My Life as an Artifact

Hi! My name is Mel Map and I’d like to tell you about how I came to be an artifact at the Charles A. Weyerhaeuser Memorial Museum.

Prior to my arrival at the museum, I had heard whispers and rumors about a different sort of life, a life as an “artifact.” Though I had no idea what being an artifact meant, I was definitely intrigued. Little did I know that one day I would have an intimate knowledge of what this word means.

When my owner, Katherine Armbrust of Little Falls, decided to donate me and several other maps in her possession to the county historical society, I was a bit apprehensive. I had been content to serve under Mrs. Armbrust’s ownership. As a city map of Brainerd and Little Falls featuring Crow Wing County and Morrison County, I felt that I was quite useful to her. Thankfully, what started out as a frightening prospect turned into a fabulous adventure.

The first step in my becoming an artifact occurred when Mrs. Armbrust signed a form transferring ownership of me to the historical society. This form is basically a legal document which states that the historical society is my new owner and will care for me to the best of its ability.

While she was signing the form, Mrs. Armbrust was asked to share background information about what she was donating. I glowed with pride as she told about her life and travels. I was glad to have been a part of it.

After Mrs. Armbrust left, I was transferred into the hands of the museum’s curator. It is her job to care for the collections at the museum. The curator carried me back to her work room and began preparing me and my fellow maps for our lives as valued members of the museum’s collections.

First, we were assigned an accession number. Each donation to the museum is given an accession number. This number helps the museum staff to keep track of everything in the collections. It consists of two parts, the year of donation and the number of donations made so far that year. I was part of the eighty-ninth collection donated in the year 2001. This means that my accession number is 2001.89.

After we were organized into some fashion that made the curator happy, we each went through a lengthy accessioning process. Accessioning is vital to the careful management of the collections. It is much like what I imagine a doctor’s check-up must be. The process involves a thorough examination, a detailed description and a condition report. At first, I was a bit shy about being looked at so carefully by a stranger, but I soon got used to it and even became a little drowsy.

Part of the accessioning process includes being assigned a unique object identification number. As I am the forty-eighth item in the collection, my number is 2001.89.48. Being quite ticklish, I had a hard time keeping from giggling when the curator lightly wrote this number in pencil on my back side.

The next step in the accessioning process is for each item to be assigned an object name, category and sub-category. I was given the object name “map.” The curator looked in a big book to find this word. The book also told her that I, as a map, belong to the communication artifacts category and the documentary artifacts sub-category. Placing artifacts in categories must be another tracking tool. I guess the museum really doesn’t want to lose us.

After receiving my object name and categories, the curator took the time to describe me in great detail. I later determined that one of the main reasons for this is the easy identification of each item in the collections. My description includes what I look like, what I am made of, my size and the date I was published. The curator even noted the beautiful blue color of my print. A condition report was also created. I scored “good” on condition as I had been well cared for by my owner and only had some slight wear along my many folds.

Because I was clean when donated, there was no need to perform any special cleaning procedures. My many sharp folds, however, did cause some concern. After consulting with fellow staff members, the curator decided to humidify and flatten me. I liked being humidified. It was like being in a sauna. I was unfolded and put on a screen that fit over a large plastic tub. In the bottom of the tub was a damp sponge. This whole contraption, with me in it, was placed in a large plastic bag and closed.

After about a day had passed, I was removed from my sauna and placed between sheets of clean white blotter paper that were weighted down. I didn’t particularly care for this part! When I was taken out, however, I felt wonderful. I had become all deliciously dry and flat.

Next, the curator encapsulated me. Encapsulation involves being placed in some nice shiny protective packaging. Two sheets of clear Mylar, a special archivally-safe plastic, were cut just a bit bigger than my size and sealed together with double-sided tape. The edges and corners were trimmed and I am now snug as a bug in a rug in my protective coating.

I was then placed in a large folder that had my name, title and object identification number on it. My new home is in the map section of the museum archives. The archives, as well as the rest of the museum building, is climate-controlled for careful regulation of temperature and humidity. This provides me and my fellow artifacts with the best possible environment to live long healthy lives.

And there you have it! I am now an artifact in the collections of the Morrison County Historical Society and am ready to serve as needed. I am looking forward to being used for a wide variety of purposes. My fellow maps tell me that I may be required for exhibits, educational programming and research. They are all jealous because I am already part of a publication, having been chosen to tell my story for this newsletter.

If you are ever near the museum, stop in and say hello. We are always glad to see visitors!

by Ann Marie Johnson
Copyright 2002, Morrison County Historical Society

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *