Brand-New Blog! Brand-New Tradition?

Ida McCall is the web and communications editor at Winterthur. She spends a lot of her time making sure commas and en-dashes are where they are supposed to be, but her main loves are writing and reading.

Volunteer Lonnie Dobbs (foreground) and registration database specialist Julia Hofer

Here at Winterthur, we are known for being traditional. Perhaps a little reserved. We keep our metaphorical white gloves on. (And the real ones too—you have to when you handle the objects!)

Among our traditions are learning about objects from centuries ago that reveal lives lived, values, and cultures—and then caring for those objects with the most up-to-date technology and practices. We mark each year with our traditional programs, celebrations, and fundraisers. We teach, we learn, we tend. We like to think—we hope!—that our institution is itself something of a tradition.

But you knew all that. What do you not know?

What do you want to know?

As individuals, it has generally been our tradition to stay in the background, typically publishing in scholarly journals or catalogues, doing our jobs, and not really tooting our own horns.

But perhaps some traditions should be broken. Maybe it’s time we got those horns going.

So let me let you in on a little secret: Winterthur staff members are amazing and talented folks with fascinating stories to tell. We are artists, creative writers, musicians, hearth cookers, knitters, furnituremakers, rowers, and even dancers. Matthew Mickletz, Winterthur’s supervisor of preventive conservation, who is also a historical reenactor, is just one example.

Tintype of Matt Mickletz (left) and friend at the Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania

Here’s a bit of his story, in his own words:

I first got involved with reenacting about 14 years ago. My parents were nice enough to take me to Civil War reenactments as I was showing more and more interest in the topic around age 12. When I was almost 16, my dad said, “Okay, let’s stop watching and do it!” I couldn’t have been happier. Over the years I’ve participated in “battle” events, living histories that revolve more around teaching the public through our funny clothing etc., and school programs—my sister “loved” having her dad and big brother dress up in front of her 8th-grade history class! It’s also been another great to spend time with dad; mowing the lawn just didn’t have the same feel.

As I went through college, my interests grew into exploring other war eras, including World War II and, most recently, the Revolutionary War. One aspect that both initially drew me in and continues to propel my want to learn is the material culture and equipment of each era. With both the Civil War and Revolutionary War, I have been able to reproduce clothing and equipment based on research and studying originals. It has been rewarding two-fold: in being able to wear my hard work as well as in learning, in an intimate, hands-on way how it was made and, many times, why.

Curling iron and stand, Europe or North America, 1720–1810. Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont 1958.1120

Staff, volunteers, Members, donors, families visiting for the first time…everyone connected to Winterthur has a potential story to tell. And that’s not even taking into account the stories behind all the museum and library objects!

Trick box, Pennsylvania, 1878. Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont 1964.2019

While you might be familiar with some of the more “traditional” objects in the Winterthur collections, you may not know that this place is jam-packed with weird and wonderful, less familiar items that deserve attention too. Wax jacks, curling irons, trick boxes, odd 19th-century publications, paper dolls, tattoo design books, and—ahem—a “gentlemen’s amusement” just scratch the surface.

Gentlemen’s amusement, United States, 1800–1875. Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont 1965.2056

Welcome to Winterthur Unreserved, the museum and library blog, where we may not exactly take the gloves off, but where we hope to show a little more metaphorical skin and invite you to get to know us better.

AY81 M36 S. Marshall's illustrated almanac and pocket compendium, 1903. New York: J. B. Horner, 1902? Saul Zalesch Collection of American Ephemera

We plan on publishing once or twice every week. Look for new posts on Wednesdays and Fridays—or better yet, subscribe through an RSS reader so you don’t miss a single post. We look forward to hearing from you through the Comments at the end of each post and to having a conversation. We want to get to know you better too!

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