The Unknown Skills of a Curator

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WWII mannequin, Elmer,  working the dozer in the WWII Pacific Roads exhibit (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

When you hear the title museum curator, many thoughts may come to mind of the duties and qualities possessed by these museum professionals; preserves and interprets history, handles donations, designs exhibits, and lives a life similar to Indiana Jones or Lara Croft.  Although most of these are true (unfortunately not so much the life of Indiana Jones), did you know that many curators in small to medium sized museums install their own exhibits with the help of other staff members? We do not sit behind a desk all day. We can be found behind the scenes in our storage facilities or on the exhibit floor cleaning objects, mounting label copy, measuring pathways for accessibility, choosing colors, moving cases, and installing objects up until the moment new exhibits open and thereafter! Our work never ceases.

One of the many unknown skills museum curators possess is the ability to work with museum mannequins. This may not sound challenging, but the length of time it takes to undress mannequins, clean historical clothing, redress new mannequins, and pose them is daunting. Some of the tasks include; attaching their arms and legs, dressing the mannequins, stuffing their shirts to give them muscles and definition, and even giving a few haircuts! The hardest part of working with mannequins is posing them to become a part of the exhibit. The process of making a mannequin look natural in their pose is time consuming. Although some mannequins are considered flexible, it usually takes two to three staff members or volunteers to pose a mannequin into a position and then it takes a lot of small movements and different angles to make them look natural in their pose. Other mannequins which are meant to stand must be mounted on platforms with belts around their waists and then attached to the wall behind them so they do not fall over and hurt other artifacts or museum visitors.  

Working with mannequins is fun and entertaining, but also a lot of hard work. Who would have thought I would need to know how to tie a necktie or give haircuts as a curator? Unfortunately, these are not skills usually taught in a master’s program for museum studies,  but these are all great skills I am happy to have! So the next time you visit the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum and notice the posed mannequins around the museum, you now know how much time, effort, and care goes into creating a museum exhibit for our patrons to enjoy.

Curator’s Corner- Seabee Recruitment Caravan & Exhibit Truck

 

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Seabee Exhibit Truck (reproduction), used during the WWII Seabee nation-wide recruitment campaign (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

The U.S. Seabee Museum, with the help of the CEC/ Seabee Historical Foundation, has acquired a WWII reproduction of a Seabee Exhibit Truck which was used during the Seabee Nation-Wide Recruitment Campaign.  An original 1942 exhibit diorama from the museum’s collection is displayed in the truck.

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Recruitment Poster (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum

The recruiting campaign began in October 1942 and nation-wide tours launched in 1943 to spearhead the enlistment of 100,000 Seabees into the Naval Construction Battalion by the first of the year.  The Seabee recruitment caravans, also known as a “recruiting stations on wheels,” consisted of an exhibit truck and a recruitment cruiser. The caravans was accompanied by four enlisted men and two commissioned CEC officers who provided full information about enlisting with the Seabees. Men from ages 17 to 50 with construction experience were needed immediately to build bases on distant battlefronts.

 

“…one of the most interesting [exhibits] to have ever been produced by the navy department…The purpose of the display is to stimulate interest in enlistments in the Seabees, the construction battalion of the navy.”

                                                                                            -The Times Leader, August 1943

The exhibit truck’s diorama, depicted through the medium of miniature wax figures*, shows a complete landing operation carried out by the Seabees on Island “X” in the South Pacific. The dioramas showed Seabees clearing away tropical trees, building barracks, landing supplies and performing multiple other duties required of them in establishing island bases.

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Newspaper article announcing the arrival of the recruitment caravan, Middletown, OH Journal August 16, 1943

Prior to the Recruitment Caravan’s visit to each city, arrangements were made in advance to distribute special posters, have newspaper articles written, and to have announcements made by local radio stations of its arrival. Further publicity was made through local labor organizations and social clubs.

Upon arrival to visiting cities, the caravan was escorted into the city by a police escort and station wagon, accompanied by fanfare, music, and crowds. The vehicles usually “docked” in front of the county courthouse or city hall. In the evening the caravan would “anchor” at a local park where concerts were held before the showing of the Seabee motion picture “Builders for Battle” and “Sports of Sailormen”. The entire community was invited to see the movies free of charge and inspect the exhibit.

The Seabee Museum’s Exhibit Truck is modeled after one of the original trucks that toured the Midwest during the summer of 1943.  The recruitment caravan visited numerous cities in Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana during the two-month tour where an estimated 140,000 people viewed the exhibit diorama.

