Railroad Dreams: Danbury Railway Museum

If you me

If you mourn the destruction of the late, great Pennsylvania Station in NYC, you’ll find this glass heralding the coming of the new Madison Square Garden as chilling and cheap. This glass is displayed with a nice collection of railway china and silver at the Danbury Railway Museum.

Yesterday found Dr. V, Mr. J, and I at the Danbury Railway Museum. I had used the Metro North Danbury station before but never made it inside the doors of Danbury’s 1903 New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad Station. I had ridden up to Danbury to visit with Ms. M, a Danbury resident, thrillingly pulled into the station by an old F-unit right before their retirement in 2009. Our perception of Danbury station today is as an outlier, a stub end of the Metro-North network. The other side of the station is bordered by the double-track Housatonic Railroad, primed for re-ignition through the Bring Back the Trains initiative to restore rail service between the Berkshires and NYC.

 

 

 

 

A Maine Central caboose and a Canadian National "van" sit in the yard at Danbury Railway Museum. RL Fifield 2015.

A Maine Central caboose and a Canadian National “van” sit in the yard at Danbury Railway Museum. RL Fifield 2015.

The museum is like many rail museums; a collection of equipment that ended up at the old Danbury Yard and model railroading layouts sustained by that curious breed: the volunteer rail fan. I’m a museum insider, but I’m part of the audience at rail museums. While I am drawn to rail social history, I don’t know anything about maintaining rail cars or operating excursions.  The museum understands its audience, both rail fans interested in the past and encouraging their future generation. Among the old wrenches and railway china are Thomas layouts that appeal to the kids and prime them for going outside and seeing the real thing. We climbed aboard old Budd RDCs (my first), a Railway Post Office, and several cabooses, of which Dr. V and Mr. J are fans. (Yes, my 22-month-old can point to and say “caboose”).

New Haven's Solari Board sits silent on the floor at Danbury Railway Museum. RL Fifield, 2015.

New Haven’s Solari Board sits silent on the floor at Danbury Railway Museum. RL Fifield, 2015.

I sadly came upon New Haven station’s Solari Board, sitting blank and silent within the station. Plans are to install the Solari Board within the Danbury station to announce their excursion trains. I haven’t been through New Haven recently enough to know it had been gone. I’ll miss it’s click; I wonder when Philadelphia’s board will meet the same fate.

The museum is certainly celebrating the past, but I would have liked to see more about future potential. If the Housatonic Railroad is able to renew passenger service, I’d actually love to use the station as a passenger. I think about how private concerns have preserved many a local train station, abandoned by the rail companies that created them as passenger service atrophied and collapsed. These stations are poised to revitalize city centers in the way new suburban stations never could.  Rail is renewing: what partnerships might we create to provide economic opportunities for our cities, its residents, and our country by facilitating transportation? The highways aren’t doing it. If you haven’t tried a train, do it. Bring some work. Bring some knitting. Bring a blank book and a pen. Bring a camera. Just bring your ability to stare out the window. And experience something beyond the steering wheel. Experience a conversation with someone you don’t know. A view you haven’t seen. Experience the interior of your mind, uncluttered.

What was New Haven is now old - New Haven F Unit and Budd RDC car being used for part for the operating RDC at Danbury Railway Museum. RL Fifield 2015.

What was New Haven is now old – New Haven F Unit and Budd RDC car being used for part for the operating RDC at Danbury Railway Museum. RL Fifield 2015.

Snapshots from New Orleans

Aiji is a taxi driver. He is also the founder of the first burrito bar in Rwanda and a vegan chef. For right now, it’s the taxi while he’s between ventures. Aiji also seems to be the only taxi driver in New Orleans, as he randomly picked up me and my colleagues again at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

IMG_6186I grabbed a beer in a bar near the opening reception at Republic. A husband and wife (she, the bartender, him, a regular off shift from a top-tier restaurant) talked living blue in a red state (this just before Bobby Jindle was ousted). Throw the freakin’ guidebooks away and put down your phone and make part of your travels about shutting up and listening to local voices.

Band at Frizzell's.

Band at Frizzell’s.

