1. Jennifer, what is your position at the museum and what does it entail?
As registrar, it's my job to catalog all the items that come into our collection. I try to get personal history and information from the item's donor to give a background on the item. A chair is just a chair unless you know that Kathryn Matthews sat on it at the Polio Hospital.
It's also my job to know past collections so if someone comes looking for their great-grandfather's Bible, I know if we have it and where it might be. It's much easier to put together exhibits if you know what items relate to each other. I work on conservation of items by getting things into proper storage containers and scanning papers and pictures. These things weren't made to last forever, but it's my job to preserve it as long as possible. We have 60 years of collections, of which I've only been around for the last two, so every day is like a treasure hunt for me.
Jennifer (left) hanging out at Hart Square - a recreated 19th century American village.
As the Murray's Mill site manager, I give tours of the Mill itself, run the general store, and do lots of research. Running the store includes getting appropriate merchandise, keeping my shelves full, having small exhibits, plus money management. I have to research the Murray family, milling and grinding, rural agriculture, general stores, and other topics to give my visitors an accurate picture of life at the mill in its heyday. I also take care of the buildings themselves, check for damage and maintenance. I plan events for the mill (like the upcoming poker run and ice cream social) to raise awareness and money. I try to come up with ways to make history fun for my visitors. Twice a year I help our miller grind corn and wheat on the grindstones. Someday I'd like to be able to run the mill on my own.
2. Can you tell us briefly how you got to this place?
My parents always took me to historic places, plus I grew up around Washington DC. I loved going to those places and thought it would be a lot of fun to work there, especially if it meant I got to dress up and play with animals! I was a history major in college, but worked retail when I got out. Through a friend I got a summer job at the Schiele Museum in Gastonia as an 18th Century Backcountry Housewife. I interacted with visitors on the farm and learned 18th century skills. I did that for 4 years and then came to the CCHA. Jennifer sharing museum artifacts with students at a local elementary school
3. What are some of the more unexpected and fun things you have done in your position?
I get to handle objects. You're not allowed to touch things in a museum for a very good reason, but I can with the proper precautions/tools. Our museum has a British Redcoat. When we took it off display to rest I helped carry it to the vault. That's probably the scariest thing I've done. Priceless doesn't even begin to describe it and I was worried something might happen.
One of the more challenging things I've done was give a tour of the mill to a blind visitor.
The best part about working at the mill is that I get to turn the waterwheel on and off every day.
That does sound like fun - right up there with dressing up, huh? Thanks Jennifer. I can tell you love your job. And you actually get paid to do research? Cool!