In October 2017, Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation was awarded another Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant, allowing us to continue working to catalog, conserve, package, and rehouse over 3,000 items out of our Collections Storage Building. We've had the opportunity to work with some very interesting objects for this grant, from agricultural equipment to advertisement signs. There is a wide array of objects passing through the labs, visible to the public through the windows at the back of the museum.
This spring we treated many batteries made by Thomas Edison. Most of these originated from the late 19th century and varied in condition and composition. These early battery types consist of metal plates that were immersed in an electrolyte solution to generate electricity. The batteries themselves were stable and safe to handle because they contained no electrolyte. The batteries with unknown compositions sparked our curiosity (pun intended), since we needed to know what they were made of so that we could properly conserve them.
Sometimes while working in the lab, we need specialized equipment that we may not have on site. Fortunately, museums often work collaboratively to help each other find solutions. In this case, we collaborated with Conservation Scientist Christina Bisulca and the well-equipped analytical conservation lab at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The DIA had the right tool for the job - a high-powered optical microscope and X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer. An XRF spectrometer is essential to conservators because it is used to identify metals. It uses an X-ray beam to produce enough energy to excite electrons within the atoms of metal elements. When that energy is released, a specific signal is registered within the XRF spectrometer and the metal is identified.
The DIA’s XRF spectrometer analyzing the central core of one of the batteries. (Photo courtesy of Misty Grumbley.)
At the beginning of March, we brought several batteries to test at the DIA, including an Edison-Lalande battery, a Samson battery, and an Edison S-Type battery. The Edison S-type battery was particularly interesting, since we were not able to find any similar batteries to compare it to, and could not confirm the materials used through research alone.
From November 20, 2016, through March 5, 2017, our colleagues at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) are presenting an exhibition called Bitter|Sweet: Coffee, Tea & Chocolate. The exhibit will trace the impact of these beverages in Europe, beginning in the late 16th century. One set from The Henry Ford’s collections—this late 18th century tea service—will be on loan to the DIA, helping visitors understand what a formal tea setting would have looked like.
As we learned more about the exhibition, we saw additional parallels between the DIA’s goals and our own collections’ artifacts and themes, and ways our collections can extend the messages of the exhibit. The DIA will help explain how these new tastes spawned a design revolution and entirely new industries devoted to creating specialized tableware; our Made in America exhibit in Henry Ford Museum covers how British innovations in power and production machinery made way for the increasingly precise manufacture of porcelain and other mass-produced goods to support these needs, beginning the Industrial Revolution. Bitter|Sweet will focus on Europe, but The Henry Ford’s collections explore how the craze for these new beverages spread to America—including the tale of early American artisan and entrepreneur Paul Revere.
The exhibit will be interactive, allowing guests to explore via all five of their senses, which is similar in approach to Greenfield Village—for instance, being able to experience the sights, sounds, and smells of historic chocolate-making in our Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village program. And last, coffee, tea, and chocolate all remain popular today, allowing us to bring the past forward and show how these historic drinks fit into life in modern America.
Over the course of the exhibit, we’ll be adding links to this post that explore some of these themes in our collections. We hope these will provide a deeper understanding of the impact these three once-exotic drinks have had, from the earliest days of our country’s history right on through to the takeout coffee in your hand.
This year The Henry Ford has been very excited to be collaborating with the Detroit Institute of Arts, and other Detroit-area community organizations, to provide additional context for their current exhibit, "Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit." This year we've been digitizing parts of our collection that directly relate to Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, their relationship with Edsel Ford and Ford Motor Company, and the creation of the well-known frescos found in the DIA's Rivera Court.
Because of the close involvement of Edsel Ford and Ford Motor Company in the project, our archives contain documents, photographs, and correspondence related to these subjects.
Earlier this year a group of curators spent time in Rivera Court thinking about how their areas of expertise here at The Henry Ford connect in some way to Diego's murals. From agriculture to communications, each of our curators found an instant connection.
Take a look at our curators' reflections in this series of videos shot on location at the DIA.
Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford.
As part of our collaboration with the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) and other Detroit-area community organizations to provide additional context for the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit exhibit at the DIA through July 12, 2015, The Henry Ford has been digitizing parts of our collection that relate to Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and their relationship with the Ford family and Ford Motor Company. We ran across a couple dozen 1932 photographs, including this one, of the Ford Motor Company Mexico City plant, all marked “Kahlo Foto,” and wondered whether these might be the work of Frida Kahlo’s father Guillermo Kahlo. An essay in the exhibit catalog by Diego Rivera’s grandson Juan Rafael Coronel Rivera notes “Don Guillermo was considered the finest architecture photographer in Mexico, a master in the field…. Diego respected Don Guillermo … for his studies of industrial machinery: Don Guillermo recorded the day-to-day modern development of the country; every factory and every major engine installation became the subject matter of his photographs, which were published in the Mexican press as an indisputable symbol of the nation’s advancing progress.” We haven’t yet found any further information about the genesis of these images, but it seems likely, given the labels on the images, Guillermo Kahlo’s architectural photography background, and the year the images were taken (the same year Rivera started work on the Detroit Industry murals at the DIA), that these images have a tie to Frida and Diego’s time in Detroit and relationship with the Fords. Visit our collections website to see all of these images, as well as the other related material we’ve digitized.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
The Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit exhibit will be on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts from March 15, 2015 through July 12, 2015. As a community partner for the exhibit, The Henry Ford has been digitizing selections from our collection that document Diego Rivera’s creation of the Detroit Industry frescoes and Diego and Frida’s time in Detroit. Below are links to six sets within our digital collections that bring some additional context to the exhibition.
Edsel Ford funded the Detroit Industry frescoes, and Diego Rivera was inspired by the Ford Rouge Factory. As a result, Ford Motor Company, Edsel, Diego, and Frida became intertwined during the artists’ time in Detroit. This set features behind-the-scenes photographs of Diego, Frida, and others involved in the project; photos of Diego’s original drawings for the murals; a photograph taken by Ford Motor Company at Diego’s request; and correspondence between the DIA and Ford Motor Company about supplying glass and sand for the work.
In 1932 and 1933, Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo lived in Detroit, while Rivera was painting the Detroit Industry frescoes at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). The frescoes, commissioned by the city Arts Commission led by Edsel Ford, celebrate Detroit’s industrial manufacturing power. They lie at the heart of the DIA, and also at the heart of Detroit.
From March 15 to July 12, 2015, the DIA will display nearly 70 works of art in an exhibit called Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit. The Henry Ford is pleased to be collaborating with the DIA and other Detroit-area community organizations to provide additional context for the exhibit. Over upcoming months, we will be digitizing parts of our collection that directly relate to Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, their relationship with Edsel Ford and Ford Motor Company, and the creation of the frescos themselves. Because of the close involvement of Edsel Ford and Ford Motor Company in the project, our archives contain documents, photographs, and correspondence related to these subjects.
We've created a special page on the blog to house the items from our collections that relate to the exhibit, It will grow and expand over the period of the exhibit, providing pointers to these collections, so visitors to the exhibit, as well as those who may not have a chance to attend, can dig deeper.
If you’d like to dig in and start exploring right away, we’d suggest a visit to our collections website, where we’ve started to digitize our collections related to Diego Rivera, including the photograph below of the Detroit Industry frescos in progress.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
As Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford, one thing that I find particularly fascinating is how our collections intersect with those of other cultural institutions. Sometimes these connections pop up unexpectedly.
Recently, I was searching in our collections database for items related to Mexican artist Diego Rivera. This 1930s image of Ford Motor Company employees collecting their wages from a payroll truck, pictured above, was one of the items I got back in my search.