-By Hope Mitchell
This summer the Museums of Story City received a grant from Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area in order to hire an intern to digitize and catalog the Sheldall Schoolhouse collection and create an online exhibit about the Sheldall Schoolhouse. I was the very lucky recipient of this internship. When I am not interning with the Museums of Story City, I am working on my Masters of Arts in History at Iowa State University or working as a Student Conservation Technician at Parks Library. I have always had a strong interest in museums and conservation and this internship has been a wonderful opportunity to further my knowledge and experience within museums.
My first job was to photograph all the objects in the schoolhouse and assess their condition. These objects ranged from books, to desks, to carpentry tools. Assessing the condition of each object varied a bit depending on the object, but in general I took note of the physical appearance and dimensions of the object, this included any wear or damage, and commented on future storage and conservation needs. My next job was to enter all of the information I had gathered into the PastPerfect system, which is an electronic cataloging system used by many museums and is essential for streamlining the collections management process.
My next step was to build an online exhibit about the Sheldall Schoolhouse for the Museums of Story City website. To do this I did a lot of reading about Story City. Some of this consisted of files that had been collected by the Story City Historical Society over the years, but other great sources of information included The Sheldall Schoolhouse: A Historical Sketch by Nehemias Tjernagel, The Follinglo Dog Book: A Norwegian Pioneer Story from Iowa by Peder Gustav Tjernagel and The Passing of the Prairie by a Fossil: Biographical Sketches of Central Iowa Pioneers and Civil War Veterans by Nehemias Tjernagel. The Sheldall Schoolhouse online exhibit explores the ways in which rural children interacted with the school by telling their own stories in their own words, outlines the lives of the 30 teachers that came through the Sheldall Schoolhouse, and looks at how the education these rural children received affected their lives after leaving the Sheldall Schoolhouse.
My final task as an intern at the Museums of Story City will be some minor conservation work on the photos of the teachers of the Sheldall Schoolhouse. L.J. Tjernagel, a former pupil and teacher of the Sheldall Schoolhouse, collected photos of all the teachers in honor of their service to the students. Over the years these photos have been exposed to moisture and major fluctuation in temperature, which has compromised some of the photos. The conservation efforts will consist of adding a moisture barrier, to prevent further damage, and adding new backing paper to stabilize the photos within the frame.
I have had such a wonderful time working with everyone at the Museums of Story City, especially Kate Feil, the Board Members, and all the volunteers. This has been such a rewarding experience and I could not have asked for a better summer internship.
Any of the four Story City Museums can be toured from noon to five on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday and during their summer hours from one to three on Sundays. The Sheldall Schoolhouse online exhibit can be viewed on the Museums of Story City website,http://www.storycityhistory.org/sheldall-schoolhouse.html.