May 11, 2010

Museum start-up

RHC member Tonia Cain works on a display at the
organization's new history musuem.

"It’s mostly feeling our way and learning as we go.”
Kathy Clark, Redmond Historical Commission chair

For more than 20 years, the Redmond Historical Commission (RHC) worked on the quiet, collecting and preserving artifacts and records deemed significant to local history.

It received its seed money from former Redmond Mayor Sam Johnson and sporadic funds from the city.
Its membership leaned heavily towards the older generation of Redmond residents, all working diligently to protect the short past of a community barely more than 75 years prior.
All that changes with 2010, the year of Redmond’s centennial, the year the Commission opened a museum space and the year a new Greater Redmond Historical Society was formed.
“Some days are pretty overwhelming,” says Kathy Clark, Commission chair. Since the city first leased an empty building to RHC in 2009 Clark and the Commission’s other six members have spent long hours transforming a quiet group of history lovers into an unpaid staff of museum curators.
“Our volunteers are exemplary,” Clark says. “They work hard and do such a great job.” Volunteers at the new Redmond Museum have increased since the RHC began the process of forming a historical society last year; Clark estimates about 20 regular volunteers beyond the seven Commission members, who average nearly 300 hours a month on RHC work.
It wasn’t always that way.
When Doris Hassler joined RHC 10 years ago its only office and display space was a small room at the back of the Redmond Library. The majority of the Commission’s collection had to be stored in various spots around town and nothing was catalogued on a computer, which was fine because few RHC members knew how to use one.
Hassler, a hometown girl who graduated from Redmond High School in 1947, joined the RHC at the suggestion of fellow RHC member Jane Schroeder.
“I find it fascinating, to tell you the truth,” says Hassler. “I enjoy organizing the collection.”
Clark joined RHC about the same time. A transplant to Redmond around 1997, she brought to the Commission experience with a historical society in Gilliam County and a near-master’s degree in history.
“I’m two classes short,” she says with a chuckle. “I’d like to finish but I seem to be too busy.”
Clark has led the Commission’s effort to join the digital age. After the RHC purchased specialty archival software she was trained in its use, then trained some part-time staff that worked with her to begin digitally scanning all the photos in the RHC collection.
“The industry estimate is that it takes an hour to fully catalogue a single item,” says Clark, explaining that the process begins with determining the correct category for an item and entering in the software its origin, a detailed description, whether it is on loan or deeded to the museum – including details of both – then taking a photo and assigning the item a number that it is marked with.
“We can’t enter a set of silverware, it needs to be every piece individually,” Clark says. “I pray no one donates a set of marbles.”
With the acquisition of the 1,500-square-foot museum space, and nearly the same amount of storage space, RHC has been able to move nearly all its collection to one spot. Commission members and volunteers have spent months going through boxes and crates in an effort to sort items for display and cataloging.
The journey from amateur historians to trained curators has not been an easy one – nor is it over yet.
“We have books on archival principles and we’ve visited and talked to other museums,” says Clark. “But it’s mostly feeling our way and learning as we go.” Without an increase in volunteers willing to be trained, or funds for employees or university interns, Clark estimates that it will take years to correctly catalogue the museum’s collection.
“We have documents I can hear crumbling as we speak,” says Clark.
The newest addition to RHC is Ken Harms, a Redmond native who was appointed in 2009. The Commission’s youngest member, Harms, 56, can’t put in the same number of hours as his mostly-retired cohorts, but he brings other experience. A risk manager for Deschutes County, Harms is a former Redmond city councilor with extensive experience in the business world.
“To be honest, before I applied to be on RHC I barely remembered it existed,” he says. “I didn’t know if they went around identifying historical buildings or what.”
A self-professed history buff, Harms took to the RHC mission right off: preserving local history.
“We have such a long way to go (in organizing and cataloging the collection),” says Harms. “The biggest thing right now is to protect what we have.” Moving the collection to a central location and putting large chunks of it on public display may be easier for RHC volunteers and nicer for the community but it also puts the collection at increased risk.
“Security is what I do for a living and it’s a real concern for us as with the new facility.” Harms helped RHC develop security for its building and policies for its volunteers to ensure the protection of the collection.
In addition to the museum space the newest development for RHC has been formation of a nonprofit historical society. With a board of nine and the opportunity of unlimited membership, the Greater Redmond Historical Society is expected to increase the number of grants and potential volunteers.
“With our existing group even if we get a bit more money we’ll only be able to get so much done,” says Harms. “Nonprofits have much more opportunity for grants.”
Being young, small, and staffed with volunteers is not all a bad thing, in Harms’ opinion.
“On one hand there’s an advantage to being small,” he says. “If you create a huge machine (of an organization and facility) how will you feed it? There’s a luxury to being in an infantile stage; you have little to risk – anywhere you go and anything you get is a plus.”
One big plus to obtaining more funding will be the ability to purchase newer equipment. The commission has only one computer for its office (and another for its research desk), which is a hand-me-down, as is most every other piece of equipment, including mismatched and aged display cabinets still bearing the logos of whatever business or organization donated them.
Still, it can be done. Harms points to the tremendously successful Bowman Museum in Prineville as an example of what a small band of dedicated volunteers can make happen with clever use of grants, local fundraising and a voter-approved special tax levy.
Until the money starts coming in however, it’s up to the small group to volunteers and RHC members to staff the museum and work behind the scenes with the collection. The group closed for the winter to catch up on sorting and cataloguing items, in preparation for a special centennial display.
But the long hours can’t go on for good, RHC members say, and everyone hopes for an influx of volunteers.
“If we’re going to be open most days this summer we’re all going to have to be there quite a bit,” says Hassler. “We all feel so strongly about the benefit of the museum we’re willing to do our share but it’s not easy. I’m kind of selfish with my time; I have lots of other things I like to do.”
Clark agrees.
“People are so excited to have us here,” she says. “They’ve been coming every day, even though we’re not open, bringing us things and asking us questions. It’s hard because we have limited volunteers and limited time to help them find the answers.”
Clark is also putting her hopes in the historical society to bring much needed funds and volunteers.
“It’s a scary step but very exiting.”

Redmond Museum, located at 529 S.W. 7th St., will re-open May 15 at noon. Hours of operation are expected to be Thurs.-Saturday, noon to 4 p.m.; admission is $2. The special centennial displays will feature a mock train depot and platform and sections highlighting each decade of Redmond’s 100 years. The museum also has a research library with extensive genealogy resources. Information about membership in the historical society will be available at the museum or online on the Greater Redmond Historical Society’s Facebook page.

-- story and photo by Leslie Pugmire Hole

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