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Before displaying one of the original dioramas in the newly procured exhibit truck, the Naval History & Heritage Center (NHHC) Conservation Branch performed conservation treatment on the diorama with the goal to stabilize it and improve its aesthetic integrity for its upcoming exhibition.  The diorama was cleaned, distorted figures were stabilized, fallen or broken palm fronds were re-attached, and its background was fixed and painted.

Come visit the Seabee Exhibit Truck at the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum today and check out the newly conserved diorama.

*Miniature figures were made out of different materials including wax, putty, and paper mache

 

photo-of-robyn-for-curators-cornerMeet the Curator: Robyn King is pursuing her master’s degree in Museum Studies and Nonprofit Management through Johns Hopkins University. She earned her Bachelors in History and Anthropology from the State University of New York at Oneonta. She has experience working at state museums, historic sites, the National Park Service, and most recently the Navy. She is an expert in collection management, and has worked closely with both natural and cultural collections. Robyn loves all museums and sharing her love of history. When she is not working, she is volunteering her time with the National Peace Corps Association, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from West Africa.

Curator’s Corner- Blue Star Mother Flag

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Courtesy of the War Manpower Commission

Blue Star Mother Flags, also known as Service Flags or Blue Star Flags, represent a symbol of love, pride, hope, and grave concern for families who have members serving in the military during any period of war the United States is engaged in. The tradition of displaying the indoor flag began during World War I. The flag was originally designed and patented by Army Captain Robert L. Queisser of the 5th Ohio Infantry who had two sons serving on the front line. The flag would hang in the front window of the home with a blue star (or multiple blue stars) representing the number of their children or family members serving in a war.

During World War II, the practice of displaying the Blue Star Flag became much more widespread. On February 1, 1942 the first meeting of the Blue Star Mothers of America, Inc. was attended by 300 women in Flint, Michigan. The organization was founded as a Veteran Service Organization and was part of a movement to provide care packages to military members serving overseas and to assist families who encountered hardships as a result of their son or husband serving in the war. Quickly, chapters formed around the nation, and the Blue Star Flags of WWI reappeared in the windows of American homes once again. There were over 300,000 Seabee families in World War II who could display the Blue Star Mother’s official banner.

The U.S. Navy Seabee Museum has many Blue Star Mother artifacts within its collection including two which are currently on exhibit in the WWII Home Front display. The three blue stars on the flag represented the Baker sons fighting in WWII, and was proudly displayed by their mother. The pin was worn by the mother of WWII Seabee Chief Robert D. Jacobs. It is unique in that it combines the Seabee insignia, Navy anchors, and the Blue Star Flag.

Come visit the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum on Tuesday April 4, 2017 from 2-4pm to see the Blue Star Mother artifacts and other rarely seen artifacts from the collection at the Curator’s Corner event.

 

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Meet the Curator: Robyn King is pursuing her master’s degree in Museum Studies and Nonprofit Management through Johns Hopkins University. She earned her Bachelors in History and Anthropology from the State University of New York at Oneonta. She has experience working at state museums, historic sites, the National Park Service, and most recently the Navy. She is an expert in collection management, and has worked closely with both natural and cultural collections. Robyn loves all museums and sharing her love of history. When she is not working, she is volunteering her time with the National Peace Corps Association, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from West Africa.

Curator’s Corner- Artifact Spotlight: SCW Pin Seabee Sculpture

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SCW Pin Seabee Sculpture, created by SW2 (SCW) Fontaine & SW1 (SCW) Ramirez, Keflavik, Iceland, 2005 (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

A new addition to the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum’s permanent collection is a steel metal sculpture known as the SCW Pin Seabee. This modern style Seabee insignia incorporates the Seabee Combat Warfare Specialist insignia (SCW) which is prominently displayed on the sculpture along with a battle dressed Seabee. The sculpture was welded and brought to life by Steelworker 2nd Class (SCW) Fontaine & Steelworker 1st Class (SCW) Ramirez for the last Seabee Ball at Naval Air Station Keflavik (NASKEF), Iceland in 2005.

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SCW Insignia displayed on the sculpture

NASKEF is a former U.S. Navy base at Keflavik International Airport close to the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik. Built during World War II by the U.S. Army as part of its mission to protect Iceland and to secure northern Atlantic air routes, it served to ferry personnel, equipment, and supplies to Europe. In 1942, one of the first Seabee units was sent there to help construct Meeks Field, a main ferrying and transport airfield used for flights between the US and the UK.

