Museums & Galleries Qld

Posts Tagged ‘International fellowship

The Chicago History Museum covers the eclectic story of Chicago in many ways from its fur trade beginnings to its diverse immigrant stories. One thing I am learning here is the many ways these stories can be told. Here history is not just about what happened 50 or 100 years ago but it’s also about what happened yesterday. The Museum embraces the hard to tell story and the celebratory one.

Some of the pioneering story is told through dioramas.  I love the exquisite detail in the figures and the expansive vistas inside. Like big doll houses they have a charm that people are really attracted to, if the long lines in front of them are anything to go by.

Another great installation is photography based Read the rest of this entry »


These delightful photos were taken at the Swedish American Museum and they feature the opportunities children have to explore being a pioneering Swedish child about to become an immigrant and resident in America. Children prepare for this big event by dressing up as immigrant children, buying a ticket in a child’s size ticket booth and going up one side of a big boat ready for departure. They leave from Sweden and arrive on the other side of the boat in America. Read the rest of this entry »

Chicago is a city with a big history and a lot to say. My international Fellowship has provided me with the opportunity of exploring the way the Chicago History Museum tells this story through its exhibitions, education and school and public programs. This takes in tours, talks, food, architecture, games and theatre and I’m sure there are lots of other ways this is done that I am about to learn about in the next little while. Not only am I lucky to be here I’m lucky with the weather – it’s not windy and it’s not cold, in fact it’s humid!

I have been on a walking tour of OLD TOWN and the name gives it away. The city is treated as an artifact with a story to tell. This is told very well because the tour is well researched and the story given life by our volunteer guide, Henry Wykowski . There are gorgeous buildings and quirky aspects to them, bears in wall niches, grand staircases leading to timber homes perched on brick bases, and stories linking them to the introduction of the sewerage system. Our guide knows his city and its stories so well we hung on his every word. Walking tours, tours with strollers, tours with dogs (called pup tours as opposed to pub tours), train tours, just about every kind of tour becomes a part of the public program and this and most of the other outdoor activities are programed for summer as winter here is incredibly bitter. Read the rest of this entry »

Conservation and Restoration

When it comes to decisions about conservation and restoration, the approach seems to be that it’s better to be canny and careful and not rush into things. Like most places, in the US it appears that there are some diverse views on how objects should be presented and what constitutes an appropriate degree of intervention.

Last week I talked about the drive to improve the care of big things, rolling stock in particular, by ensuring it is at least under cover and where feasible in a controlled environment. Once you have the rolling stock inside, the next question becomes how do you care for it – do you stabilise and conserve, cosmetically restore, or return to operating condition, with all the alterations from original that might entail? There is plenty of scope for a range of decisions to be made and it’s not always black and white – there is any numbers of positions between stabilisation and full restoration.  And these decisions are equally as difficult whether it be for a locomotive, an aeroplane, a boat or a building.

The discussion about restoration seems to centre on two things – intent and methodology. Under the banner of intent is authenticity in restoration – understanding what’s been done to historic objects in the past (sometimes not so good), and thinking through the decision – when to restore and when to conserve. People here have been asking questions like “What are you trying to show an audience?”, “What is significant about the object?” and “Does this have some bearing on how and why you conserve, restore or operate?” In thinking about how restoration proceeds, people are giving attention to details such as authentic colour, configuration, materials and traditional methods. Restoration is often to a specific era, not always “as it came off the line”. But whichever “era” you choose, the decision to restore begs the question of whether, if it’s not stabilised in the current condition and configuration, then are you not erasing some of the history?

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Another challenge is what can be considered authentic – is a building or carriage that only has original foundations really a restored object or a reconstruction/reproduction. Is it like Grandad’s axe with four new heads and seven new handles, effectively a facsimile of the original object? And does that matter? Sometimes it may be that this is the only way that we can hope to see what a unique carriage would have looked like. But in every reconstruction, we make decisions today that take liberties with originality.

I don’t know what the answer to this dilemma is. In a number of places I’ve visited the approach has been meticulous research on the history of the object; attention to the technology, fabric and material changes to the object; the use of traditional methods, especially in building restoration; careful documentation of every step of the process; and clear delineation between original and new/replacement parts. There are a number of on-line resources museums here go that, while not specifically related to transport objects, are very useful and these include: and

In some places, rolling stock is being presented in original conditions. Which leads to another question, especially in the environment of limited funding where priorities have to be assigned to restoration, which is: when is it ok not to restore? Personally, I sometimes feel that the original condition, with stabilisation to ensure the longevity of the object, gives a feeling of authenticity that no degree of restoration can match. However, it is as much the experience of hearing steam, feeling a loco move, smelling the fuel, and seeing the grandeur of a shiny loco that contributes to people’s engagement with the stories, technologies and significance of big things. So many people marvel over the real thing and it’s clear that the capacity to achieve that awe and wonder, the appreciation of the “romance” of transport in the past, is important. This was made abundantly clear this week at the California State Railroad Museum where they marked the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Union Pacific railroad. The large event included train rides in historical carriages, opportunities to climb into locos and an array of beautifully restored rolling stock out on public display. The crowds were phenomenal, the excitement of little kids marvellous to see, and there was a depth of engagement for many visitors. I also visited a live steam event at Railtown 1897 this week, and the enjoyment of the physical experience of an operating steam railway was palpable amongst visitors. These two events were a timely reminder of the wonder big things can induce.

