The personal Lincoln

Treasures continue to surface as the Indiana State Museum collections management staff processes the Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection. One tiny object, a token from President Lincoln to a grieving widow during the height of the Civil War, illustrates the personal side of a president who has become an icon of American history.

This decorative bird picture features a wooden frame with a circular well in the center that is trimmed in copper; a nature motif is crafted within the well. A brown tree with green leaves is hand painted against a white background. Two birds with beaded eyes and painted beaks are constructed from blue, green and red feathers. One bird is perched on a tree branch hovering over a nest, while the other bird forages for food on the ground below the tree. A piece of convex glass covers the motif. A hanging ring is attached to the top. Newspaper backing is found on the reverse, as well as the number 30 carved into one corner.

A postcard dated June 14, 1963, from the donor reads: “Dear Sirs, I just had given to me a small picture, there were two looks hand made of a bird real feathers not in very good condition, but it was given to my friend’s mother by Pres. Lincoln. Her husband’s body was never found and Mr. Pres. entertained my friend and gave her these little gifts as a memo of her visit to him. It’s a shame to throw it away and anyone collecting Lincoln can have it for a collection piece …” [Editor’s note: The spelling and grammar are from the original postcard.]

Wow! It is the little finds like this that help make this collection so special!

The Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection was given to the State of Indiana in December 2008 by the Lincoln Financial Foundation. The Indiana State Museum is home to the historic objects and art while most of the books, documents and photographs reside at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne.

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Backing, wrapping, encapsulation

Written by fine art collection manager Jeana Dallape

Behind every artifact exhibited at the museum, there is a team of people who helped get it there. Famous people have entourages to make them look effortlessly perfect in public, but in museums, it’s the famous (and not so famous) artifacts that have the entourages. The famous Lincoln artifacts in our premiere exhibit of 2010, With Charity for All, are no different.

Jeana Dallape works with photographs from the LFFC.

Jeana Dallape works with photographs from the LFFC.

There are two of us (Jeana Dallape and Gaby Kienitz) who have been working for the past few months in conservation preparing the artifacts for their big debut here at the museum. With Charity for All contains more than 200 artifacts from the Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection, the majority of which are paper-based artifacts, such as broadsides, photographs, stereocards, sheet music and period lithographs. The methods we use to prepare artifacts for exhibition have to be reversible and non-damaging. We don’t use any method that might leave holes, or a residue or cause a stain. This exhibit will employ three types of mounts for the paper artifacts: backing and wrapping, encapsulation and framing.

Backing and wrapping and encapsulation are very similar but are used in different situations. Backing and wrapping an artifact involves cutting an acid-free backing board a little larger than the piece, then wrapping the whole package with a thin polyester film, which is secured to the backing board with archival double sided tape. This is used mainly for thicker paper artifacts.

Conservator Gaby Kienitz works with items from the LFFC.

Conservator Gaby Kienitz works with items from the LFFC.

Encapsulation uses a sheet of the polyester film for the front and another for the back. We have a special machine that fuses the polyester sheets together at the edges without affecting the fragile paper object between the layers. Then an acid-free backing board is cut just slightly larger than the artifact, to which the artifact is safely secured

When matting and framing museum pieces, we use an acid-free rag board and UV blocking acrylic sheeting in the frame to protect the artwork.  The Lincoln collection features several types of artifacts that will be framed, including letters to and from Abraham Lincoln, political cartoons and lithographs large and small.

The Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection was given to the State of Indiana in December 2008 by the Lincoln Financial Foundation. The Indiana State Museum is home to the historic objects and art while most of the books, documents and photographs reside at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne.

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Looking for Lincoln

Written by Dale Ogden, chief curator of cultural history at the Indiana State Museum

So, like I was saying, as curator of the Lincoln exhibition, I get to have all the fun … and … it’s good to be famous. If the show goes in the tank, which it won’t, I’ll take far more blame than I think I’ll deserve. If on the other hand, it’s a blockbuster, which it will be, I’ll get far more credit than I deserve. There are about 50 people working on the project right now, but I’m the one who gets to put a name — and occasionally a face — on it. People are always telling me how much fun my job must be. Sometimes it really is.

lincoln_heritage_trailThe most fun I’m having these days is traveling around the state shooting video with Leslie, our New Media Manager. We’re putting together some pretty cool interactives and we need a lot of video, audio, still photos and other resources. Driving around shooting video of Hoosier sites related to Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War and/or the Underground Railroad, I’m reminded how pretty Indiana is. I know that must sound like an oxymoron to some, but don’t take my word for it. Get off the dang couch and take a look for yourself.

