Port Huron Museum will rearrange artifacts in 3-week closure

Jackie Smith
Times Herald

Port Huron – Inside a back room in the basement of the Port Huron Museum’s Carnegie Center, nearly every surface space is cluttered with a variety of items.

Fur coats and old clothing hang suspended in open areas and down aisles, old paintings and framed pictures are situated on walls and over tabletops, and boxes of documents and small artifacts fill the shelves.

One of the exhibits at the Carnegie Center.

Now, museum officials face the task of going through it all.

“Take a breath, because it is mighty frightening in here,” Andrew Kercher, the museum’s community engagement manager, told the Times Herald with a laugh. “This is something that has been put off, probably for decades. That’s why it’s become such a priority for us to get a handle of this.”

The museum will close the center – the other sites are already closed for the season – for three weeks starting Jan. 20 for a massive reorganization of artifacts and exhibits. Kercher said it could turn into a “real treasure hunt” of new and old discoveries.

While the closure will also serve as a chance for some early spring cleaning, Kercher said their primary feat will be to begin the long process of cataloging all the museum’s artifacts into a new system so they can be digitally tracked in the future.

That means starting from scratch, he said, with codes and data entry into new software.

Since the museum, and former Carnegie library, began collecting items over a century ago, he said, “There’s tens of thousands of items that have never been entered into a computer system.”

The process, Kercher said, may take longer than the three-week closure.

One of the exhibits at the Carnegie Center.

“It’s maybe more of a challenge than we can handle, but we’ve got to get started,” he said. “That’s why we’re closing – all hands on deck.”

Some volunteers and museum staff were already at work on the Carnegie Center’s third floor earlier this month.

One of the exhibits at the Carnegie Center.

An old yellow wall shade had been repainted with a light blue, and maritime exhibit pieces were disassembled and laid carefully across the floor.

“This is just the beginning,” said Veronica Campbell, the museum’s director. “This is basically our test run for the big one starting the 20th. This was (the work of) by two of our staff members, like their brainchild on redistributing the artifacts in a way that made more sense and telling the story of wooden ships and how sailing works and telling the story into the freighters.

“Then, we’re actually going to be expanding the maritime gallery. That’ll be like the Storm of 1913, the Edmund Fitzgerald – all the big names we know everyone wants to come to see.”

Kercher said that will also mean some artifacts, especially on the third floor, may not be on display when the museum reopens.

“The 19th-century sailing vessel from Tahiti that definitely didn’t sail on the Great Lakes,” he said. “That’s maybe one we’re not interested in highlighting because we’ve got plenty of models of other ships that were relevant to the Great Lakes.”

Because they’ve already begun the process, as well as some minor improvements, Campbell said the price of admission will be half-price at $5 until the closure.

Back in the basement storage area, Kercher picked up a few examples of things that looked to have been set aside years ago.

The Port Huron Carnegie Center is housed in the old library.

There was an old wooden scooter, they found upstairs in Garfield Elementary, a tiny Ladies of the Maccabees teacup, the glass-plate negatives of photos of the original Fort Gratiot, and a dusty Kerns Cream of Michigan beer bottle.

Although there were plenty of documents, such as the paperwork of museum exhibits from 1983 that he also pointed out, Kercher said it was the three-dimensional artifacts in the room that “hasn’t particularly been well-organized.”

“It’s a little bit of a labyrinth,” he said. “Exactly like, ‘What’s in that box? I know it says projector cameras. Is that right? What cameras? From when? What do we have?’”

To answer those questions, they’re looking for volunteers.

The museum has put up an inventory volunteer sign up online at www.phmuseum.org for those interested.

For more, visitors can also find museum information on its Facebook page.