We hope you have been keeping up to date on what’s been happening in the Village, especially with the work that has been ongoing over by the Dann Road House. Scott, Kathy and the interpreters this summer did a great job of making some improvements to our “farmstead site” to make it more engaging. Stay tuned to our social media and blog posts! In the meantime, this month’s installment of Collections Curiosities ties in nicely with the Village. And I know what you’re thinking – “another blog post about chickens??” – in our defense, it has been a few months since our last chicken post and we’ve never had any live animals here at the museum so it’s a big deal for us!
We have so many objects that come to us with stories and anecdotes attached to them. In fact, we try to primarily collect objects and documents that have such narratives because it allows us to better discover their provenance, or background. We would much prefer to acquire a quilt that can be traced back to a family member who hand stitched it and then passed it down to a descendant who then remembers using it to snuggle up in during one of Western New York’s infamous winters – for example – instead of a quilt that has no known origin, nothing that can root it to the area, to the community or to a certain event. Some of these stories are traceable and can be confirmed while others are vague, more of a family legend or simply wishful thinking, in some cases.
When an object is acquired, the donor is urged to put down their thoughts regarding their donation. We encourage any memories, reminiscences, family stories, and/or historical facts that they can remember so that we can attach these to our own files when we move forward with cataloging the object and adding it to our permanent collection. This information, when it is stumbled across, can be a treasure trove and can trigger giggles, eye-rolls, and general fascination. I came across one such object in my work back in the Collections Department – a wicker basket about four feet long, seemingly innocuous, with handles and a hinged lid. When opened, it has three compartments which also have their own lids. Three metal holes stick up from the edge and, when the lid is closed, a long rod is inserted into them to keep the lid closed. Looking into the catalog files, the story that came along with this was that it was a poultry carrier used to carry the first Rhode Island Red chicken into WNY in the 1860s. So we have found WNY’s claim to fame at last – and it has been sitting in our collections storage area since 2007!
I have no desire to get into what I’m sure is a hotly disputed debate over when the first Rhode Island Red chicken may or may not have waddled its way into our fair region. This particular Collections Curiosity is meant to be simply that…a curiosity, an interesting tidbit, to demonstrate the depths of the collection we have here at BNHV and, I must admit, to tie in with our new girls out in the Village (hopefully you will think of this post when you next see them).
It’s one of those things that make you think “…really?! What would make the donor claim that this carrier was the one that carried the first Rhode Island Reds into WNY??” Perhaps it was told to him and he was simply relating the statement. Perhaps he figured it would make it more attractive to the museum as a donation. Perhaps he was a well-meaning, time traveling farmer who really wanted his belongings to stand the test of time. Who knows! No other information was given other than that brief claim and we will never be able to verify it in any way. Infuriating, yes. Surprising, no. A majority of the items that were acquired over the years as this museum grew have no known provenance and not even any neat stories to go along with them. However, this doesn’t make them any less important to our mission than the ones that can boast a provenance of some sort – it just makes it that much more special when I do come across a collection item just waiting to come out of the shadows and spin a tale or two.
Remember to stay tuned every month for the newest installment of Collections Curiosities!