Every week, guests and researchers visit The Henry Ford’s Reading Room, either physically in the Benson Ford Research Center, or virtually, via our remote research program. The researchers (or our staff, for remote requests) pore through boxes and folders of photographs and documents, and sometimes select key items for imaging. With so much material in our collections, these can be intriguing items we might not have realized were there, and we make many of these digitized images available online so future access becomes even easier for anyone, anywhere.
One great example is this recently digitized, researcher-requested Ford Motor Company image of a Model T modified with traction to act as a snowmobile.
It's human to want to leave a legacy — some small impact on the world that will outlive us. For the Roddis family of Wisconsin, that legacy comes partially in the form of generations’ worth of clothing, now a part of The Henry Ford Archive of American Innovation.
“What’s absolutely wonderful about this collection is it’s from one family and spans many decades and several generations,” said Jeanine Head Miller, curator of domestic life for The Henry Ford. “Often, people don’t save things to this degree — they get dispersed and their stories are lost.”
The Roddis family was a successful middleclass family living in Marshfield, Wisconsin, from the 1890s to the 2010s. William H. Roddis moved to this small town from Milwaukee with his wife, Sara, and his son Hamilton and daughter Frances in 1894. There, he turned a struggling veneer business into the thriving Roddis Lumber and Veneer Company. His son Hamilton continued this success. And there, Hamilton Roddis and his wife, Catherine Prindle, raised a family of five daughters and one son.
Though living in a small town away from urban centers, the well-educated Roddis family was in touch with the larger world. The Roddis women loved stylish clothes and found ways to keep up with fashion. “Their closets held garments available in the stores of Milwaukee, Chicago, New York or Paris — as well as stylish garments made by Catherine,” Miller said.
Though the family was prosperous, they didn’t have an unlimited clothing budget, stocking their closets very wisely. “Their clothing was tasteful, beautifully designed and constructed, but not pretentious,” Miller added.
Hamilton and Catherine’s daughter Augusta played a key role in preserving the generations of the family’s garments acquired by The Henry Ford, storing items in her family home’s third-floor attic for decades.
“Now that The Henry Ford is the custodian of the collection, it is our responsibility to preserve these garments for the future,” said Fran Faile, textile conservator at The Henry Ford. “We do that by housing them in specialized storage areas, exhibiting them only for limited periods of time and ensuring that the materials used for display are safe for the delicate fabrics. We are committed to providing the best possible care for the artifacts entrusted to us.”
Even the most delicate of repairs are considered carefully, she added.
“In the end, what the family appreciated about The Henry Ford was that we valued the context,” noted Miller. “The garments are lovely and interesting to look at, yet they take us beyond, into broader stories of America. So the collection is about more than just fashion. It’s about people — and the American experience spanning more than 130 years.”
The Henry Ford’s digitization and digital content teams get together for a 10-minute stand-up meeting every morning, and those meetings consistently spawn intriguing conversations about the amazing, rare, awesome, and significant items in our collections. Sometimes our discussions turn to objects that make sense within the context of their time and place, but which might seem strange or unsettling today.
In honor of the Halloween season, we’ve put together an Expert Set of some of our favorite such artifacts, selected by our staff. For example, Curator of Communication & Information Technology Kristen Gallerneaux selected this poster, shown above, featuring magician Howard Thurston and a bevy of supernatural figures.
Visit the Expert Set in our Digital Collections to see more—if you dare... Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
This summer, The Henry Ford hosted Meredith Pollock as our 2016 Edsel B. Ford Design History Fellow. Her work here investigated the materials in our collections related to Edsel Ford’s philanthropy, and turned up a great deal of information on the kinds of charities to which Edsel donated.
One thing that caught our eye, particularly in light of this year’s National Park Service centennial, is Edsel’s ongoing relationship with America’s national parks. We’ve just digitized a number of letters, photographs, and other artifacts that help explain how Edsel supported the park system, including this certificate reappointing Edsel to the Isle Royale National Park Commission.
Henry Ford Museum’s newest exhibit, the Davidson-Gerson Modern Glass Gallery, formally opens on October 14, 2016. In this exhibit, you’ll learn about the evolution of modern studio glass, and how it blends art, science, and technological innovation.
We’re happy to announce that we’ve already digitized about 80% of the pieces on exhibit, with the remainder to be available online by early next year. One example, shown here, is “Scarlet Macaw” from the Parrot Series by Noel Hart, an Australian artist.
In the early 1960s, designers Charles and Ray Eames set out to reveal the wonder they saw in math through an engaging and interactive exhibit they called Mathematica: A World of Numbers … and Beyond. The designers, perhaps best known for the iconic Eames lounge chair, used models and demonstrations to bring to life concepts such as probability, geometry, the Moebius strip, and more.
In 2015, The Henry Ford acquired an original Mathematica exhibit, and is currently working to restore the interactive components before installing the exhibit on the Museum floor in 2017. We’ve begun to digitize some of the signage and reading material from the exhibit, including this reading stand that discusses, among other things, the “Man Machine Interface.”
Visit our Digital Collections to view zoomable detail shots, or to see the other Mathematica signage digitized so far. Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
There has been a lot going on at The Henry Ford lately – our Beatles exhibit has just closed, the new Davidson-Gerson Modern Glass Gallery is soon to open, and the conservation department has been involved with those goings-on and more. Even though there’s a lot of change and activity, our IMLS-fundedgrant project to work on our electrical collections continues at a steady pace. As we approach the halfway point in the grant, we are also approaching 450 objects conserved – the halfway point of our 900-object goal!