Civil War graves on the Ohio River in Perry County

Civil War graves on the Ohio River in Perry County

Drive up the Whitewater River Valley between Madison and Richmond, or cruise along the Ohio on Indiana 66, both east and west of Tell City. Find a couple a stretches of the Old Lincoln Highway — Route 30 — through Whitley, Kosciusko and Marshall Counties. Stop and explore a pioneer cemetery or two along the way, or imagine what that ruined old motel looked like in 1957 when it sat out on the edge of town … out on “the main road.” Is there any such thing as the edge of town anymore? Watch out for chiggers, though. I swear, if I was hiking at the North Pole I’d still come down with a bad case of chiggers.

Shoot! I was going to talk about Crown Hill Cemetery where 1,200 Confederate POWs are buried alongside Union generals and vice-presidents, not to mention a president, and veterans of the 28th U.S. Colored Troops … and John Dillinger. I wanted to mention the Lew Wallace Study in Crawfordsville, where the old war horse penned Ben Hur, and Gentryville where Abe Lincoln’s mother, sister and nephew are buried. But, I’m over my word limit. Maybe next time. People say I talk too much. I guess I write too much, too.

The Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection was given to the State of Indiana in December 2008 by the Lincoln Financial Foundation. The Indiana State Museum is home to the historic objects and art while most of the books, documents and photographs reside at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne.

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Researching & Writing Lincoln

Written by Dale Ogden, chief curator of cultural history at the Indiana State Museum

With the portion of the spectacular Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection that is to be housed at Indiana State Museum (finally) home, we’ve dramatically shifted gears. After being consumed by the effort to acquire the collection for 16 months, we can now dive into the artifacts and get our hands dirty … metaphorically, of course. Yes Jane/Cindy, I wear my white gloves, religiously. I am not a Philistine.

Thousands of prints, engravings, framed artworks, sheet music, sculpture and 3-D artifacts have been unpacked and temporarily re-stored. Jeana, Meredith and others in Collections Management have been cataloging items for the February exhibition and Conservation has been looking for condition issues. I am, however, the one who gets to have all the fun.

We have about half the time I’d like to have to put the exhibit together, so I’m writing furiously. I enjoy writing, so it’s not a chore, but exhibit labels have their own challenges. Unlike a book, or even an article, you don’t have the luxury of wandering. Limited to 25 to 200 word snippets, you’re pretty much restricted to “Just The Facts, Ma’am.” It’s still fun, though. So far, I’m up to about 6,500 words worth of snippets.

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Processing Lincoln

This ornate, double-sided, folding memorial fan was made for Mary Todd Lincoln in 1865 as a memorial for her husband, Abraham Lincoln.

This ornate, double-sided, folding memorial fan was made for Mary Todd Lincoln in 1865 as a memorial for her husband, Abraham Lincoln.

After all of the artifacts from the Lincoln Museum in Fort Wayne arrived at the Indiana State Museum at the beginning of June, museum employees began processing the collection. Each artifact in the Lincoln collection must be cataloged following museum standards in the Indiana State Museum database. Digital images are taken of each artifact that are then linked to the museum’s database. The current condition of each artifact is also accessed and any artifacts with urgent issues are immediately addressed. The final step in processing these artifacts before placing them into storage is physically numbering each artifact. Individual artifacts are assigned a unique accession number to track that piece in the database, to assist with the writing of the museum’s professional reports and to facilitate the development of related exhibitions. With several thousand artifacts to catalog, that is a huge project to complete.

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Lincoln in the House

Museum curators have been incredibly busy lately, now that Lincoln is “in the house.” Hundreds of artifacts that make up “our” portion of the Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection* are being unpacked, cataloged, inspected, researched and generally readied for exhibition. The excitement is building, as media are becoming aware of the collection’s treasures.

Here’s one piece that I was able to see; this flag is unique for a couple of reasons. It was at Ford’s Theatre the night of Lincoln’s assassination, for one. It is also unique in that it has just 13 stars, most likely representing the original 13 states.

Dale Ogden, Indiana State Museum Chief Curator, with Ford's Theatre flag

Dale Ogden, Indiana State Museum Chief Curator, with Ford's Theatre flag

*(The LFFC was donated to the State of Indiana in partnership with the ACPL by Lincoln Financial Foundation in December of 2008. The Indiana State Museum will be home to all 3-D items while most archival objects will reside at the ACPL.)

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