 

 

I stayed in an Air BnB in the Marigny. The apartment was at the back of a shotgun house on Mandeville Street and was completely passable, if a bit worn. A balcony slumped from my windows onto a neighbor’s garden below. A train blew its whistle on the river without consistency, blaring into our sleep. I completely support AirBnB, but this place could have been better for the price. I stayed in lovely apartments in Paris and have had largely good experiences. That being said, I think the sheets on the bed were at least 40 years old, easy. So, I think I will do as eighteenth century travelers did in the future, and take my own sheets.

Some particularly good bijoux included:

  • Meauxbar’s salad of lentil, faro,eggplant, fried chickpea, ricotta, preserved lemon and their french onion soup sandwich with braised beef.
  • Shrimp and Grits and braised beef short ribs at Donald Link’s private dining space Calcasieu.
  • Sitting next to the band at Frizzell’s.
Decoys at night in the windows of the Historic New Orleans Collection. RL Fifield 2015.

Decoys at night in the entry of the Historic New Orleans Collection. RL Fifield 2015.

 

 

 

Happy New Year!

From the Wolfsonian Library, Florida International University. Happy New Year.

Dutch Art Nouveau calendar. Wolfsonian Library, Florida International University. XB1993.170

Dutch Art Nouveau calendar. Wolfsonian Library, Florida International University. XB1993.170

An Unfortunate Title for a “Great” Article on Penn Station

David W. Dunlap writes the rather fun Building Blocks column for The New York Times. On December 30, 2015, his contribution was titled “Longing for the Old Penn Station? In the End, It Wasn’t So Great.”

Really? The pun is there (the “late great Pennsylvania Station” for all you not in the know), but it’s hardly apt. The title tarnishes a rather interesting article about Penn’s last years.

Completely bone-headed modern alterations to the station took a terrible toll.  They didn’t make rail travel seem modern, but instead bled all the elegance out of the aging and neglected station and the mode of travel it heralded. Lewis Mumford’s musings about whether the railroad executives killed Penn Station by poisoning it’s customers against Penn’s ill-maintained and brutally modernized interiors is plausible. It is in our nature to strive for our current glory and not to consider how we will maintain our efforts into the future for the benefit of organization, audience, and our teams. I work in museums. I see the dreams of designers and curators crash when they haven’t adequately planned easily maintained exhibition casework, and don’t have the management skills to fix their errors. I’ve seen inappropriate HVAC systems shoved by local contractors in historic houses to the benefit of collections and the detriment of the building which would inevitably need the services of a company like Mold Removal Montreal, leading to mobilization of salts from the building structure and mold growth. This is the stuff of vanity-fueled collapse.

This doesn’t mean that Penn Station wasn’t great, even as the wrecking ball arrived. Let’s talk about loss of value. Cultural heritage preservation is using examination of loss of value when exposed to specific risks to prioritize mitigation strategies to those areas where it is most needed. The clamshell ticket booth that blotted out the beauty of the station above may have caused a 30% loss in value of Penn Station. But what remained was something that Ada Louise Huxtable noted: we couldn’t build the same station again today. After 1963, we were left with 100% loss. There is no longer anything left to rebuild. Nothing to clean, to repair, to restore. The work is too great.

The article is fine. It could go one step further by championing the value of the public’s interest in privately-developed public spaces (that’s where I would take it). I think the article could also address why the slew of advertising and services that were so terrible for Penn Station in the 1950s are commonplace and accepted in the historic stations of Europe.

I think we not only feel the loss of Penn Station, in whatever shape it was in. We feel the loss of its potential. We see the rejuvenation of Grand Central Terminal and it thrills us, even though it no longer hosts the New Haven, the New York Central, or even Amtrak. And we’ve suffered the presence of Penn’s replacement and Madison Square Garden and the subjugation of the rail traveler into that gaping maw of a basement for far too long. Architecture that conveys contempt for its users takes its toll on society.

Memorial photograph in the basement of Madison Square Garden (supposedly Penn Station) of the Late, GREAT Pennsylvania Station. RL Fifield, 2013.

Memorial photograph in the basement of Madison Square Garden (supposedly Penn Station) of the Late, GREAT Pennsylvania Station. RL Fifield, 2013.

Samuel Adams’s Mother Was a Fifield

RL Fifield vacuuming samplers with a dental vacuum in the old Textile Conservation Lab, MFA Boston, 2001.

