Transportation Tuesday: Sad state of affairs for train transport in Indianapolis

I was really impressed with downtown Indianapolis. Ambitious restaurants. People on the streets. Bike Lanes. A canal walk trimmed with gardens. A riverfront developed with a music venue, walks, and a conservatory.

I thought the taxis out front was a good sign! Union Station, Indianapolis.

I thought the taxis out front was a good sign! Union Station, Indianapolis. RL Fifield Photo.

As is my usual, I went off to find the train station. Turning the corner onto Illinois Street, I saw the turreted Union Station from 1886. Cheered, I walked up to the door. A leathery guy having a smoke said “Too bad, it’s locked. Can’t get in.” Bummer.

I crossed the street to the Crown Plaza Hotel. It occupies the elevated tracks and dates from the 1980s, when Union Station was redeveloped as a mall. It’s interesting – the steelwork that held up the train sheds over the platforms are now worked into the hotel design. The Platforms on the other side are still active, so I don’t know what that sounds like in the guest rooms. Whereas Indianapolis used to host 200 trains a day, now only a handful call each week. Commuter service using the station seems to be a future goal, without definition.

Now. Indianapolis Train Station reduced to a staircase in a 1960s-blue tiled waiting room in a Greyhound Bus Station.

Now. Indianapolis Train Station reduced to a staircase in a 1960s-blue tiled waiting room in a Greyhound Bus Station.

I had to look online to discover how the interior of Union Station appears, but I got a photograph of the current Indianapolis train station. Nothing says more starkly how far the perception of public transportation fell in this country between the 1880s, and the 1960s.

It’s time to get a Great American Stations project going!

Then. Union Station, 1886. Indianapolis.


Museum Monday: American Institute for Conservation Annual Meeting

I spent the last week of May in Indianapolis at the American Institute for Conservation‘s Annual Meeting. I’ve been a member of AIC for about 10 years, and this conference was the best I’ve attended. Hats off to the staff of AIC and the organizing committee.

I had no pre-conceived notions of Indy. I lumped it, in my east coast way, into that designation “bombed-out midwestern cities.” I was presently surprised by the people on the street in the downtown area. Indy seems to be a city of meetings – the convention center is the largest I’ve ever seen – easily four convention centers smashed into one mega-gathering place. I strolled through there out of curiosity and found the much larger American College of Sports Medicine meeting (lots of sneakers and khakis). Our meeting was in the JW Marriott, a new hotel with a healthy amount of meeting space to its own right.

Jim Reilly challenges our craving for standards during the Collection Care Network session at AIC's Annual meeting in Indianapolis.

Jim Reilly challenges our craving for standards during the Collection Care Network session at AIC’s Annual meeting in Indianapolis.

I started the meeting with an excellent Integrated Pest Management workshop led by Rachael Perkins Arenstein of AM Art Conservation and Pat Kelley of Insects Limited. Many of us get introduced to IPM in grad school, or here and there on jobs, but the number of senior conservators in that room underlined the need for continued preventive conservation training. We identified common museum pests under a microscope, visited the nearby Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art to see IPM in action, talked about how to make it stick through policy and procedure, and made anoxic envelopes to use with Ageless Oxygen Scavengers. Visit for more IPM resources.

The sessions during the conference were dynamic and discussion based – I actually sat in on very few traditional 20 min. presented papers. Instead, during the Collection Care Network session, I presented the results of the Collection Care Staff Survey, a survey of the professional challenges, responsibilities, training, and needs of 768 collection care staff. We had rousing discussions about preservation planning, where sparring speakers supported risk assessment (Lisa Elkin, American Museum of Natural History) vs. incremental approaches (Katy Lithgow, National Trust UK) and standards (Kristen Laise, Heritage Preservation) versus “standards make us myopic” (Jim Reilly, Image Permanence  Institute).  The meeting had numerous sessions that were discussion based, allowing you to get to know your peers better and discuss current issues. I attended a great session on teaching conservation to allied professionals and one on using the Socratic method to explore the value of conservation.

