Regional Services Internship: The Manning Valley Museum

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Photography by Marsha Rennie

Manning Valley Historical Society Museum. Photography by Marsha Rennie

The Manning Valley Museum was established in 1964 through the incredible foresight and hard work of local farming women. They literally drove around on the back of a ute from farm to farm calling for locals to empty their sheds! In 1966 the Society moved into what was previously a General Store first established in 1871 by the Duff family in which to house the museum collection. They did not have any museum skills but had a real passion for their community. Today the museum still operates without a Curator and the volunteers are much the same, coming with various experiences to work with a passion for preserving the history and objects within the walls of the old store.

As the textile ‘custodian’ of the Manning Valley Historical Societies Museum, I was delighted to be accepted, along with my colleague Mieke Van Werdt for a Powerhouse Museum Internship. I certainly had no idea what to expect and I was soon to learn the breadth of skills I could acquire and the capacity of a 5-day program to transform every aspect within our Regional museum.

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The art of box making. Photography by Marsha Rennie

The first day brought lessons in paper conservation with Margaret Jurasek. Paper conservation?? What would a textile manager possibly learn from a Paper Conservator? I was impressed to learn the importance of simple sand bags when displaying books and picked up a variety of skills from making mylar mounts and folders to the ‘art’ of box making – not just any lidded box but the hinged, foam lined, cotton tape enclosing, photo labelled type! Necessary skills for a textile volunteer in a low budget regional museum.

Across the room, I met the talented Gosia Dudek who shared with us the magic of building displays using simple ‘pins’, silicon tube and fishing line! She gave me real skills for presenting professional displays securely. Whilst in the conservation lab, we also learnt to absolutely not rub any preparation into our leather and timber objects. This is a revelation for decades of well-meaning volunteers everywhere armed with Mr Sheen or linseed oil!

Range of tools required by Conservators to build displays. Photography by Marsha Rennie

Range of tools required by Conservators to build displays. Photography by Marsha Rennie

In the basement, I not only got to visually feast on the collection but observe real storage solutions for our Manning Valley Museum. This rack on castors would be the ideal answer to our dilemma of storing large garment boxes in our back workroom. It would allow extra storage whilst being able to easily access our permanent shelving too small for garments.

Photography by Marsha Rennie

Photography by Marsha Rennie

Even when not actively engaged in a ‘lesson’ – opportunities to professionally ‘develop’ abounded. Just wandering through the ‘transit’ area and examining the Powerhouse Museum curators wish list items gave me reason to reflect upon our own accessioning choices now and into the future.

Anni Turnbull the Social History Curator, was the fresh set of eyes I needed to immediately see the opportunity to breathe life into our SES exhibit- a corner of our museum that had seemed like just another collection of objects. It was suggested that we dig up old newspaper articles of rescues that had been carried out by the men who had used the equipment.

Photography by Marsha Rennie

Photography by Marsha Rennie

Both Anni and Diana Lorentz explored the undeveloped potential of our museum to represent the story of our buildings history and this was best demonstrated by exploring the Powerhouse’s “What’s in store?” exhibit. Diana and Malcolm McKernan also helped me develop a strategy to highlight significant objects amongst our ‘clutter’, improve our signage and explore the potential for storage to be developed on the exhibit floor itself.

The internship surpassed all expectations. It was a pleasure and an inspiration to meet so many passionate and generous professionals giving freely of their time and knowledge to enhance our humble regional museum.

Marsha Rennie
Manning Valley Historical Society Volunteer