to have correspondence written on them, which I could use to highlight the social situation of the time. The correspondence provided a window into the context of a limited span of time and space. Also, by 1903, Kodak had developed a camera which could take pictures that could be directly printed onto a postcard back; we had a number of these unique cards, portraying people from the town (including the 1913 Wellesley High School football team). These cards were exchanged or mailed to friends, usually within the town, and their uniqueness added a personal element to what was generally a mass-produced industry even then. I also obtained one of the cameras at a sale, to further enhance the display cabinet.

Third, I felt a number postcards chosen for the exhibit should challenge viewers in some way. Initially, I thought it would be difficult to “problematize” a postcard exhibit, but as I looked at the cards, it became clear that many of the buildings depicted had been torn down, some of them in recent years. Adding a subtle twist to the choices, I was able to highlight much of Wellesley’s lost architectural heritage. Later, I found out that the Wellesley Historical Commission found this highlighting less than subtle. Success! I managed to make a postcard exhibit controversial!

Once the exhibit was up, I immediately started planning a way to “capture” and archive it; I figured it would be up for a year or two. I put together a simple PowerPoint presentation in a way that reflected the flow of the exhibit, and captured all of its textual and artistic elements. Since we had the cards enlarged for use, we had high-quality scans of the images and related correspondence elements. I took photographs of the artifacts in the display case. This record of the exhibit was intended to be archival; it would come alive later on.

I had put together the “catalog” of the exhibit on my own time, and once I was finished with it I sent it to our executive director, and curator, so they would have it as a record of the exhibit. Board members were pleased with the exhibit, and at some point, the “catalog” circulated among them.

I began to ruminate. We didn’t have the funding to produce a real exhibit catalog, but I began to think about reworking the catalog into a more colorful presentation which I could then present to the board and volunteers. Sort of a slide show of the exhibit, but with added elements and without the limiting constraints of four walls. I could literally “spread out” and add elements, and better organize the flow of sectional elements I had incorporated into the exhibit (People/Vanished Buildings/The Great Outdoors/Postcard History and Use).

As I was thinking about these things, I was not aware that my archival “record” presentation was making the rounds with board members. I suspect some confluence of shared board members between institutions led David Ball, the executive director at the Spellman Museum of Stamps and Postal History, and Henry Lukas, their education director, to contact me about doing a presentation based on the “catalog” I had created.

Philatelists know the Spellman, but the museum, sitting on the bucolic campus of St. Regis College in Weston, has an international reach and a successful local all-ages education program. Stamp collecting may appeal to a small segment of the population, but the topics postage stamps cover is vast; it is this subject-based approach which is at the core of their programs. They were interested in the postcard exhibit on many levels, particularly from a postal history perspective.

I set out to revamp the postcard PowerPoint into a full-fledged presentation, separating text from images, pulling quotes from correspondence for the individual slides, and adding images of the reverse of many of the cards. Having been a stamp collector as a youngster, it was easy for me to add a section to the presentation on how stamp and postcard history overlapped.

By September 2017, I was ready to go, with a 45-minute presentation which covered Wellesley history, stamp collecting, postcards and postcard history, the social context of postcard use, and actual correspondence from the cards. The early decision I had made to use only postcards which had been used as correspondence paid off. The small reading room exhibit had morphed into a compact yet comprehensive presentation, its scope and content widely expanded.

The evening of the presentation at the Spellman I realized that this collaboration was a perfect fit: the audience of about 45 included philatelists, amateur historians, and postcard collectors. The time I had spent processing the collection, putting up the exhibit, and assembling the presentation was crucial in being able to make the presentation an interactive experience; I was open to questions, had the answers, and lively discussion was incorporated into the process. The presentation ended up being over an hour. Many of the people who had attended brought postcards and stamps with them, and this led to an informal show-and-tell reception.

Sometimes collaboration is planned, sometimes it is serendipitous, as it was in this case. I kept pushing the boundaries of our small exhibit, and new opportunities presented themselves. While the exhibit and the eventual presentation were steps removed from encountering the postcards as primary sources, the process was in keeping with the education mission and vision of the Wellesley Historical Society. The collaboration with the Spellman allowed for expansion of the presentation for broader outreach, sparking interest from people of different, yet overlapping, interests. In discussions following the presentation, it was clear that what I had done could be replicated for surrounding towns.

