Below are a just a few of the questions we answer often at the Columbia River Maritime Museum.
When you receive a new item to be added to the collection, what are the steps you take to prepare it for preservation, display or storage?
When an item is offered to the Museum, we first evaluate whether it fits the mission of the Museum. If it does, we next consider the long-term storage and preservation needs of the artifact. Assuming we can accommodate those needs and the decision is made to accept the item, a receipt is prepared and sent to the donor for signature.
The item is then carefully cleaned, its condition is inspected, and a report is prepared. The item is assigned a unique number, all required paperwork is collected into an accession file, and the object is either stored or displayed. If the item is displayed, its condition is a factor in determining and preparing the proper mounting system or display case for the item.
Careless handling of an object is probably the most common cause of damage. Heat, humidity, and light can also be detrimental – particularly when their effects may not be readily apparent until significant damage is done to the item. Measures must be taken to limit such potentially harmful environmental exposure.
The oldest item in the collection is a wooden block and chunk of beeswax from a 17th century Manila galleon wrecked on Nehalem spit.
The most rare item is the fur trade token. This token and others like it were struck in Birmingham, England by John Walker & Co. for the Northwest Company (fur traders). The tokens had a wide circulation in the trade network of Canada and the Columbia River Valley in Oregon. This copper and brass token is dated 1820, which is the last year they were made before the company was absorbed by the Hudson Bay Company.
The Columbia, a National Historic Landmark,is docked right outside the Museum, and was the last active-duty floating lighthouse on the West Coast when it was retired. The Peacock is arguably one of the vessels most significant to the development of commerce in the Columbia basin, second only to the Columbia Rediviva, for which the river was named.
Most of the Museum’s boat collection and marine engines are stored offsite. The Museum’s more delicate items are stored in tightly controlled, environmentally stable storage spaces within the Museum building.
Our goal is to present new exhibits on an annual basis.
The Columbia River Maritime Museum loans items from its collection to institutions that meet the American Association of Museums’ accreditation standards for collection care.
If there is a question concerning authenticity of an item, the Museum staff will consult with experts for authentication.
Some universities offer advanced degrees in museum studies, and these courses provide preparation for work in the museum field. History and anthropology degrees impart a solid understanding of research methods, which is also helpful. Physical agility, mental alertness, a steady demeanor and good situational awareness are also valuable when working with artifacts.
What’s the most unusual or complex piece you’ve had to work with in terms of preserving, displaying or storing an object?
Mounting the Motor Lifeboat 44300, showcased in a dramatic rescue display in the Museum’s front windows, required two cranes and a forklift.
The Ted M. Natt Research Library is open for appointments on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Other dates and times may be arranged in special circumstances.
What notable researchers or projects have tapped the Columbia River Maritime Museum as an information resource?
National Geographic, The Sea Hunters, The History Detectives (PBS), Oregon State Parks and Recreation, Oregon Public Broadcasting and the National Park Service, as well as international scholars, researchers and authors have used the Columbia River Maritime Museum as an information resource.