Now to ride the wave of good feeling back to work and make change!


Why bother with those wantonly oversized pale fruits that come in the plastic boxes all winter long from California, that give barely any aroma when sniffed? They are equivalents of the rock hard, styrafoam-textured Florida tomato – a freak of nature from an era when we thought we knew better. Don’t trouble yourself for the 3.99, 5.99, 4.99, whatever off-season cost; they might tempt, but they are pale harlots in comparison to the current yield from our local strawberry patches.

Yesterday, we stopped by the 82nd street Farmers Market to drop off some textile recycling, and found real strawberries: the crazy shapes, dotted with seeds that crunch in your teeth, and the heady scent. A quart came home with us. These are the berries my grandfather picked at the Pick-Your-Own patch, these are the berries that came sliced, with granulated sugar (amazingly) at my Mom Mom’s table, this is what I ate as a kid. Eschew those wan and flavorless wintertime substitutions: they will always leave you unsatisfied in the face of these beauties.


Photo: RL Fifield.

Gardening and Memory


The garden as family member, visible toward the right back. Photos marking family events and visits always took place in the yard. My grandfather’s hunting dog is visible behind the trellis. 1969.

Among the Bowmans, the garden is part of the family. Any Sunday dinner was ended with “a walk to the garden,” a trip to check on the vegetables’ progress. I laughingly continued this tradition in my 450 sq. foot Manhattan apartment, my mother and I squeezing past my bed to get the the window sill where I keep pots of flowers, herbs, miniature cucumbers (a tasty variety known as Patio Pickle), and a strawberry.

At my grandparents’ house, this meant a huge patch of corn, rhubarb, asparagus, pole lima beans, green beans, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, yellow squash, raspberries, and other items since forgotten. Gardening was a summer activity; I never remember my family planting (or eating) winter squash, kale, or other greens (see my post on Winter Gardening here). My grandfather kept the vegetable garden and my grandmother chose showy flowers for beds near the house – the garden mirrored their personalities. Irises and Portulacas. He always wore a white t-shirt, khaki pants, and a feed cap when working around the house and yard. The garden was surrounded on 3 sides by woods, set back from Chapel Road outside Havre de Grace. Tinkling aluminum pie tins futilely attempted to scare the deer. Sometimes shelling from nearby Aberdeen Proving Ground would break the silence. Evenings were spent with aged baskets of beans to snap and limas to shell. I didn’t care much for the task or its yield.

Evans Family House, Webster, outside of Havre de Grace MD. c. 1920.

Evans Family House, Webster, outside of Havre de Grace MD. c. 1920.

Roses were transplanted from garden to garden, a maintenance of heritage. My grandfather moved a pink rose from his cousin’s house, once home to my 3rd great grandparents, in Webster. My mother has since transplanted it to Carroll County.


Fun with Fraktur – Women’s Dress in a Drawing from Winterthur Museum


An embroidered apron at LACMA, similar in concept to those depicted in the Winterthur fraktur below. M.2007.211.131

I’m not a Pennsylvanian German scholar, but I love considering the depiction of 18th century dress in the ebullient art form of fraktur. What is real? What is fancy? Can we trust depictions of women when they hold gargantuan sprigs of flowers in their hands? Do we trust the printed or embroidered sprigs on these women’s aprons? Their caps have black cauls (the crown portion) and white headpieces (the brim), components occasionally viewed in folk costume. In 18th century newspaper runaway advertisements, “black”, “dark”, and “German” caps are described on the heads of Magdalen Hackaliver (ran away 6/23/1756), Charlotte Maria Conrad (8/11/1755),  and Anna Elizabeth Hesselbach (8/28/1788). The chevron shapes around their necks evoke handkerchiefs, but is the color on their cuffs just artist caprice? Documentation of working women piecing printed fabrics onto their gown cuffs can be found in runaway advertisements, and is found in extant baby clothes preserved in the London Foundling Hospital billet book collections, housed at the London Metropolitan Archive. Check out Threads of Feeling, an exhibition organized by John Styles and The Foundling Museum – it’s just opened at Colonial Williamsburg.