 

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Map of Iceland, courtesy of Google Maps

U.S. forces withdrew from Iceland in 1947, only to return in 1951 with NATO members under a formal defense agreement to operate NASKEF. The base acted as a platform for several operational capabilities throughout the Cold War and in the modern arena. Seabee Detachments (DET) were assigned to NASKEF’s Public Works Department until the base was disestablished on September 8, 2006 and its facilities were turned back over to Iceland.

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Close up of the half man/ half bee Seabee (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

Presumably, the SCW Pin Seabee was created to show Seabee pride. The Seabee is represented having the head, arms, and torso of a man (GI Joe® figure), and four additional arms and the body of a bee. The Seabee is holding a wrench, hammer, welding torch, handgun, gas mask, and a rifle in each of his hands to show his construction abilities and his military prowess. As Steelworkers, the creators of the sculpture added an arc welding power supply in the foreground to highlight their Seabee rate. This sculpture is an example of how a new generation of Seabees portray themselves compared to the Disney-style bee. The museum is continuing to gather further information regarding the provenance of this Sculpture and welcomes any new information.

Visit the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum and see how the Seabee insignia has evolved since its creation in 1942.

photo-of-robyn-for-curators-cornerMeet the Curator: Robyn King is pursuing her master’s degree in Museum Studies and Nonprofit Management through Johns Hopkins University. She earned her Bachelors in History and Anthropology from the State University of New York at Oneonta. She has experience working at state museums, historic sites, the National Park Service, and most recently the Navy. She is an expert in collection management, and has worked closely with both natural and cultural collections. Robyn loves all museums and sharing her love of history. When she is not working, she is volunteering her time with the National Peace Corps Association, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from West Africa.

Curator’s Corner- Davisville Stained Glass

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Original stained glass window from the Chapel in the Pines in Davisville, Rhode Island (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

Davisville, Rhode Island is the birthplace of the Seabees and was a strategic location for Seabees serving during the Cold War. The Navy acquired the property in 1939, and built the Naval Air Station Quonset Point. In 1942, adjoining properties were developed for training Seabees, including Advanced Base Depot (ABD) Davisville. After WWII, ABD Davisville was placed in caretaker status until August 8, 1951, when it was reactivated as Naval Construction Battalion Center (NCBC) Davisville due to the intensification of the Cold War. The base played a significant role during the Cold War by supporting advance base construction, emergency public works, and participating in special task force projects. The active duty mission of the base was disestablished in 1974. All active duty units were transferred to Gulfport or Port Hueneme and NCBC Davisville was changed to reserve status. Reserve NCBC Davisville officially closed on April 1, 1994.

 

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Chapel in the Pines, base chapel in Davisville, Rhode Island (Courtesy of the CEC/ Seabee Historical Foundation

“The Chapel in the Pines” was the base chapel of NCBC Davisville built by the Seabees in 1963. At construction, it was the only poured concrete chapel in the world. A large, circular stained glass window was featured in the chapel. The stained glass is about 7 feet in diameter and lights up with vivid shades of green, blue and red. The words “Praise Ye The Lord” are crafted into the stained glass along with a small Seabee insignia in the lower right-hand corner.

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Seabee insignia crafted into the stained glass (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

 

After the closing of Davisville in 1994, the stained glass was removed from the Chapel of the Pines and relocated to the Seabee base in Gulfport, Mississippi where the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum Annex resided. When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, it severely damaged the museum’s building and all the historical artifacts were removed. The stained glass was relocated to Gulfport’s chapel for safe keeping until its official move to the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum in Port Hueneme, California where it is prominently displayed in the museum’s Cold War Gallery.

Come visit the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum and see the new Cold War exhibition which is now open to the public.

 

photo-of-robyn-for-curators-cornerMeet the Curator: Robyn King is pursuing her master’s degree in Museum Studies and Nonprofit Management through Johns Hopkins University. She earned her Bachelors in History and Anthropology from the State University of New York at Oneonta. She has experience working at state museums, historic sites, the National Park Service, and most recently the Navy. She is an expert in collection management, and has worked closely with both natural and cultural collections. Robyn loves all museums and sharing her love of history. When she is not working, she is volunteering her time with the National Peace Corps Association, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from West Africa.

