NCWHS welcomes news from members of the Collaborative. The following comes from Jascin N. Leonardo Finger, curator of the Maria Mitchell House (Nantucket, Mass) Archives and Special Collections, sharing word of their recent and successful efforts to conserve the Mitchell homesite.
From its founding in 1902 to the present day, the Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association has focused on astronomy, the natural sciences, and the preservation of the historic Mitchell House, where America’s first woman astronomer was born in 1818. The MMA promotes the legacy of Maria Mitchell through its programs for adults and children and following the principles of how Maria Mitchell taught – learning-by-doing. This hands-on approach permeates all of the departments at the MMA including the Mitchell House, Archives, and Special Collections.
For the last twelve years, under the guidance of the curator, the Mitchell House has been conserving the historic fabric of the Mitchell House – a site that has been relatively untouched since it was last inhabited by Mitchell family members in 1902. Through numerous grants, many from the Massachusetts Community Preservation Act as well as private foundations, the Mitchell House has been able to work with conservators and other specialists to: clean and stabilize the 1850s grain painting; contract with a structural engineer for a survey of the House; work with a leading environmental engineering group to study the climate changes within the unheated House; and conserve the 1790 chimney with original materials, specifically lime mortar (and by a woman mason!). There have been numerous other conservation projects and the work will always be ongoing.
What, in part, is at the core of this work is science and learning-by-doing. The curator assists the conservators where she can and the conservation work typically happens while the House is open to the public. Thus, visitors get a first-hand look at the processes of the different conservation projects, can speak with the conservators as they work, and can sign up for preservation workshops that focus on work being completed or that incorporate the conservators and their work into the workshop. People learn exactly what goes into conserving a historic house museum but can also apply such work to their own historic homes. Mitchell House serves an educational tool on many levels – from history, to science, to conservation.
In 2012, the hard work was recognized when the House was awarded an architectural preservation award from the Nantucket Preservation Trust (NPT). NPT works each year to recognize “individuals and organizations that advance the cause of historic preservation on Nantucket. Awards are provided for preservation work on historic buildings and landscapes, and for the protection and stewardship of island resources. NPT’s awards emphasize proper preservation, showcase the island’s craftspeople, and reveal the foresight of owners who care about our historic structures and landscapes.”
This is exciting news for the Mitchell House and for the conservators and professionals who have worked so hard to help the House maintain its original fabric. Mitchell House is very much in its original early nineteenth-century condition – an unusual thing for a historic house museum built in 1790. If you have not visited the House or not visited in some time, please plan to do so.
“The step, however small, which is in advance of the world, shows the greatness of the person, whether that step be taken with brain, with heart, or with hands.” Maria Mitchell“
We especially need imagination in science. It is not all mathematics, nor all logic, but it is somewhat beauty and poetry.” Maria Mitchell
“Women more than men, are bound by tradition and authority. What the father, the brother, the doctor, and the minister have said has been received undoubtedly. Until women throw off this reverence for authority they will not develop. When they do this, when they come to truth through their investigations, when doubt leads them to discovery, the truth which they get will be theirs, and their minds will work on and on unfettered.” Maria Mitchell