Behind the Scenes of a Summer Internship

Our summer intern, Allison O’Keeffe, reflects on her experience and getting to work with the museum’s collection.  

First Issue of The Craftsman Oct 1901While meandering through the grounds of Craftsman Farms, past the lily-studded pond, looking up at the former home of the furniture designer and craftsman Gustav Stickley and his family, I marveled at the beauty of the building. From its broad log beams to its towering chimney, it is almost impossible for me to imagine the skill that it must have taken to achieve its beautifully simple design. Gustav’s eminence in the American Arts & Crafts movement, his legacy of craftsmanship lives on through the Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms.

Similar to the integral joinery in Stickley’s furniture, the museum is built on the hard work of its staff. During my internship at Craftsman Farms I gathered a greater understanding about how museums help to protect historic treasures, provide knowledge, and work outside of the usual visitor perspective. I had little idea just how much happens behind-the-scenes and how important it is to organize and catalog the objects in the museum’s collection. Working with the museum’s registrar I explored the many books, magazines, and catalogs that the museum owns.

While the furniture and home design of Craftsman Farms might be a key attraction, the whole turn-of-the century style would not be complete without period books and Gustav Stickley’s self-published The Craftsman magazine. Perhaps the most enjoyable part of interning at Craftsman Farms was having an opportunity to hold knowledge from the past in my hands. Being able to carefully turn the delicate pages of hundred-year-old Craftsman magazines and imagining the person who may have owned them and cherished their contents enough to keep them safe through the years.

An article from The Craftsman that has wedged itself in my mind hopefully describes the sportsman’s paradise that could be achieved with the wholesale release of exotic Asian pheasants into the woodlands and meadows of the United States. The sole purpose of these birds, of course, was to shoot them. It even describes, not only how to raise them and insure that they populate the wild, but what bird is best to eat, how and served with what. While modern conservationists would most-certainly shudder at the purposeful release of thousands of invasive bird species into the wild, the article makes for a very entertaining read.

As the museum has been the recipient of generous donations of books, magazines, and catalogs over the years, a daunting task awaited me. Each book, magazine, and catalog must be assigned a unique number that is tied to information such as who donated it and in what year. The details are then entered into the museum’s database. Even the height, width, and number of pages must be accounted for. They must then find a home within the Stickley Museum where they can be easily accessed and kept safe. The more robust and alluring books, perhaps with gilt pages or embossed leather covers, might be out on display to catch an inquisitive eye. These gems are only the tip of the greater trove of treasures protected by Craftsman Farms.

I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to peek under the lid of this treasure chest. Helping to evaluate, catalog, and sometimes peruse the collection has offered me valuable insight into just what happens behind the scenes at Craftsman Farms. This experience has also piqued my interest in the rest of the Arts & Crafts movement and given me insight into what makes The Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms so endearing.

– Allison O’Keeffe is a senior at Skidmore College studying Fine Arts and Art History. She first became interested in Gustav Stickley and the American and European Arts & Crafts movements when taking a course called “the History of Modern Design” at Skidmore. She also finds inspiration for her own artwork in the designs of the movement.

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