While the outreach impacts of the presentation are easily measured, what is less easy to quantify is how the success of the presentation has looped back around and has made staff advocacy within the Society’s board of directors easier. Often boards have a difficult time determining what archivists do, but when they pick up the newspaper and read about the impact a presentation had within a segment of the population, the educational mission seems clearer. Additionally, they have become more open to new ways of doing things with the collections to broaden the audience.

In a final note, my “poking” of the Wellesley Historical Commission has taken a turn. Initially unhappy that I subtly suggested they were not capable of their role in historic preservation, they have now expressed an interest in having the presentation at one of their meetings. We may soon see if I am up to the task of doing outreach in the Lion’s Den.


Wellesley Historical Society:

Spellman Museum of Stamps and Postal History:

Wellesley Historical Commission:

Smithsonian postcard history:



The Rihanna Experience at the Museum of Science

The Rihanna Experience at the Museum of Science

by Ariel Barnes

The Rihanna Experience at the Museum of Science, Boston is a planetarium show unlike any other. For $10 visitors can listen to the greatest hits of Rihanna while being dazzled by a light show projected onto the planetarium’s screen. Developed as part of the SubSpace Project, The Rihanna Experience is part of a series that combines music from popular artists and the technology of the Charles Hayden Planetarium. When the Museum of Science created the SubSpace project in 2016, the first show featured the music of David Bowie. The planetarium shows were so popular that the Museum had multiple showings of The David Bowie Experience. Now, the Museum features two musical experiences each month, in addition to the Laser Floyd show – a staple in the planetarium from the 1970s.

Calling the planetarium show an experience is incredibly appropriate. The shows last approximately 40 minutes, but it feels like no time at all. The creators in the Museum of Science expertly pair the songs with amazing visuals. Images float across the screen in an almost dizzying manner, weaving and blending into scenes that astound. Using more than just lasers projected onto the planetarium screen the SubSpace Project shows utilize 3D animations and other software to amaze viewers. For The Rihanna Experience this includes but is not limited to images of diamonds floating through the sky while the song Diamonds plays. During another song a set of disembodied eyes float across images of a city skyline on the planetarium screen. Audible sighs of amazement and wonder fill the planetarium during the show.

The SubSpace Project is part of the exciting summer adult programming at the Museum of Science but the program was so popular they expanded the series and they now have shows outside of the summer months. Attendees of all SubSpace Project programs must be at least 18 years old. This year they continued the summer series with the addition of shows featuring the music of Rihanna, Justin Timberlake, and Coldplay. The series is aimed at bringing adults into the Museum of Science by using the technology available within the museum in fun and interesting ways. The shows will not teach you about the night sky but the combination of visuals and music create a concert experience that is not possible at any other venue.

Using the state of the art technology available in the Museum of Science the staff crafted shows for many artists including Prince, Beyoncé, Björk, and Tom Waits in 2016. The shows are designed to reflect the work of the artist. The Museum of Science created a multimedia experience for the Björk show that reflected the tone and atmosphere of her work, while The Prince Experience’s visuals were a celebration and accompaniment for the album Purple Rain. The Lady Gaga Experience at the Museum of Science was a massive event, that included more than just the planetarium. The Lady Gaga Experience titled “Monster’s Ball” was a one night only event in 2016 that invited adults to party at the Museum of Science.

In October, the Museum of Science invited lovers of retro scary movies to watch films in the planetarium on Saturdays with its Saturday Night Creature Features. Every Saturday in the month of October the museum featured a different retro scary movie, including The Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. Over the summer as part of the blockbuster exhibit POPnology the museum had showings of classic science fiction movies in the planetarium. Each of these events were part of the Museum of Science’s push for adult programming.

