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Effort afoot to preserve Afton's artifacts

The Afton Historical Society, which manages the Afton Historical Museum, is in the process of applying for a $150,000 grant to help with storage improvements at the museum. (Staff photo by Amber Kispert-Smith)

The Afton Historical Museum prides itself on being able to keep history alive.

However, unless some major changes occur, many of the artifacts at the museum could potentially find themselves on life support.

“If we don’t take care of them properly,” museum president Stan Ross said, “they’ll just turn to dust and no longer exist.”

The Afton Historical Museum is currently in the process of submitting a $150,000 grant application to the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) in hopes of bringing the museum into its next chapter.

A museum in need

The Afton Historical Museum, which opened in 1985, is located in the congregational church, circa 1868, and houses roughly 10,000 artifacts including military artifacts, textiles, children’s toys, books, photography, maps and original documents.

Over the years, however, the museum has gone into disarray thanks to increased inventory and limited storage space.

“When people showed up with an artifact it was ‘Thank you very much’ and it was shoved in a corner,” Ross said. “They were never really attended to properly.”

The museum became so disorganized that the Afton Historical Society, which manages the museum, didn’t even know what it had.

Additionally, the displays could not be rotated, which led to a very tired look at the museum.

When Ross came on as president in 2006, he said he needed some guidance as to how to run a museum so he turned to the Minnesota Historical Society, which advised him to hire a consultant to perform a Conservation Assessment Program. The program creates a guide of what the museum does well and what the museum needs to improve.

“They had a problem with how we display our artifacts,” Ross said.

MHS informed Ross that the Afton Historical Museum was in dire need of being fixed up.

“They said there’s a logical progression of steps you need to go through before you even start talking about displays,” Ross said.

The first step in breathing new life into the museum came in the form of taking an entire inventory of all of the museum’s artifacts before entering them into a database.

“We uncovered all these artifacts that we didn’t know we had,” Ross said.

The inventory project, which took nearly three years, was possible through a Minnesota Legacy Grant.

Even though the museum now knows what it has in its collection, Ross said it’s still not up to the standards it needs to be at – specifically, its storage.

Currently, the Afton Historical Society’s storage and display model is not acceptable by MHS standards since many of the artifacts are not properly stored, which can cause the artifacts to be damaged or lost over the years.

“With all that in mind, the next step is that we need a proper storage area for the artifacts,” Ross said.

Storing history

The recommended way of storing historic artifacts is on a specialized shelving system that not only features specialized shelving and drawers, but also a tract system to maximize space.

“You are using the space that we have very efficiently,” Ross said.

In addition to proper shelving, the museum is also required to create the proper environment for its artifacts through temperature and humidity control, ultraviolet protected windows and sealed floors.

“We’re trying to create a near-ideal environment for our artifacts,” Ross said.

The artifacts will also have to be “rehoused,” which means that they will need to be preserved in specialized boxes, drawers, envelopes and the like.

“The buzzword is ‘rehousing,’” Ross said. “You are taking an object and you are packaging it in such a way that maximizes its life.”

“Everything that we have should be properly stored to last another 100 years,” said Pam Reuvers of the Afton Historical Society. “That’s our goal.”

The museum has incorporated all of these aspects into its grant application to IMLS, which needs to be submitted by Dec. 1.

If the museum should receive the grant, the improvements are planned to begin in mid-2015.

The process for the improvements will include removing all of the museum’s artifacts from the basement, where items are stored.

The artifacts will then be stored in rented storage containers which will then be transported to a storage facility in Brooklyn Center where they will be housed in a temperature controlled environment.

Once the improvements have been completed at the museum, which Ross said should take about six months, the artifacts will then be returned to the museum for storage and display.

The museum will remain open during the improvements.

“We’ll just be a little handcuffed for a while,” Ross said.

Ross said these storage improvements will greatly aid in the museum’s ability to rotate various exhibits, while preserving the artifacts that the museum has.

“It’s a huge step for the museum,” he said. “That opens the door to so much in the future – it allows us to move to the next level.

“Things will look a little different at the museum.”

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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