By Leslie Wagner, Historian
The History Center has been an ever-changing space in The Dawes Arboretum’s history. A garage for the Dawes family, the headquarters of the History department, and now a space to showcase our artifacts and archival materials. The building is dedicated to C. Burr Dawes, son of the founders and the Arboretum’s first Historian. Opening on our Arbor Day celebration, the History Center features four different exhibits focusing on the history of the Arboretum, our founders Beman and Bertie Dawes, the Arboretum’s Tree Dedicators and The Pure Oil Company. How is Pure Oil at all related to The Dawes Arboretum? Come and find out!
When I had the task to reinvent this former garage to a mini-museum, I quickly called upon my past work experience in museums to know what problems needed to be addressed. We had old carpeting, fading from sunlight, limited temperature and humidity control and inadequate interior lighting. With help from staff and outside contractors, the carpet was ripped out, walls repainted, a new A/C unit installed, and LED lights put in to replace the fluorescent bulbs.
Another update included using new window films to keep ultraviolet light out of the space. The words, “no sunlight” are a tough sell to an arboretum which grows acres of beautiful plants by relying on photosynthesis! However, UV rays from the sun, as well as fluorescent lighting, have a damaging affect: these light sources bleach out and break down textiles, artwork and paper documents. In order to protect the condition of our artifacts, the sunlight had to be minimized in the space.
I had the pleasure of locating all the artifacts I wanted to display by using our collections database software. This includes objects, historic photographs and documents from our Archives and Daweswood House Museum. I also reclaimed our Pure Oil artifacts that were on loan to The Works.
How was I going to display each artifact? Cabinets and accessories were chosen for specific display intentions, depending on subject matter and artifact type. Next was writing the text panels and labels. This research involved a lot of digging through our primary documents saved either from our founders or staff. Once everything was gathered together, a small group of staff assisted with the exhibit installation.
The History Center only features these displays for six months because our artifacts need to be taken out and preserved for their longevity in a cool, dry, dark place – otherwise known as the Archives Building.
The History Department honors Beman’s request for The Dawes Arboretum to increase the love and knowledge of trees, history and the natural world. The History Center is open for the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 12-3 beginning in May.