The planetarium at the Museum of Science is also the home of some other blockbuster shows, including the upcoming program Synesthesia Suite: Constellations. On November 30th the Museum of Science will have two performances by artist Mary Bichner and the Planetary Quartet. Like the SubSpace Project this program is designed for adults, with the museum saying that adults are the recommended audience on their website. The museum promises that the event will be a magical night that combines synesthesia, music, and stars. For this concert, the music is accompanied by live visuals projected onto the screen. The event is guaranteed to be unlike any other concert. Programming like the musical experiences, movie nights, and unique concerts allows the Museum of Science to offer adults living in the Boston area a truly one of kind experience, while still using the technology available at the museum. Fun and unique adult programming at the Museum of Science shows to visitors that the museum is not just for elementary school trips but an engaging destination for everyone.

Currently playing in the planetarium is The Rihanna Experience and The Justin Timberlake Experience.

You can learn more about the SubSpace Project here:

Boston globe article

WBUR ARTery article

Nixon Now: Divisions on Display

by Jessica Chapel

The entrance to the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum
The Entrance to the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum

You can’t cut an American president out of history. How, then, do you represent a president driven from office in disgrace and his complicated legacy? During a recent California trip, I took a detour on my way from Los Angeles to San Diego to ask those questions.

The Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum opened in Yorba Linda — a one-time farm town in Orange County — in 1990, 16 years after the 37th president became the first president to resign from office. Unlike every other president since Franklin D. Roosevelt, Nixon did not plan to donate his library to the National Archives. It was a privately run institution supported by the Nixon Foundation, holding the president’s diaries and his pre-presidential papers.

Congress controlled his administration’s records, more than 44 million pages of documents, plus photographs, film — and the infamous tapes. The 1974 Presidential Recordings and Materials Act gave custody of the presidential files to the Archivist of the United States, a move intended to thwart any destruction of records from Nixon’s scandal-blighted presidency.

Feelings about Watergate and Nixon’s record were still running high when the library opened and museum director John Taylor postponed making two Watergate tapes available. Historians complained about the withholding of materials as much as they did the slant of the exhibits and the presentation of the one Watergate tape incorporated into a display, a decision that Taylor defended as a matter of serving visitors.

“The fact that we are the Nixon library does not deprive us of the ability and indeed the responsibility of placing the information we present in some historical context,” he told the New York Times. “Some people use the word ‘cover-up,’ and what they’re saying is that in fact they do not wish for the Nixon library to put forth its interpretation of this document.”

In 2007, after decades-long legal wrangling, the National Archives assumed administration of the Nixon library and museum, and the presidential records were moved to Yorba Linda. The transfer culminated in a wholesale renovation of the exhibits that closed the museum for a year, a joint project with the Nixon Foundation. The museum reopened to the public in October 2016.

One year later, I was waiting with a dozen other early birds on a Sunday morning for the library’s doors to open. I wanted to see how the revamped galleries told the story of a president whose name has become synonymous with abuse of power, a politician who has been both pop culture joke and high culture inspiration, the subject of numerous biographies, and a man who attempted to craft his own myth from the first sentence of his 1977 memoir: “I was born in a house my father built.”

The conflict in how Nixon figures in cultural memory is matched by a seeming conflict in how the dual keepers of his library and legacy manage outreach and advocacy.

On the Nixon library social media channels managed by the Nixon Foundation — Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat — posts tend toward Nixon’s acknowledged successes, White House events, and happy family moments. Most of the comments on these channels are positive, but there are instances when followers misunderstand who is posting and why: “If you knew the month and date why didn’t you include it instead of all those unnecessary hashtags?,” one commenter asked on Instagram, seeking the original date of a photo. “We are not an archival page,” the account replied.

Earlier this year, a Nixon library tweet was interpreted as trolling president Donald Trump, prompting a public rebuke from the National Archives.

The Nixon library social channels were also used to question the work of filmmaker Ken Burns, whose Vietnam War documentary aired on PBS in September. “There is no factual support for anything in this sentence,” read one Instagram post, referring to a point on page 347 of the companion book to the film.

Both the National Archives and the Nixon Foundation maintain web pages for the library and museum. The .gov site is oriented to researchers, with information on newly released materials and upcoming events. The .org site is a slicker home for the foundation’s other programs in addition to the library and museum. It was the Nixon Foundation that used its site to respond to Nixon biographer Jon Farrell, who — citing a note written by Nixon aide H.R. Haldeman that Farrell found while doing research at the Nixon library — wrote that Nixon subverted president Lyndon Johnson’s peace efforts in Vietnam late in the 1968 presidential campaign.

Misunderstanding a monkey wrench,” answered the foundation, arguing that Farrell’s interpretation came down to a dash.

Walking through the exhibits, I catch Nixon’s 1972 reelection jingle: “Nixon now, Nixon now, more than ever, Nixon now.” The galleries are bright and interactive. In the Nixon in China room, visitors can pose for pictures with cutouts of the president and First Lady at the Great Wall. At another exhibit, visitors can lift the earpiece of a phone and hear segments of Nixon’s taped calls. Even FDR taped conversations in the oval office, the exhibit tells me. “Tough choices,” blares another, inviting me to struggle — via touchscreen — with the sort of decisions the president had to make.

I come to the Watergate gallery, and if it’s no longer a darkened room occasionally haunted by Haldeman, it is still an unwelcoming room with text-heavy exhibits. I’m not sure who it’s for — amid all the words, the impression is of a reckoning avoided.

Read more:

James Worsham, “Nixon’s Library Now a Part of NARA,” Prologue Magazine, Fall 2007.

Andrew Gumbel, “The Last Battle of Watergate,” Pacific Standard, December 8, 2011.

Christine Mai-Duc, “The ‘New’ Nixon Library’s Challenge: Fairly Depicting a ‘Failed Presidency’,” Los Angeles Times, August 16, 2016.

Electric Youth at the Boston Science Museum

by Jessica Hoffman

Boston Museum of Science Theater of Electricity

Two large metal mushrooms loomed above me, barely obscured by the thin shield of wiry threads fencing them in. The room glowed with an otherworldly light. The air crackled with spiraling energy. Suddenly, the loudest noise I’d ever heard pierced my ears as a white-hot jagged beam of magic erupted from the machine, cracking rhythmically against the metal.

The Museum of Science was making lightning again.

It’s the first school trip I can remember. I don’t know how old I was. I don’t remember much else about the museum (other than grade schoolers arguing about the merits of astronaut ice cream.) I don’t even remember much else about the show. But years later, I can still hear the humming and the cracks. I can still feel the anticipation and fear humming through my body. I can still remember how bright it was. How beautiful and how terrifying.

Boston’s Museum of Science tries to be as interactive as possible. The lightning shows are one of the rare moments when visitors must sit, watch, listen, and most definitely not touch anything. They are also one of the Museum’s evergreen showstoppers.

The shows are a demonstration of the world’s largest Van de Graff generator: 40 feet high and over 80 years old. It was built in 1933 at MIT but, after technology moved on, the generator moved as well, relocating to the Museum as a permanent exhibit and a field trip staple for most Massachusetts school children.

The Museum puts on hundreds of lightning shows a year, thrilling and terrifying people of all age groups. In keeping with the spirit of the Museum, the exhibit is a practical and approachable demonstration. Shows last for 20 minutes and use clear language — science for everyone. Presenters use fancy scientific words, but also explain concepts in clear ways that relate to our everyday lives. Which, in turn, allows us to understand the basics of electric current without a physics degree or hours watching science documentaries.

Most importantly, it is memorable, not only because of the lightning crashes, but because of the presentation. The show not only teaches us about electricity with words, it also shows us practical demonstrations. Using tools like light bulbs, props like child volunteers, and humor, the presenters explain core concepts of electricity such as conductors, current, and why we won’t get electrocuted if we stay inside our cars.

The exhibit impressed on me at an early age some core concepts. Science doesn’t need to be scary. It can be fun. The same holds true for other types of museum exhibits. Not everything can be participatory. Not everything can be a blockbuster or a spectacular show. But every exhibit, if done right, can take a topic that might seem boring or dry and make it fascinating. We just need to find a way to make people not only understand what they are learning, but care and take it away with them.

Good storytelling transcends age groups and interests. If we present our stories in compelling ways, if we talk to our audiences in clear voices, if we talk and write and exhibit for the everyman, not the archivist or curator, we expand our reach. We can’t talk down to people and treat them like they don’t belong in our world. Nor can we terrify them with complicated jargon. But if we tell good stories and reach out — even to caged audiences of elementary school kids intimidated by the topic — some will listen.