RL Fifield vacuuming samplers with a dental vacuum in the old Textile Conservation Lab, MFA Boston, 2001.

Back in the early aughts, I was a Collection Care Specialist in Textiles and Fashion Arts (TFA) at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. I was working on a National Endowment for the Arts grant to photograph and perform condition reports on 10,000 objects a part of their American collections. This work was undertaken in part to plan for a brand-new textile storeroom during the construction of the new American Wing. I prepared pre-Columbian fragments, hundreds of pairs of shoes and hats, handkerchiefs, children’s clothes, and dressed nearly 150 garments on mannequins, among many other items. At the same time, we collected critical information about the condition of the collection and their future storage needs.

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Women’s cloak. Robbins family, Lexington, Mass. MFA Boston, 99.664.16.

The MFA Boston’s TFA collection has a particular strength in 18th century costume and textiles. Some of my favorite works are within the 99.664 Robbins family collection from Lexington, Massachusetts. One day, one of the curators asked me if I had seen the Fifield bedcovers yet.

Fifield isn’t a very common name in the U.S., with the exception of New England. Largely, New England Fifields descend from William Fifield, who arrived from Hampshire, England in Ipswich, Massachusetts in 1634. He and his descendants migrated into Newbury, MA, Hampton, NH and eventually, and up into Fryeburg and the western reaches of Maine, where my father’s family still lives. What isn’t as widely known is that he had a brother, Giles, who arrived in Hampton a few years after William. Giles’s great-grandson was Samuel Adams, the future governor of Massachusetts.

The MFA’s textile collection includes Samuel Adams’s christening blanket and several bedcovers made from bed hangings embroidered by Mary Fifield Adams and Mary Drew Fifield, her step-mother, in 1713. They were later converted into bed covers, possibly in the late 18th century.

See accession numbers 30.448 (Samuel Adams’s christening blanket), 31.694 (bedcover), and 1972.910 (bedcover) in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston online database at mfa.org.

Samuel Adams christening blanket. Mary Fifield Adams. MFA Boston, 30.448.

Samuel Adams christening blanket. Mary Fifield Adams. MFA Boston, 30.448.

Great Collection Care Webinars at no cost!

Under the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation, the Connecting to Collection Care (C2CC) resource continues to build on the great work Heritage Preservation began, with the support of the Institute for Museum and Library Services. These webinars really get to the heart of everyday museum practice. For example, I can’t remember a previous collection care resource addressing the balance of seasonal/programatic decorations with preservation, as was presented in their last webinar “Seasonal Affective Disorder: Caring for Collections during Seasonal Special Events.” The content is great for a range of professionals. They are great courses for refreshing your knowledge, getting introduced to a new topic, and all around good food for thought. There are even SAD light reviews which has shown to help people suffering from SAD.  For example, while I’ve worked with a wide assortment of collections, I recently sat in on the taxidermy-focused webinar given by Eugenie Milroy of AM Art Conservation and George Dante, Wildlife Preservations as my taxidermy experience is limited.

All C2CC webinars are available at no cost. Previous webinars are archived at the website. The Connecting to Collections Care webinar offerings for Winter/Spring 2016 are as follows:

“A Conservation Primer: Caring for Historic Furniture”
January 14, 2016
2 – 3:30 pm ET

“Re-Framing the Problem: Caring for Framed Objects in Small
Institutions (aka: On a Budget)”
February 9, 2016
2 – 3:30 pm ET

“Much Ado About Mannequins: Making the Perfect Form”
March 8, 2016
2 – 3:30 pm ET

“Artifacts in Archives Collections”
April 7, 2016
2 – 3:30 pm ET

“Arsenic and Old Lace: Controlling Hazardous Collection
Materials”
May 3, 2016
1:30 – 3 pm ET

Register at http://www.connectingtocollections.org

Wanderlust Fodder: Atlas Obscura’s Interactive Map of Roadtrips in American Literature

Mr. I sent me a link recently to Atlas Obscura’s “The Obsessively Detailed Map of American Literature’s Most Epic Road Trips.” It is obsessive. Richard Kreitner (writing) and Steven Melendez (map) partnered to create a compelling interactive map over which colored lines streak following the stories of Blue Highways (1982), On the Road (1957), Travels with Charley (1962), Wild (2012), Roughing It (1872), and more. With one click, you can read how a variety of authors experienced the same place. Over 1,500 passages are painstakingly linked to the map. The work is so compelling, as one person’s perception could be so different from your own. It can color your view of that place for the future.