George Friedrich Speyer. Berks or Dauphin County, PA. 1961.0043A. Winterthur.

What I’ve Been Reading: Buying Into A World of Goods by Ann Smart Martin

Read this great book on 18th century commerce in the backwoods of Virginia. Ann Smart Martin’s Buying into the World of Goods: Early Consumers in Backcountry Virginia is incredibly readable (and available on Kindle to boot! Or in full at Project Muse if you have a subscription).  Her skilled divining of consumer culture from sources including ledger books, correspondence, and material culture rebuilds a history of burgeoning 18th-century consumerism, not only for those most able to afford it, but specifically examining the buying experiences of the nearly undocumented working class. Martin examines the environment in which these people desired the acquisition of materials goods in studying John Hook’s shop, and how they interacted with them in their sparse dwellings, such as in a study of the Wade family cabin.

In my study of indentured and enslaved servant clothing, I found this book particularly useful. Martin illustrates the commercial relationship between the elite man, the working man, the slave, and the merchant, the gatekeeper to the stuff of desire. She traces the endeavors of John Hook, a Scot who comes to the colonies and struggles for success as a merchant in the remote backcountry. Martin’s in-depth study of John Hook reveals his struggles to procure decent merchandise from Scotland at a good price and to not get taken by either his customers or other competitors moving into the region.

A relevatory moment was Martin’s discussion on court days. It was the monthly dates during which court cases were held, turning the town into a rollicking market, festival, and tourney. Martin describes how backwoods stags would engage in public fights in which the goal was to maim each other by tearing ears off with your teeth. Find that in your general history text.


Wanderlust Wednesday: 24 Rather Staid Hours in Baltimore

A conference, a presentation, a cancelled train, and dinner at the Red Star in Fells Point. All in 24 hours.

The annual meeting of the American Alliance of Museums was held in Baltimore (Bawlmer) last week. The last time I attended AAM’s annual meeting was in 2000, the last time it was in Baltimore. I had just graduated from the Museum Studies program at The George Washington University (yes there’s a “The” in the title). I was working at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. I still fell into the category “emerging professional.”

Collection care and management is a topic that AAM meetings don’t often address sufficiently. I would be hard pressed to justify attending the meeting if I wasn’t speaking; there’s just not enough about preventive care of collections. I contributed to a session hosted by the American Institute for Conservation’s Collection Care Network – and it was a hit.  About 100 conference goers turned out to hear presentations by Rachael Arenstein, Patty Silence, and myself on working with conservation consultants, collaborating with engineers and custodial staff, and raising the visibility of collection care in institutions, respectively. We had lots of good comments and questions. We also have a great resource list which AAM said they would post on their website – anyone seen those handouts yet?

In Baltimore, was surprised to suddenly be the Baltimorean-in-the-know, which is pretty laughable. I know a little bit about Hampden, Fells Point, Canton, Federal Hill, and Woodbury, and most of my knowledge is from fifteen years ago. Baltimore is full of dive bars and seriously expensive restaurants. My most memorable dinner is cheap but fabulous crab cakes and a less fabulous chilly glass of red wine at 1 am at the Baltimore institution Sip ‘n Bite in Canton about 10 years ago. The restaurant seems to have been done over, visited by Guy Fieri, and gotten a jazzy website since then, but it’s a classic greasy spoon. Cobblestones and waterfront rate high for out-of-towners, and Fells Point feels authentic, compared to the worn 1980s Harborplace development. After a failed attempt to get into Thames Street Oyster House, we wandered over to the Red Star in Fells Point.   Red Star was cozy, but their crab dip didn’t have enough crab in it. They cloaked that fact with a healthy dose of horseradish, which was nice – but it wasn’t very crabby.