Years later, the Museum of Science has always remained one of my favorite places in town and the place I’m most likely to recommend to tourists. Because I remember my experience there. I remember the joy and wonder. And I trust that the Museum will allow others to experience those same feelings.

I moved back to Boston last year and returned to the Museum for the first time in years in the middle of the winter. My science reporter best friend in tow, we explored every inch of the exhibits, playing with all the exhibits with abandon and learning new ways to look at things. We hadn’t budgeted the lightning show into our visit, but we still snuck in near the end. And while I might be years older, while I might understand the science behind the magic, the spectacle hasn’t dimmed.




Meet Lorna Condon, Senior Curator for Historic New England

by Anna Faherty

Lorna Condon, the Senior Curator of Library and Archives at Historic New England, was kind enough to meet with me this week and tell me about the collections and programs her institution offers. In her position of senior curator Lorna deals with archival acquisitions, and works on publications, exhibits, and grant writing, among other aspects of archival work. She says she finds it extremely rewarding to help connect people with historical and archival objects that inspire them.

Historic New England is a regional organization encompassing 37 historic properties in five New England States: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. The organization was started by William Sumner Appleton in 1910. Appleton hoped to preserve architecture and artifacts that would tell the stories of the daily life of New Englanders, and not only of famous historical figures. Collections that Appleton began are integral parts of the collection today, for example, the ephemera collection and the documentary photograph collection. The library and archives at Historic New England include photos, architectural drawings, postcards, books, periodicals, and manuscripts. Many collections of photographs have been digitized and are available on the Historic New England website. Explore the collections of Historic New England:

Historic New England is focused on preserving, maintaining, and making accessible objects associated with the region’s history. Though the organization began in Massachusetts, it maintains buildings in all New England states except for Vermont. Historic New England has developed collaborative partnerships in Vermont through public programs, lectures on New England history, workshops for homeowners, loans of material to exhibitions, and a field school for preservation students and professionals.

An important group of stakeholders in Historic New England are those living in historic homes they would like to preserve. Through the easement program, Historic New England partners with these homeowners to help legally deed preservation maintenance into their ownership documents to protect their houses in perpetuity. By helping to manage the care of private historic homes, the organization can assist in the preservation of New England heritage outside of the traditional realms of public institutions like museums. Other users of the archive at Historic New England include historians, architects, students of all ages, filmmakers, and community members from various localities throughout the region.

Within the organization, the library and archives provide resources for staff members from various departments: marketing, exhibition, preservation, and publication, to name a few. The archive provides information and artifacts which are featured in exhibits at various locations, including online, in magazines, promotional materials, and books. There are also external groups and individuals which Historic New England reaches with various programs, workshops, partnerships, and exhibitions. Every year, the organization gives awards to authors of books of new research about the material culture of New England, and to collections of works on paper which make significant contributions to history. These awards serve to forge bonds between researchers, collectors, and Historic New England, in order to promote and recognize the value of historical scholarship.

Historic New England partners with various organizations in order to broaden their user base and expand their collections. Some of their partners in exhibit creation, programming, digitization, and grant collaboration include: The Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), The Boston Athenaeum, state initiatives such as the Maine Photo Project, schools like Berwick Academy, and professional associations such as the American Alliance of Museums. The program Everyone’s History grew out of community involvement in events relating to the 100th anniversary of the organization. Everyone’s History partners Historic New England with community groups all over the region to tell the stories they are passionate about. Some of the outcomes of these projects are oral histories, books, exhibits, documentaries and ongoing programs. Partners include museums and historical societies, public school systems, religious organizations, LGBT groups, workers associations, preservation trusts, and even a yacht club! Learn more about Everyone’s History:

Everyone’s History has helped Historic New England reach potential users from diverse communities, and provides an ongoing connection to groups that represent New England daily life in the modern world and historically. A great example is the Haymarket Project, a collaboration between Historic New England, the Haymarket Pushcart Association, and photographer Justin H. Goodstein. The project documents the lives and traditions of vendors at Haymarket and the history, changes, and challenges of the market. The relationship between Haymarket and Historic New England has continued, and on October 20th, a program hosted by Historic New England and the Haymarket Pushcart Association called “Taste of Haymarket” explores its history and culture for interested members of the public. More information about the “Taste of Haymarket” event can be found here:








