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Recently, I was hired to do some time sensitive research for the Travel Channel program "The Dead Files".  While I can't discu...

Saturday, June 14, 2008

History is all around! SAVE OUR HISTORY! Partake, if you can!! Part 2


My previous post on the largest collection of the photography of Edward Sheriff Curtis held at the Peabody Essex Museum has a sad ending.

This is the second case of researching historical holdings at major institutions that have either been sold and not documented or lost.
First, a portrait of my ancestor John Badollet, which was a possession of his life long friend Albert Gallatin, was in the possession of the New York Historical Society. So...I contacted them. I expected the portrait to be in storage (Badollet is not a prominent historical figure). Unfortunately, as is the case with organizations that are trying to juggle money making and survival, many of Gallatin's collection and others were sold by a former director of the NYH Society. Albert Gallatin was instrumental in the history of this organization, and was the former president of the Society until his death in 1847. Now, the NYH Society has a wonderful location and a wonderful collection. I do understand how it is important to downsize collections. But, it seems that this former director went on a spree of selling off lots of collections to downsize. I understand this need at times, but it is unconscionable to do this and not document the sale, so that it can be traced at a latter time. The picture, which is believed to NOT be a daguerreotype as stated, but a oil painting, is below with the flower (see post on "Travels Home" dated 1 Mar 2008). If anyone out there has seen this or has any information on its location, PLEASE contact me, it is the only known portrait, other than drawings by Charles LeSuer, of Badollet.

Back to my trip to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA to find Curtis's large collection of Native American photography. Seems that this extensive holding is in storage, was displayed briefly in 2002 or 3, and has no future intention of being accessible to the public. Travesty! And they HAVE a Native American collection on display and a great video referencing this wonderful collection. They were very nice and congenial, but when I stated the significance of this collection I was told, "We have lots of valuable assets in our collection and we can't display them all". Fair enough, but how 'bout some rotation time. Curtis died unrecognized. A documentary on him was done by American Masters and they have no intention of showing it in the near future. You can't rent it, but you can purchase the DVD or VHS for about $200. Ouch...

It sure is hard to find out anything about anyone other than George Washington, John Adams, Ben Franklin, and other very visable historical figures. I really think it's the people that surround these famous people that bring history to life.

With a bit more research it is astounding to find that not only are many historical holdings in Museums and Societies not accessible, but warehouses across the country have storage that is not even documented. They have NO idea what history is lost in storage!

If you give money to a Museum or Society, please express your interest in knowing what holdings they possess, what they plan on doing with them, and how they are preserving our history. Don't accept "we don't have the funds to maintain our collection". If you get this, find out what they pay their director or CEO/President, and research how this salary has changed over the years. If you find it reasonable, inquiry if they are going to sell these collections to another organization that can maintain the holding or a private person or organization that can be referenced to find the objects. Beware, you won't be well liked for you efforts. So what...our historical records and artifacts are worth it. That is my favorite form of activism!!

Ok.....I'm climbing off that soap box!
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