I spent the rest of my time in the Sheraton and the Baltimore Convention Center, spaces that might as well be the same in any American city, conference name tags, hotel disinfectant, and rather wild industrial carpet. Baltimore has lots to offer, but that will have to wait for another trip.

Here’s the Old Bay Crab Dip Recipe. And remember: more crab is never wrong.


Off to the American Institute for Conservation Annual Meeting!

I’m off to Indianapolis for the American Institute for Conservation Annual Meeting in Indianapolis. While many of my colleagues at work got an early start on their Memorial Day weekend, I was busy crossing my t’s and dotting my i’s until well after 5pm.

Collection Care Cloud 1

I’ll be participating in an Integrated Pest Management (see my post “IPM is not for Buddhists“). IPM is a systematic approach to deterring pest incursion in collections, and subsequent chemical treatment, by management of museum environments. It might sound like it requires a top hat and a whip and 3 rings under the Big Top. It’s actually more about limiting food and workshop activities away from collections, monitoring pest populations with sticky traps, and very routine maintenance to reduce pest-attractive nutrient matter in and around collections. While I learned the basics back in grad school, I’m looking forward to a refresher and for new ideas for advocating for institutional compliance to an IPM program.

The AIC Collection Care Network is also hosting a debate-style session on Preservation Planning. I recently led a survey of collection care staff and the results are now available on the AIC website – click here for the Collection Care Staff Survey Report. Collection managers, registrars, conservators, and other staff responded to 25 questions about training they desire, professional challenges, and how they feel the Collection Care Network can best support collection care staff.

I’m looking for great local dinner recommendations!

Trans. Tuesday: We Survived The Parade of Trains

Just barely.

RL Fifield 2013.

RL Fifield 2013.

Dr. V. indulged my whim to visit the assemblage of historic trains at New York’s Grand Central Terminal last weekend, May 11, 2013: National Train Day. For a moment there, I felt like we were part of a cheesy musical movie, swirling in a line coiling through the crowded station. A lame 3-person flash mob-ette broke out next to us – it was a bit underwhelming, but they looked like they were having a good time. Station personnel was super nice in managing the crowds as we waited in overheated passages and then were held on air-conditioned modern Metro-North trains on Tracks 41-42, prior to our procession to Tracks 37-40. It took about 2.5 hours to get there, and about another hour to see the trains, including snaking through the interiors of sleeper and club cars.

The interior of a sleeper car bedroom.

The interior of a sleeper car bedroom.

The cars were either held by private concerns, individuals, or rail historical societies. There was a real disconnect between the well-renovated and the “cleaned up enough with my own personal taste so we can run dinner trains/rent it out” set. I wanted to see spit and polish down to the detail historic restorations, but not all car owners do that. It was a rather intimate tour of those cars owned by private individuals. You saw their toothbrushes in the bathroom, their Mr. Coffee in the galley, their plastic shower cap in the stainless steel shower. While some cars evoked 1950s glamour, others might have well been your grandmother’s living room.



Too many people. RL Fifield 2013.

Too many people. RL Fifield 2013.

The hands-down star of the group was the Kitchi Gammi Club from 1923. A classic Pullman car, the pull down bunks, vaulted ceiling, and windowed lounge with leather furniture reeked class. The New York Central 20th Century Limited Observation Car owned by Star Trak was obviously sleek. Other cars were more utilitarian, such as the 1950s sleepers with painted metal finishes. The past was not all luxury, and coach class cars are unlikely to get preserved. This cheapest means of travel would have been the mode of transportation with which most rail goers were acquainted. The tight corridors brought the intrigue of North by Northwest to mind, but several uncomfortable tour-goers made me think that many modern Americans are not used to the tight spaces rail cars require.

Check out the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners. It was kind of fun to see a Harvey Girl reenactor walking around. (see my post on Harvey Houses here)

Harvey Girl reenactor. RL Fifield 2013.

Harvey Girl reenactor at Grand Central Terminal. I was inside a guest car on tour. RL Fifield 2013.