Star Struck

by Gaby Kienitz, Conservator

We’re all star struck – for some it’s a little and for others it’s like air, they need star sparkle all the time. I’ve always thought of myself as being at the lower end of the spectrum. I admit it, I read the magazines that stores put by the check-out lines; but, when you work in a museum with cultural artifacts, it’s easy to take things for granted. Over the years, I’ve worked with objects that belonged to movie stars, singers, political figures, religious leaders, athletes, writers … you get the idea. I recognize that these famous people, through their creativity, charisma and brilliance, have made an impact in the world we live in. I know it in my head, but I don’t feel it in my heart.

So, when the museum received two Grammys from the family of Wes Montgomery and a small exhibition was planned for a Treasures Case, it was all business for me. Those Grammys needed some serious help. They looked like they had been treasured possessions in the way we might like a favorite piece of clothing, we use it lots. Scratches, dents, broken and missing pieces attested to a history of many hands having held these objects. Two of  the most obvious problems were that the wooden base was missing on one Grammy and both Grammys were missing the plates. I could get the head carpenter at the museum to replicate a new base using measurements from the remaining one; but the plates were a problem. What was the exact text on the plates, how was that arranged, what was the font used and what were the plates made of? These are all the weird questions you have to ask when you are trying to reproduce a missing piece from a historic artifact.

One of the curators got the exact text for the plates from the NARAS website but, after some digging on the internet and a few phone calls, neither of us could get answers to the rest of the questions. That’s when I discovered that one man and his company have made nearly all the Grammys – John Billings of Billings ArtWorks. I don’t usually call people out of the blue, but I’d tried to find the information in other ways, and this was my last, best shot. So I called and explained to the man on the phone who I was, about the Grammys and what information I needed. He said, “Hold on a minute … John, phone for you.” The next thing I heard was, “This is John.” Me: “John Billings?” Him: “yes.” Suddenly, I’m star struck; my heart is beating just a little bit faster and I’m working hard to keep my voice steady. He becomes my hero, because he freely offers to make new plates, using the same equipment and materials that were used to make the originals. Less than a week later, they arrive, along with a signed business card. I won’t say I sleep with that business card under my pillow, but it’s become one of my treasured possessions. He put the sparkle in my life. Thanks John!