So what is the answer? I don’t know, but it seems like to be canny and careful, understand your object, its history and significance, to carefully adhere to conservation standards including documentation, and identification, reversible changes and so on and to have a clear idea of what you want to achieve in the conservation/restoration, what your objectives are, all important facets in a well-considered decision.


GERALDINE MATE is the Senior Curator, Transport and Energy at The Workshops Rail Museum, Ipswich, a campus of the Queensland Museum.

M&GSQ’s 2012 Mentorship, Exchange and Fellowship Program is funded by Arts Queensland through the Regional Arts Development Fund (RADF). RADF is a joint Queensland Government and Local Government partnership to support local arts and culture.

See M&GSQ’s website, for more information about the Mentorship, Exchange and Fellowship Program.

First Impressions

Let’s start at the very beginning … Here I am in Baltimore, Maryland for the first Railroad Museum visit. And I must remember to call them Railroads, not railways … it’s an American thing. As American as George Washington. The first national monument to George Washington was erected here in Baltimore in an area called Mount Vernon, an area that also boasts the Peabody Institute, the former home of Wallace Simpson (now the hotel I’m staying in), the First and Franklin Presbyterian Church with the city’s highest steeple, and the 1872 mansion of John Garrett, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad magnate. In Baltimore it seems everything relates back to the railways (woops), so it’s a fitting place to start my visit.

So far I have braved the freeways, learned to look right and then left when crossing the road, worked out the money (sort of) and bamboozled people with my Australian accent.  So today I was wondering what the first museum would bring. Interestingly it was a sense of home. I visited the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum, on the site of the former Mt Clare Railway Workshops. The industrial site, the locos, and the museum talk made me feel, at last, that I was in a familiar place. The scale was different but the issues the same. The locomotives were bigger, and the collection impressively large, but as we discussed the challenges of engaging audiences, caring for large technology objects (more about that another time), interpreting important stories and keeping visitors coming, it was with a sense of shared purpose.

Railroads – As American as George Washington and popular with people of all ages.

The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum has had their fair share of challenges, the most dramatic of which was the collapse of the roof of the historic roundhouse in 2003 after a heavy snowfall. The roof collapse closed the museum, and damaged some significant collection items. But, as it is in the railroad (got it right this time), from adversity comes advance. The restored Roundhouse is a fitting venue to show off their amazing collection of rolling stock. And the interpretive strategies they use to tell a variety of parts of the history of the B&O Railroad has moved to focus on people, a deliberate shift away from a focus on technology. This is something that many rail museums (indeed many transport museums) struggle with, but is a key to attracting a more diverse audience. Although it is important to meet the needs of the more knowledgeable sectors of audiences in specialist museums, I really believe that if we want to make collections more accessible, it’s not just about getting the objects on display or on the web, but making them interesting to a wider range of people and giving our visitors a deeper understanding of the human stories behind our museum collections.

A beautifully restored loco, this piece was damaged in the roof collapse and has undergone careful restoration.

And rail museums are about the people. According to the directory of North American railroad museums, there are 294 railroad museums in North America. That’s a lot of people – visiting, inquiring, restoring, telling stories about, and working in, the railway. The very first story you see in the B&O Railroad Museum, is the story of a person – Charles Carroll, then the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, who broke ground for the start of the B&O Railroad, in 1829 – the first railroad in the United States. So as a beginning, the B&O Railroad Museum, the place recognised as the birthplace of American railroading, seems a very good place to start.

The timbered dome of the B&O Railroad Museum’s roundhouse.



GERALDINE MATE is the Senior Curator, Transport and Energy at The Workshops Rail Museum, Ipswich, a campus of the Queensland Museum.

M&GSQ’s 2012 Mentorship, Exchange and Fellowship Program is funded by Arts Queensland through the Regional Arts Development Fund (RADF). RADF is a joint Queensland Government and Local Government partnership to support local arts and culture.

See M&GSQ’s website, for more information about the Mentorship, Exchange and Fellowship Program.

“Leaving on this trip feels a bit like being in this art work by James Turrell.”

You can follow Virginia Rigney’s blog from her M&GSQ International Fellowship, go to

M&GSQ’s 2012 Mentorship, Exchange and Fellowship Program is funded by Arts Queensland through the Regional Arts Development Fund (RADF). RADF is a joint Queensland Government and Local Government partnership to support local arts and culture.

See the M&GSQ website, for an announcement about the recipients of the 2012 Mentorship, Exchange and Fellowship Program.

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