Museums and curators have many responsibilities. They create exhibits for their guests to learn about a variety of topics, develop programs for public engagement, and often host events as a service to their communities. They also focus on collection preservation and conservation, which is a fancy way of saying they take care of the objects and artifacts in their collections. The University of Alabama Museums houses many types of collections. These include entomology, with butterflies, dragonflies, and a host of other insects, archaeology, with projectile points and ceramics, and an ethnology and history collection, with an assortment of armaments, furniture, and artwork.
Depending on the type of collection, certain conditions must be met to properly care for it. The Gorgas House Museum collection is a mixed collection meaning there are many types of items such as paintings, silverware, and historic ceramics. It is one part of the larger ethnology and history collection with around 1,200 objects and artifacts. Because of its mixed nature and the majority of the collection being out in the home for people to view, we work to provide a comfortable environment not only for our guests but also for the artifacts and objects themselves. Humidity, light levels, temperature, and physical contact are variables that must be considered.
The Gorgas House collection contains nearly a hundred silver objects ranging from plates and forks to drinking gourds and incense burners. Silver tarnishes or develops a patina when exposed to air, specific sulfur gases. We polish our silver with a special polish when needed, but we work to reduce the time spent doing this. One silver item that holds a special place in our collection is Amelia Gayle Gorgas’s silver loving cup. During the 1905 commencement exercises, The University of Alabama alumni presented Amelia with a large silver chalice or cup as a sign of appreciation and affection. Amelia’s roles as nurse matron, postmistress, and librarian earned her the love and respect of UA’s faculty, staff, and students. Thanks to a recent donation by a generous community member, we were able to buy a protective display case for Amelia’s loving cup. Drop by to see the cup in its new case, and thank you to our loving community member!
– Written by Brandon Thompson, Director of the Gorgas House Museum