9780141182674I isolated On the Road, and clicked on a random dot in Pennsylvania. It was the Susquehanna River Valley, and Kerouac, in a not flattering description of that body of water, wrote this:

“We walked seven miles along the mournful Susquehanna. It is a terrifying river. It has bushy cliffs on both sides that lean like hairy ghosts over the unknown waters. Inky night covers all. Sometimes from the railyards across the river rises a great red locomotive flare that illuminates the horrid cliffs.”

Today, my experience of the same river valley is somewhat flipped. My family has been making a living moving among communities in Maryland and Pennsylvania along the river for nearly 400 years. I see more loss in the absence of transportation along the rails and the river than I do terror. Lost pathway mean barricades to experience. I find this atrophy worse than fire.

Lincoln Highway near Geneva, Illinois. RL Fifield, 2015.

Lincoln Highway near Geneva, Illinois. RL Fifield, 2015.

Tune into AIC’s Cost Effective and Sustainable Packing, Moving, and Storage Webinar on Sustainable Conservation

AIC is hosting two webinars on sustainable conservation. On December 1 at 2pm EST, I’ll join Simon Lambert and T. Ashley McGrew in talking about sustainability in packing, storage, and long-term preservation management. Simon will discuss Re-Org, a program of ICCROM and UNESCO that helps cultural heritage collections improve collection storage with available materials. Re-org provides guidance to users to determine what collections need tighter environmental parameters, so that investment in precise preservation environments can be saved for those collections with the greatest need. Ashley will discuss ways to introduce sustainability into the packing and shipping processes, including the use of reusable crates and shipping methods. I wrap up the presentation with some big picture ideas about how the way we make preservation, and therefore collection access happen is a key part of organizational sustainability. I’ll discuss how organizational mission can be sustained through smart preservation work by discussing smart ways to work together, our work spaces, support of our staff, and how we should get the public involved by making them aware of the challenges we face in preserving cultural heritage.

Join us on Dec. 1 at 2pm EST. Visithttp://www.conservation-us.org/education/education/current-courses/sustainable-conservation-webinars#.Vlj1QdBqna0

Save money and purchase two webinars – the second sustainable conservation webinar is on Dec. 8, and discusses Life Cycle Assessments, specifically focusing on loans.

This program is supported by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and donations from members of the American Institute for Conservation and its friends.

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ARCS and PACCIN at New Orleans: Collections Stewardship’s Bright Future

Originally published at rebeccafifieldpreservation.com.

Lots of folks go to New Orleans for conferences. Within the distinctive streets of the French Quarter, it’s not uncommon to trip across people tagged with conference badges. The overtones of business lend an air of “networking” to the nightlife, though the line between tourist and conference-goer in New Orleans is rather thin. I saw at least 2 other conferences sharing the city with the conferences I was attending, the Association of Registrars and Collection Specialists (ARCS) and the Preparation, Art Handling, Collection Care Info Network (PACCIN).

That all being said, I am thrilled to belong to these two organizations that contribute to collections stewardship. Still in the founding stage after separation from the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the ambition of the two groups is energizing.

PACCIN hosted an organizational summit at The Old Mint Museum on the Esplanade on November 12, 2015. Members in attendance included preparators, registrars, conservators, and others. The morning consisted of a strategic planning-style exercise, in which breakout groups suggested ideas around 5 topics of importance distilled from an earlier survey. These topics are: 1) Professional Structure related to Certification & Guidelines, 2) Membership, 3) Training, 4) Programs, and 5) Professional Development.

After the discussions, breakout members placed 3 green dots next to their issues of greatest importance. The afternoon session went live via webcast to broadcast findings of the morning session and receive feedback from the online audience. Resources were important, as was professional recognition of contributions from preparatory staff. Titling and how that reflects training and responsibilities served as a linchpin to many of the other discussion topics. There was significant interest in certification.  It will be interesting to see PACCIN develop their own professional identity, and the importance they place in such an activity. One audience member stressed “creativity is at our core.” I couldn’t agree more.

