Polishing silver at the museum

by Gaby Kienitz, Head Conservator

In period dramas like Downton Abbey, footmen or maids get the dreadful task of polishing the silver. Culbertson Mansion doesn’t have staff hidden in the basement ready to polish the silver; instead, that work is done in the Conservation Lab at the Indiana State Museum. Here in the Conservation Lab, we don’t think of polishing silver objects as drudgery, because we don’t have to polish the same object more than once every 10 years. How do we get away with it? We have a secret ingredient.

Tarnished silver: a punishment for footmen since time began.

Tarnished silver: a punishment for footmen since time began.

Removing the layers of corrosion on silver objects is entirely done by hand with just de-ionized water, precipitated chalk and small pieces of cotton wadding. Once the corrosion layers are removed, the object is carefully rinsed and dried. All of that is pretty much in keeping with Downton-style polishing. The trick up our sleeve is to apply a lacquer coating onto the freshly polished silver. The lacquer prevents a new layer of corrosion from forming on the silver, sealing the shiny silver from things in the environment that might cause corrosion to form again. Unfortunately, the coating isn’t

With all those stubborn nooks and crannies, we’re lucky it won’t need our attention again for a decade.

With all those stubborn nooks and crannies, we’re lucky it won’t need our attention again for a decade.

strong enough to withstand normal household use; it’s meant for objects that get the “white glove” treatment at museums and historic sites. Our most recent polishing project was this lovely silver coffee urn, which took three pairs of hands and many hours to complete.

So, bring out your silver, try on your British accent, and keep regularly polishing at home. Look for the coffee urn to make its appearance at Culbertson Mansion State Historic Site.

Advertisements

Hoosiers and the Academy Awards®

by Katherine Gould, Associate Curator of Cultural History

When you think of Hollywood and the Academy Awards® you naturally think of Indiana, right? Well, you should. Hoosiers have been making an impact on the silver screen from the earliest days of motion pictures. Some of the most popular and celebrated films to come out of Hollywood proudly feature the mark of a Hoosier. Some you may be aware of — James Dean, Steve McQueen, Hoagy Carmichael, Sydney Pollack. While you may be less familiar with some of the others.

Let’s start at the beginning. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented their first awards at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on May 16, 1929. It was there that Louise Dresser of Evansville lost out to Janet Gaynor for the award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performance in A Ship Comes In. And I’m sure everyone has seen the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life at least once in their lifetime. If so, then you’re familiar with Valparaiso-native Beulah Bondi who played Ma Bailey. A graduate of Valparaiso University, she went on to earn nominations for Best Supporting Actress in Gorgeous Hussy (1936) and Of Human Hearts (1938).

And what about that Easter staple The Ten Commandments? Queen Nefertiti was played by Michigan City’s own Anne Baxter. A granddaughter of Frank Lloyd Wright, she had her breakout role starring in the 1942 film adaptation of Indianapolis-native Booth Tarkington’s, The Magnificent Ambersons directed by Orson Welles. She later won Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Razor’s Edge (1946), a film which also featured a Best Supporting Actor-winning performance by Indianapolis-native Clifton Webb. Baxter would again be nominated for Best Actress in All About Eve (1950), a film which also received a Best Art Direction nomination for Kokomo’s George Davis. A bit of a film legend, Mr. Davis received 19 Academy Award nominations throughout his career for his work on such classics as The Robe (winner, 1953), Love is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955), The Diary of Anne Frank (winner, 1959), Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), and Cimarron (1960).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Now, Steve McQueen isn’t one of the lesser-known Hoosiers in Hollywood, but are you familiar with director and producer Robert Wise? The Winchester-native directed McQueen in The Sand Pebbles (1966), for which he also received a Best Picture nomination as the producer of the film. And the year before, he paired up with cinematographer Ted McCord of Sullivan County for the classic The Sound of Music (1965), for which Wise won Best Director and Best Picture. The double win was also a feat Wise had achieved earlier for a little picture called West Side Story (1961). Now McCord, too, was no stranger to working with fellow Hoosiers: in 1955 he teamed up with screenwriter and Evansville-native Paul Osborn and a then-unknown actor from Fairmont named James Dean for the 1955 epic East of Eden. Both Dean and Osborn received nominations for their work on that now-classic film.

Behind the scenes at Lanier Mansion

by Anne Fairchild, Eastern Region Program Manager

To me, the most interesting thing about an old house isn’t the fancy parlors, or how the dining room is decorated, but rather the cool little details that are easily missed. You know, places such as a space in the basement that once held ice, how a closet is designed or a specialty room modern buildings would never have. 

The Lanier Mansion, considered the “Crown Jewel” of Madison’s Historic District, is full of unique features throughout the 13,500 sq. feet home —10,000 of which the family lived in — that are easliy overlooked with a general visit to the site. For those who share that passion of exploring nooks and crannies, Lanier Mansion State Historic Site now offers a Behind-the-Scenes Tour on the second Saturday of each month at 4 p.m. The cost is $10 per person and we highly suggest making reservations by calling 812.273.0556. 

Tour guide Bill Lackner is waiting to take you on a behind-the-scenes adventure at Lanier Mansion!

Tour guide Bill Lackner is waiting to take you on a behind-the-scenes adventure at Lanier Mansion!

Bill Lackner, our main tour guide at Lanier Mansion — and winner of the 2012 Madison/Jefferson County Hospitality Award — offers some insights about this tour.  

Anne: What is your favorite Behind-the-Scenes part of the mansion?

Bill: Seeing the structural components of the house. A great example of this is found in the floor joists. The dimensions of the wood are many times larger and closer together than modern specifications demand. The remnants of bell signaling system. The modern HVAC and electrical systems are hidden from view and do not take away from the authentic appearance of the rooms. Also, be sure to take a closer look at the thick brick walls separating the rooms. Their thickness was determined more by financial ability than structural needs.

Anne: Why have the Behind-the-Scenes Tours been so popular?

Bill: People often wonder, “what is behind that door?” Now you can finally find out! People also like to have the inside story and be let in on some secrets.

Anne: How long has Lanier Mansion been offering these tours?

Bill: They began last year.

A brighter corner of the Lanier basement.

A brighter corner of the Lanier basement.

Anne: What is the #1 thing you think people ought to know about the mansion?

Bill: I actually have two things! First, it’s a showpiece. The building was meant to be dazzling in its day, and it still is today. It showed the wealth of the owner and demonstrated the ability of the architect and builder, Francis Costigan from Baltimore. This was Costigan’s first big job. After Lanier Mansion, Costigan went on to bigger jobs, and eventually moved to Indianapolis.

Second, its quality. In 1844, Madison was considered the Far West, and people often had to make do with available materials and workers. Lanier’s building materials, strength, beauty and craftsmanship is the same scale of quality you might find in more established Eastern cities such as Baltimore. For its time, it may have been the most significant home west of the Allegheny Mountains.

Anne: What should people know if they are interested in going on this tour? 

Bill: It is more physically demanding than the regular tour. There are more stairs, steeper stairs and fewer handrails. The tour covers all levels of the house, including the basement with its uneven dirt floor. It also takes about twice as long as a regular tour. In the winter, it is dark by the time the tour is complete. So if you have a flash light, bring it with you.