The Objects of My Eye
Anne Duffy is an MLIS student focusing on Museum Studies and about to start her last semester in the program. In spring, she completed her CE Internship at the Kent State University MuseLab co-designing the exhibit on Dr. José Gregorio Hernández.
As part of our exhibit, Healing Through Faith & Medicine: One Man’s Legacy about Dr. José Gregorio, we needed to borrow artifacts from a medical collection since medicine was a large part of our subject’s life. We were fortunate to work with the Melnick Medical Museum in Youngstown who lent us objects to help tell the story of Dr. José Gregorio the way it deserves to be told, with accuracy and depth. We wanted to provide real objects rather than pictures or replicas; having the “real thing” can help provide visitors a connection to the era (the late 1800s to the early 1900s) and the person (Dr. José Gregorio). In this case, the medical objects provide a sense of what Dr. José Gregorio brought to Venezuela and how important he was to his patients during his life.
Since I live near the Melnick Museum, I handled the communications with their curator, picked out the objects, and transported them back to the MuseLab. The collection is housed at Youngstown State University, and has an extensive collection of medical equipment from almost any era of medical history. For authenticity, our exhibit objects needed to be from the lifetime of Dr. José Gregorio. After meeting the curator in a common area, we walked to the four archival storage rooms located in Cushwa Hall. The largest one, where we spent most of our time picking objects, contains small objects from bedpans to surgical tools and old medicine vials. The second and third storage rooms are smaller and contain their larger objects like x-ray machines, microscopes and blood pressure cuffs. The fourth room contains archival boxes and period medical clothing.
Picking out the actual objects was a rewarding experience. It was at this point that I realized I knew more than I realized about Dr. José Gregorio. Without having to look at my notes on the exhibit, I knew not just a list of facts, but the actual story of this man’s life and more. For example, I decided that we should use a binaural stethoscope rather than a monaural one because most of the pictures show him with a binaural stethoscope. I also decided that a tuberculosis cuspidor would be relevant to the exhibit because Dr. José Gregorio made discoveries about tuberculosis during his research.
The most nerve-wracking part of picking out the objects was transporting them back to the MuseLab. It felt like I was driving with plutonium in the back of my car! Once the objects were back at the MuseLab, I helped the MuseLab manager process the objects into PastPerfect. Being able to actually work through the process of noting the condition, labeling, and describing the objects was so informative and something that I’m really grateful that I was able to experience. In Museum Collections, I learned the theory and steps of how to process loans, and in the MuseLab I was able to practice that process. This is one aspect where learning by doing added an essential element to my education.
Being the primary contact for the object loans gave me the opportunity to make decisions that helped to complete the exhibit, proved to me that I knew more about the exhibit than I realized, and showed me how other museums store their objects. While the responsibility was sometimes scary, it was valuable. Doing this seemingly small task changed how I saw the exhibit and how I see myself as a museum professional.
Objects in borrowed from the Melnick Museum in place in the MuseLab's exhibit, Healing Through Faith & Medicine: One Man's Legacy.