Conservation Specialist Mallory Bower and Senior Conservator Clara Deck clean objects in the Collections Storage Building.
We have been continuing to make regular trips to our Collections Storage Building (CSB) to select artifacts for inclusion in the grant; while we’re out there, we give them an initial clean, before bringing them into the museum to be fully conserved, then photographed and packed.
Collections Specialist Cayla Osgood brings down the dynamo on a forklift while Mallory “spots”, keeping a watchful eye for corners, overlapping edges, or any other potential issues.
We have recently brought our third “extra-large” object in from CSB, an Eickemeyer Dynamo. When choosing objects to bring in, we take into account the wants and needs of other departments of the museum, and we chose this object as there was some interest in it from the curatorial department. Since it was high up on a shelf, it had been a little while since they were able to inspect it up-close – there was a lot of excitement when we brought it in! Although it will not be going on display, it is now clean and accessible, and soon it will be digitized and available online.
The Eickemeyer Dynamo, retrieved from storage (32.107.1)
The dynamo did not need an excessive amount of treatment, largely a brush/vacuum to remove storage dust, plus removal of a little copper corrosion on some of the fittings on the ends. (Want to read more about our “extra-large” objects? Check out our previous blog post!)
A circuit breaker with a marble base, during treatment (29.1333.292)
Although the “extra-large” objects have been focused on quite a bit in our blogs, most of what we do involves much smaller objects. There are so many different materials and types of objects, we have a lot of interesting challenges to work through. Something of particular note that we have come across a few times now is objects with marble bases, like this circuit breaker. The marble is frequently very dirty, with staining and significant accretions, and, as in this case, also cleans up fairly well! This “in progress” shot shows how different the object can look from when we get it out of the Collections Storage Building to when it’s clean and finished, ready to be digitized and packed.
So that’s where we stand currently, nearly halfway through our IMLS grant, working away on lots of electrical objects. Keep your eyes peeled for future blog posts with updates on our progress!
Louise Stewart Beck is the IMLS Project Conservator at The Henry Ford.
American Style and Spirit: 130 Years of Fashions and Lives of an Entrepreneurial Family is a temporary exhibit opening in Henry Ford Museum on November 5. The exhibit is based on an extensive donation of garments and accessories, all used by the Roddis family of Marshfield, Wisconsin. These artifacts are exceptional in demonstrating how clothing tells us something about the person who wears it, while also illuminating broader stories of American life. We have just digitized a number of Roddis Collection pieces, including this 1952 day dress.
To learn more, visit our Digital Collections to see the other pieces digitized thus far and watch for more to be added in the weeks leading up to the exhibit opening. Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
Elizabeth Parke Firestone (1897–1990) was the wife of Harvey S. Firestone, Jr., son of the founder of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. As a well-heeled and fashion-conscious woman, she both traveled to and corresponded with many famous couture houses in Paris, including the House of Dior.
An inquiry from Dior last year led to our digitization of many of the articles of Christian Dior clothing in our collection that belonged to Mrs. Firestone, but when we dug even further, we turned up over 370 Dior design drawings, mostly dating from the 1950s. Many, like the 1955 “Fête a Trianon,” are intricately colored, and include handwritten notes and fabric swatches, giving potential customers a taste of their glamour. Visit our Digital Collections to peruse all of these Dior design drawings. Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
One of the main components of The Henry Ford’s IMLS-funded grant is the treatment of electrical objects coming out of storage. This largely involves cleaning the objects to remove dust, dirt, and corrosion products. Even though this may sound mundane, we come across drastic visual changes as well as some really interesting types of corrosion and deterioration, both of which we find really exciting.
An electrical drafting board during treatment (2016.0.1.28)
Conservation specialist Mallory Bower had a great object recently which demonstrates how much dust we are seeing settled on some of the objects. We’re lucky that most of the dust is not terribly greasy, and thus comes off of things like paper with relative ease. That said, it’s still eye-opening how much can accumulate, and it definitely shows how much better off these objects will be in enclosed storage.
Before and after treatment images of a recording & alarm gauge (2016.0.1.46)
The recording and alarm gauge pictured above underwent a great visual transformation after cleaning, which you can see in its before-and-after-treatment photos. As a bonus, we also have an image of the material that likely caused the fogging of the glass in the first place! There are several hard rubber components within this object, which give off sulfurous corrosion products over time. We can see evidence of these in the reaction between the copper alloys nearby the rubber as well as in the fogging of the glass. The picture below shows where a copper screw was corroding within a rubber block – but that cylinder sticking up (see arrow) is all corrosion product, the metal was actually flush with the rubber surface. I saved this little cylinder of corrosion, in case we have the chance to do some testing in the future to determine its precise chemical composition.
Hard rubber in contact with copper alloys, causing corrosion which also fogged the glass (also 2016.0.1.46).
Hard rubber corrosion on part of an object – note the screw heads and the base of the post.
This is another example of an object with hard rubber corrosion. In the photo, you can see it ‘growing’ up from the metal of the screws and the post – look carefully for the screw heads on the inside edges of the circular indentation. We’re encountering quite a lot of this in our day to day work, and though it’s satisfying to remove, but definitely an interesting problem to think about as well.
There are absolutely more types of dirt and corrosion that we remove, these are just two of the most drastic in terms of appearance and the visual changes that happen to the object when it comes through conservation.
We will be back with further updates on the status of our project, so stay tuned.
Louise Stewart Beck is the IMLS Project Conservator at The Henry Ford.