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Beyond Closed Doors: The Intern

This summer the Curatorial & Collections Department welcomed Rebecca Akers as an Intern. Rebecca currently works at the Visitor’s Center at James Madison’s Montpelier and is a student at the University of Mary Washington. There, she is focuing on Museum Studies and is writing a thesis on Dolley Madison. During her internship she was able to see and touch objects with Madison Provenance from the Montpelier Collection as well as be in the same spaces the Madisons occupied.  Below is Rebecca’s reflection on her internship.[


Being an intern at Montpelier has been one of the best learning opportunities I have ever experienced. I learned a substantial amount of information about caring for delicate objects and how to assemble an exhibit. There were quite a few obstacles to overcome; the biggest one was establishing a new routine. Normally, I am found in the Visitor Center selling souvenirs and tickets, but since becoming a Museum Studies minor at the University of Mary Washington, I have found myself interning with the Curatorial and Collections department here at Montpelier and I have enjoyed every second of it.

Interning with Curatorial and Collections has taught me a huge amount of the importance of caring for objects such as tables, dressers, beds, etc. It is extremely important to care for objects, like dressers and beds because it helps preserve them longer. In mid-July, we, as a team, took on a project of cleaning the dust off of the bed in Mr. Madison’s room. This was an important task to do because it helps prevent the red cover from deteriorating, as well as preventing mold on not only the comforter but also other places in the room. In order to get the bed clean and dust-free, we used soft bristle brushes to get into grooves that are difficult for the vacuum to reach. Using the same motions for sweeping and dusting, we sweep the dust and dirt into the hose of the vacuum. The vacuum that is used has a HEPA filter which traps all the dust and dirt, preventing the particles from being released back into the air. The same process is also used to clean other material objects, like books and curtains. By eliminating dirt and dust it also eliminates mold and other occurrences that can arise.[

The Mysteries of Montpelier exhibit, located in the Grills Gallery at the Visitor Center, has taught me what it takes to put an exhibit together. There is quite a bit of behind the scenes work that goes into creating an exhibit. It involved choosing objects for a visual display; research, for an object’s description and significance; and locating those objects; figuring out their whereabouts on the property. It is not the dialog of “we like this object so we are going to put it into an exhibit just because;” it is a lot of putting together an overall theme and finding objects that go along with that theme. For example, when it comes to shoes that Dolley Madison and Marion duPont Scott wore,  they give us, as researchers and curators, as well as the general public, an idea about what contemporaries from their time were wearing, and not just specifically what those women wore.

Caring for precious objects involves being observant and having attention to detail. One of the main responsibilities of being a curator is keeping objects in the best condition possible which involves being attentive to any kind of odd scenario, such as mold growth. If mold is not treated or noticed right away then it can be detrimental for other objects in a collection.

This internship experience has been absolutely wonderful. I have learned so many things about caring for objects including how important it is to keep objects nice and clean. I look forward to applying what I have learned from my internship experience to my future in museum studies.