Curator’s Corner- Artifact Spotlight: Trench Art Shot Glasses

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Trench art, 20mm brass shot glasses, donated by SF1c Ralph E. Nichols of the 73rd Naval Construction Battalion (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

The men of the Naval Construction Battalion (NCB), better known as the Seabees, are known to have collected and brought home many souvenirs and war trophies from WWII. The Seabees of the 73rd NCB were no different. They spent most of their time during WWII on the islands of Munda and Peleiu in the South Pacific, known only as Island X to their loved ones back home. They worked on projects such as malaria control, road construction, construction for beach landings and airfields, and built camps including housings, hospitals, churches, and mess halls.

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Seabees from the 73th NCB playing baseball or watching a boxing tournament in their free time (73rd Seabees cruise book, U.S. Navy Seabee Museum Archives)

Nights the Seabees were not in foxholes being bombed by “Washing Machine Charlie” (a term given by U.S. allied forces to Imperial Japanese aircraft that performed nighttime missions and bombings over allied occupied islands in the South Pacific), they would enjoy recreational activities such as watching movies and participating in sporting events such as boxing tournaments, baseball or basketball. Many of the men also began to create trench art in their spare time. The Seabees have always been noted for their ability to improvise and make something out of any pile of scrap.

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Trench art souvenirs illustration from the 73rd Seabees cruise book (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum Archives)

The souvenir craze first hit the 73rd NCB on Guadalcanal with the abundance of Imperial Japanese shells, sea shells, and grass skirts. As they island hopped around the Pacific Ocean to Roviana, Sasseville, Munda, Banika, and Peleiu, they kept the desire for souvenirs with them. With projectile casings all around them as they worked, they spent their down time collecting them and crafting trench art.

Ship Fitter First Class (SF1c) Ralph E. Nichols of the 73rd NCB donated his collection of memorabilia to the museum in the 1970s which included a set of 6 trench art brass shot glasses made out of 20mm projectile casings from cannon shells. The bottom of each shell casing is marked “S.M.C. 1943 20mm M21A1”. They were most likely manufactured by the Symington Machine Corporation in Rochester, N.Y. Each shell casing measures a height of 2 inches.

Each shot glass is marked inert which means they are chemically inactive. As material potentially presenting an explosive hazard (MPPEH), every piece of ordnance donated to the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum must go through the process of becoming inert certified before being displayed in the museum.

Come visit the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum for the grand opening of two new exhibitions, WWII Pacific Theater and Cold War on Saturday January 21, 2017 and see the different types of trench art and trophies the Seabees brought home with them.

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Meet the Curator: Robyn King is pursuing her master’s degree in Museum Studies and Nonprofit Management through Johns Hopkins University. She earned her Bachelors in History and Anthropology from the State University of New York at Oneonta. She has experience working at state museums, historic sites, the National Park Service, and most recently the Navy. She is an expert in collection management, and has worked closely with both natural and cultural collections. Robyn loves all museums and sharing her love of history. When she is not working, she is volunteering her time with the National Peace Corps Association, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from West Africa.

Curator’s Corner- The W. Reynolds Collection

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Trench art coconut lamp, made out of three coconuts and inert ammunition (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum

 

The U.S. Navy Seabee Museum will be officially opening the WWII Pacific Theater Exhibit in January 2017 to kick off the Seabees 75th Anniversary. Among the new exhibits will be a World War II trench art exhibit.

The Seabees are known to have created unique examples of trench art during WWII. Trench art, or decorative items made by soldiers during times of war, were created by Seabees during their off duty hours while deployed to pass their time. Seabees used the materials around them to create trinkets for them to send home as gifts and to remind them of their time as Seabees.

Many unique examples of trench art have been donated to the Seabee Museum. W. Reynolds, a Seabee who served in the Pacific Theater, handmade many pieces of trench art which have been donated to the museum by his family. A few examples from his collection include a handcrafted coconut lamp made from three coconuts and inert ammunition, and a cigarette holder and letter holder made out of Imperial Japanese shell casings and hammered brass. The museum unfortunately has very little information regarding the donor’s battalion and where he was deployed.

Come visit the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum and see W. Reynolds collection and an array of trench art on display throughout the museum.

photo of robyn for curator's corner.pngMeet the Curator: Robyn King is pursuing her master’s degree in Museum Studies and Nonprofit Management through Johns Hopkins University. She earned her Bachelors in History and Anthropology from the State University of New York at Oneonta. She has experience working at state museums, historic sites, the National Park Service, and most recently the Navy. She is an expert in collection management, and has worked closely with both natural and cultural collections. Robyn loves all museums and sharing her love of history. When she is not working, she is volunteering her time with the National Peace Corps Association, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from West Africa.