Brilliant construction vibration monitoring and mitigation session led by Merv Richards, National Gallery of Art. Here, W. Robert Hannen runs a vibration perception demo for the audience. Collaboration between conservation and registration at its best. Photo: RL Fifield, 2015.

Brilliant construction vibration monitoring and mitigation session led by Merv Richards, National Gallery of Art. Here, W. Robert Hannen runs a vibration perception demo for the audience. Collaboration between conservation and registration at its best. Photo: RL Fifield, 2015.

On November 13-15, ARCS offered an exciting program of talks and events. I started out Friday morning right by speaking to the general session of 680 participants about fostering emergency preparedness at their institutions. Other talks focused on Airfreight, CITES, construction vibration monitoring and mitigation, insurance, crowd-sourcing cataloging, and so many other aspects of collection stewardship. Mark Schlemmer, Associate Registrar for Collections at the New-York Historical Society and the voice behind #ITweetMuseums led conference attendees in thrilling rounds of twittering. Brilliantly, the conference started out with a short demonstration about how and why to twitter. You may access the material by using the hashtag #ARCSconf.

The ceiling at Fritzel's European Jazz Pub. Photo: RL Fifield, 2015.

The ceiling at Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub. Photo: RL Fifield, 2015.

I split an AirBnB in the back of a shotgun house in the Marigny with a couple of colleagues. I loved the walk to the conference hotel in the morning; the walk seemed to increase in distance as the conference continued. And the nightlife; well, let’s just say I’ve never seen dancing like that at other professional conferences I’ve attended. I hear it is at least a 40-year tradition among the registrars. We ate, we heard great jazz, we cut the rug. Networking, right?

I am honored to serve on ARCS Advisory Council, and as the Chair of the American Institute for Conservation’s Collection Care Network, I see a great future for the collaborative voices of collection stewardship. Stay tuned for great initiatives from PACCIN, ARCS, and AIC.

 

The Impact of Aging Infrastructure on Health

Ron Nixon’s New York Times article “Human Cost Rises as Old Bridges, Dams, and Roads Go Unrepaired” [Oxford comma mine] conveys how our society is sagging under lack of maintenance and repair. While bridges collapse spectacularly, illness from aging water management systems is also taking its toll. Even classical societies realized the basic need for clean water. We are fully aware that cultures without access to clean water are open to risk, let alone obstacles in achieving excellence. And yet, with our water systems at a remove from much of our houses, we are unaware how underinvestment is opening us to risk.

I recently moved to the Hudson Valley and now live near an aging interstate overpass. It is quickly becoming an infrastructure artifact. Tiny rusting metal Left Turn “Only” signs are pasted onto the concrete above so as to nearly be invisible to the driver. When I pass underneath, I muse where on the schedule lies our bridge’s next renewal, or at the very least, inspection.

Aging infrastructure as relates to rail has never been far from my mind. Railroads, struggling under archaic regulations and under-funding to the benefit of oil-industry fueling highways and airlines, are choked with rail traffic. This slows the economy. In the end, the question is not is there enough work; the problem is who gets the credit. I have always had a problem with the fact that in order to take advantage of highways funded by taxpayers, you must make a personal investment into private industry in purchasing and maintaining a car.

I thankfully still can take the train fairly easily here. Poughkeepsie, for all its struggles, has beautifully renewed its New York Central station. I can be into NYC in about the same time as I can drive there. I think this can be a great time for rail. Perhaps one needs to look at the reorganization of Detroit. Do we have the capacity, and does it make sense to repair all the highways that were created? Is it more feasible to ally behind expanded rail lines for certain functions? Who are those investors willing to take the risk? As a member of the slender sliver than makes up Generation X, I live much in the shadow of the ponderous Millennial generation. I admire their noted move toward cities and towns and burgeoning use of public transportation. Stan Greenberg‘s new book American Ascendant indicates that apparent gridlock now is the last throes before a social revolution in our country. Infrastructure is the linchpin in our renewal and must be crafted for the future, not just repaired.

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. "P. R. R. shops’ Altoona, Pa. interior of western round-house." New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed November 7, 2015. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e0-9d75-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. “P. R. R. shops’ Altoona, Pa. interior of western round-house.” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed November 7, 2015. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e0-9d75-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99