Sarah E. Dunne of the Owls Head Transportation Museum


Sarah E Dunne, Archivist for the Owls Head Transportation Museum

by Nicholas Glade

The Owls Head Transportation Museum is a unique institution; therefore, it needs an archivist willing to step up to a variety of tasks and challenges. Enter Sarah Dunne! As a head Archivist, she performs a wide variety of different activities each day to keep the museum, archives, and library up and running. On any given day Sarahmight be doing any combination of the following things: cataloging, tracking down WWI memorabilia from Maine politicians, digitizing archival materials, supervising volunteers, or working with maintenance crews to keep bi-planes in working order, as well as arranging research partnerships with New Zealand and Japan. Of course, these tasks are just the tip of the iceberg of what Sarah Dunne does for the Owls Head Museum.

Since this museum is unique, Sarah has developed creative outreach programs that encompass a wide scope both thematically and geographically. A perfect example of the scope of Sarah’s outreach is a current project she is undertaking with an institution in New Zealand. This project aims to do a complete restoration of the Beech Staggerwing airplane used by Admiral Byrd for Antarctic exploration. On the library side of things Sarah is responsible for an impressive collection of manuals for vintage and antique vehicles. Since many of these manuals are rare and often relevant to vehicles in the museum’ collection, Sarah is also in charge of cataloging them and maintaining them in the museum’s library. These manuals also serve as an important outreach tool, since adding to them to the Owls Head collection involves reaching out to, or being consulted by, a variety of institutions and individuals. The upkeep needed for the vehicles means that Sarah often consults with her “gearhead” (a word used for car lovers and enthusiasts) friends and colleagues. As a result, her subject expertise goes well beyond the library field which conversely expands the museum’s scope of partnerships and collaborations considerably.

When it comes to collaborations within the museum field, Sarah has undertaken and initiated many interesting and effective projects. One of the most recent projects involved cross-promoting materials. Owls Head provided a scan of a WWI Scottish Royal Flying Corps pilot’s logbook in the museum’s collection to the RAF Museum in exchange for documents that provided more information about the pilot’s life and death. Another successful project involved an exchange with the Longfellow House in which Sarah not only provided their archivist with materials connected to a 1913 Rolls-Royce that first belonged to Alice Longfellow (daughter of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow), but also, with the assistance of the museum’s Ground Vehicle Coordinator, arranged for the visiting archivist to get a ride in this very Rolls-Royce. The Longfellow House archivist generously provided Sarah with copies of correspondence between Alice Longfellow and Rolls-Royce. Sarah has also collaborated with the Owls Head Transportation Museum’s two neighboring institutions; the Knox Museum and the Farnsworth Art Museum. These collaborations are attempts to “mix the artists and the gearheads” and for the three museums to attract audiences that wouldn’t normally visit them. The most recent of these exhibits was called The Art of Disaster, and some of the Owls Head Transportation Museum’s archival material related to aviation crashes and train wrecks was displayed alongside artwork from the collection of the Farnsworth Museum and from private collectors.

Due to the small population and community feel of Owls Head, Maine. Sarah also does community outreach and programming work. The museum’s antique vehicles and airplanes often make cameo appearances at parades and events, with their vintage airplane flyovers being a crowd favorite. The museum hosts multiple events and cruise-ins, which help present their collection to a large audience. Sarah often contributes historic information and images to the promotional materials for these events. Sarah also works closely with families in the area and elsewhere that have connections to early transportation history, and has even gotten donations from the family of a former governor of Maine.

Sarah’s job involves some fundraising. This means she can sometimes be found writing grants or meeting with potential donors. She occasionally even uses Owls Head’s antique vehicles to pick up donors and guests from the airport next to the museum. Sarah also contributes to the museum’s biggest fundraising event: the annual New England Auto AuctionTM. This event features an auction of special-interest vintage and modern vehicles This event is extremely popular with car collectors in North America and beyond (some phone bidders call in from Europe), and in turn an extremely well attended and popular summer event in Maine.