Cultivating a Collection

by Kathryn Clem

image1Specializing in presenting local agricultural history to the public, the Manatee County Agricultural Museum has been a wonderful site to learn about the responsibilities of a curator as well as gain practical skills required for handling a collection. During my summer internship, I am responsible for cataloging, cleaning, marking, and photographing the 200 objects that belong to the museum’s Hunsader Tomato Collection. In addition to cataloging this collection, I have been given the opportunity to assist the curator with various research projects. The tomato collection encompasses a wide range of objects including ceramics, glassware, towels, candles, and various paper products. The variety of objects found in this collection provides an intern, like myself, with the opportunity to learn about the different factors that influence how an object is cared for and treated in a museum context.

To begin this project, I had to assign each object a unique accession number that would allow the museum staff to identify the object and match it to its appropriate documents.

A catalog worksheet and condition report is then created, which detail the specific characteristics of the object being recorded and any flaws or damages that may exist. Next, each object is cleaned carefully according to the type of material the object is composed of. For example, during this past week I had cleaned ceramic kitchenware following the procedures outlined in an online guide prepared by the Victoria and Albert Museum. Following these procedures, I had to clean each object by hand using a cotton swab dipped in warm water and soap. This process was time-consuming, but these steps had to be taken to ensure that the ceramic’s glaze or any hand-painted elements were not damaged during the cleaning process. After each object had been cleaned, a semi-permanent marking of the accession number was placed on each object. Printed on acid-free paper, each accession number was applied to the object using brushes and Jade 403, an approved adhesive agent safe on ceramic, plastic, and glass. Each object is then photographed, entered into the museum’s database in PastPerfect, and prepared for storage in acid-free boxes.

As I continue to work on this project, Melissa Dagenais, the museum’s curator, and I will begin to conduct research on the collection and possibly discuss future exhibitions that may feature some of the objects.


Victoria and Albert Museum. “Caring for your Ceramics.” Last modified December 1, 2015. Accessed May 23, 2017.


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