Thursday, November 7, 2013

Guest Blog Post: Josh Fox (Public History M.A. '09) on Life as a Collections Manager

Every once in a while, we like to feature one of our alums here on the blog. It's a great way to see what our former students are up to after they've left the hallowed halls of the Department of History. And, trust us, some of them are up to some pretty exciting stuff!

Meet today's guest blogger, Public History Program alum Josh Fox. Josh got his M.A. from us in 2009 and, after several odd jobs here and there, went on to become the Collections Manager at the Philadelphia Independence Seaport Museum. See what he's up to!

"Oh, Sugar!" exhibit opening: Exhibit Manager Megan, Collections Manager Josh Fox, Archivist Megan (last names withheld)

A Busy Year at the Independence Seaport Museum  

When I started my job as the Collections Manager of the Independence Seaport Museum last September I didn’t realize I’d be walking straight into a disaster, or, more specifically, the museum’s new exhibit, “Disasters on the Delaware: Rescues on the River,” which was set to open in only two weeks. I was right on time to dive into installing a major exhibit. “Disasters on the Delaware,” an exhibit with a three-year run, tells the story of 12 shipwrecks on the Delaware River ranging in date from 1774 up to 1978 and was only the first of 5 exhibits that have gone up in my first year at the Seaport Museum. All of these exhibits have kept our four person collections staff very busy.  
The next exhibit, “URS: Digging the City,” went up as part of the museum’s new Community Gallery initiative. The concept of the Community Gallery is to present rotating exhibits featuring guest curators from the Philadelphia community working in partnership with the Independence Seaport Museum. The gallery helps give a voice to members of the community with ties to the river that otherwise might not be represented in the long term exhibits. URS is a local archeology company, and their exhibit featured artifacts excavated along the I-95 corridor, which cuts though Philadelphia’s waterfront. The Community Gallery rotates every 6 months. Working with the guest curators and groups allows for quick, small exhibits by placing a lot of the planning on those groups and not on the museum staff. However, it never quite seems like less work with the piles of loan and insurance paperwork as well as the two weeks needed to de-install one exhibit and install the new one.  
Once the URS exhibit came down it was time for the next Community Gallery, “Tugboats: The Art of Dave Boone.” As the name implies, this exhibit featured the paintings of Dave Boone, a self taught Maritime painter and Tugboat enthusiast. Dave also worked for 28 years on the Delaware River as a tugboat dispatcher and, more importantly, has been a long-time volunteer at the museum.  
“Tides of Freedom: African Presence on the Delaware River,” a three-year exhibit opened on May 4, 2013. This exhibit tells the stories of African-Americans who lived and worked along the river from the colonial era to the present day. Tukufu Zuberi, a University of Pennsylvania Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies and a host of PBS’s “History Detectives,” was brought in as a guest curator for this exhibit. When planning started for this exhibit it was assumed that we would have to get a number of loans for the exhibit because African-Americans haven’t been traditional represented by the museum. However, with a little digging it was discovered that there were indeed a number of artifacts in our collection that told more stories than we could use for the exhibit. Many of these discoveries could be attributed to some of the less than full descriptive catalog entries that exist in the catalog. Perhaps the most surprising and important find was that of “Wastebook B.” (A wastebook was a daily diary documenting transactions, meant to be discarded once it was recopied into a more formal ledger.) This book kept the daily transactions of an unknown Philadelphia merchant for the years 1763 and 1764. When the book was donated to the museum in 1971 the catalog entry mentioned that there were slave transactions recorded but the book was never deeply examined. In preparation for the exhibit if was found that “Wastebook B” recorded the sales of over 230 slaves coming in from 9 different ships in only a year’s time. The waste book proved to be an extremely valuable insight into the Philadelphia colonial era slave trade, and a firm reminder that slavery in America was not limited to the southern states. Selections from the book can be found on the museum’s website.  
And finally, to round out my first year, we had another exhibit for the Community Gallery. “Oh Sugar! Philadelphia’s Sweet Story” was guest curated by the Berley Brothers, Ryan and Eric. The Berley Brothers operate the Franklin Fountain, an Ice Cream Parlor and Soda Fountain, and Shane Confectionary, a candy store. Both of these stores are styled from the early 20th century and specialize in traditional candy and treats. The brothers have put on display items from their large candy making collection. Many of these late 19th and early 20th century machines and molds are actively used in their candy store when they are not in the exhibit. This exhibit allows for a fun way to tie into Philadelphia’s history as a large importer of raw sugar and exporter of refined sugar. Shane Confectionary itself has quite the tie to Delaware River history. Billed as the oldest continuously operating candy store in America (1863), the store served generations of Ferry travelers as they walked past the store to the Market Street docks.     
It has indeed been quite the busy year with exhibits. Now with a whole four months between the opening of “Oh Sugar!” and the start of the tear down of our next gallery, I should have a little down time. Who knows? I might even have time to work on some of my non-exhibit related tasks as Collections Manger.

1 comment:

  1. Josh, we're so glad you're doing so well! Thanks for sharing your adventures with us!