The value of a good story

by David Buchanan, Curator of Decorative Objects and Furniture

I recently read an article written by Don Johnson for the March 26 issue of Antique Week titled “Medallion’s provenance is its greatest value.” It told the story of a coin-sized Nazi Zaum Winterhilfswerk medallion picked up by Clyde Kirkpatrick, a veteran of many of the bigger battles of World War II. He tells how he acquired the 1938 medallion and his experiences in keeping it while a prisoner of war.

As the Kirkpatrick story points out, the Nazi medallion itself has little intrinsic worth. It is the background story that provides the sense of value. It’s that story that would be told if the piece went to a museum. But I also believe if the medallion is ever offered at sale, that story would also raise its monetary value over the hundreds of other similar medallions already for sale.

Quite often I’ll see objects I believe could be useful to the museum collection, especially in auctions and antique malls. More often than not, when I ask the auctioneer or mall owner about the history of the piece, they reply they don’t know of any. No one made any effort to keep its history. Its story has been reset to zero.

Curators are not concerned with anything more than historical value when it comes to acquisitions but, speaking to all who are primarily interested in objects based on monetary value, I do believe that monetary value can be greatly enhanced by the same type of provenance needed for historical value.

Have you seen this painting of a young Charles Lanier? Possibly titled "Boy with Stick and Dog."

How often have you seen a painting in an auction titled something like “Boy with stick and dog”? That title describes a painting of a young Charles Lanier that we would like for our collection. It’s a painting whose whereabouts is currently unknown. (We have a photograph of it so we know it existed.) If ever offered with that title it is unlikely we would ever learn of it being offered for sale. But if someone had ensured the painting’s provenance was included, even if it was just the name “Charles Lanier” written on the stretcher, then given modern technology we, along other’s interested in the Lanier family, would learn of it. That interest ensures both its historical and monetary value has increased.

With provenance, even for something mass-produced like Mr. Kirkpatrick’s medallion, a good history kept with the object will help value(s) with each passing year. Bottom line, I believe if one is thinking about ways to enhance the worth of an estate, or even just trying to sell something, one should consider its unique provenance. If it has a fascinating story; if it’s associated with a well-known family; if it can be tied to an important event, or even if it’s just some everyday family history, document it. Auctioneers and antique dealers will be better off. Even better, that provenance will have curators all over the world absolutely thrilled — from an historical value point of view of course!

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There’s a party going on right here …

by LeAnn E. Luce, West Region Program Manager

Mother Nature is throwing a surprise party and you are invited! The colorful fête is going on right now at the T.C. Steele State Historic Site. On display is an enchanting mix of flora and fauna she has decorated with. The 211 acres of gardens, forest, lily ponds and trails are vibrantly alive with flowers, buds, frogs, bees, birds and the intoxicating smells of flowers in bloom.

What a phenomenon this spring is! The early warm weather has just made everything pop — in some case right before our eyes — here at the site. The annual daffodil display is the icing on the cake!

So come right now to the party for the best spring eye candy and enjoy the spectacular views Ms. Nature has painted for us! Here is a sneak peek to whet your appetite:

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Women’s words

by Kisha Tandy, Assistant Curator of Social History, and Bruce Williams, Director of Multicultural Audiences

“We went from the pyramids to the plantation; to the projects; and to the penitentiary,” were the choice words of Indy’s noted poetess Tasha Jones as she captured the audience’s attention last September during Hard Truth: (S)he Speaks Volumes at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. I admit that I was definitely one of the many attendees sitting on the edge of my seat taking note of her every word. You see, Tasha plays the vocabulary like a fine tuned instrument speaking historical truths all while lyrically painting a picture of the world’s good and bad. SHE IS THE TRUTH!

Poetess Tasha Jones

Tasha demonstrates her tremendous respect for her elders through her spoken words. Her life’s thesis statement declares there is strength and power in Black history. She acknowledges the many disparities that continue to plague us today. She was not afraid to speak the truth—the hard truth.

As I was leaving the IMA, I thought to myself, “this is why I love poetry.” I appreciate those who can use the English language to move our souls with colorful verses and pulsating rhymes. Personally, I adore Indiana poet Mari Evans, who declared, “I am a Black Woman,” in her proclamation.

So from Hard Truths to Write On: Black Poets Rock, Tasha continues to share her meaningful words of encouragement and empowerment. Write On: Black Poets Rock will take place at the Indiana State Museum on Saturday, March 24 and Tasha will be ready to greet us with “Hello Beautiful” and take us on a spiritual journey with her magnificent instrument — spoken word. Joining her will be poets Januarie York, M’Reld Green, Sunni Patterson, Theresa tha S.O.N.G.B.I.R.D., Queen Sheba and GEORGIA ME. The day includes workshops for students, educators and anyone who loves wordplay and will conclude with a poetry slam.

You really don’t want to miss this free event from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. This is our gift to you in celebration of National Women in History Month. While at the museum, please take the opportunity to visit the museum’s latest exhibition, REPRESENT: Celebrating Indiana’s African-American Artists.

The art and science of window washing

by Bill Lackner, Tour Guide at Lanier Mansion State Historic Site, and Anne Fairchild, Eastern Region Program Manager

When it comes time to cleaning windows at the Lanier Mansion, there are extra things to consider. After all, some of the glass dates back to 1844!

First, there is the old method of using  gravity as the main method to flatten the surface of blown glass.  Because this system wasn’t perfect, the imperfections and distortions you see can make weak areas in the glass.  Also, this method did not allow them to make large panes, so we have many tiny windows supported by wooden frames instead of one large window. This makes the job even harder! 

Then there is the new technology to consider: A thin film filter was applied to the interior surface of the glass to block ultraviolet light. This filter protects textiles, papers and other surfaces from damaging sunlight coming through the windows. Any abrasions to this delicate film can cause damage from the sun in the future.

Then there is the outside. These windows are large and very high up in the air! They are pretty hard to get to and you need to take great care to prevent damage to the old window panes, the window frames and blinds (today we call them shutters). So, where do you put the ladder? It gets tricky.

Of course the biggest hazard is falling off the ladder. Any volunteers?