Archiving the Physical: Big Things and Grandma’s Quilt

How do you archive big things? *Weird* things? And what happens when your family just doesn’t want your stuff? These are some of the questions that came up in my recent workshop, The Story Collector.

What do I do with that?

People collect and keep amazing things at times. My grandmother collected porcelain snow angels. My mother brought back a giant advent scene from Italy. My godmother collected candle holders. My uncle has a treasure trove in what we call “the shop,” a space with all manner of tools, parts, old things, wood, and gadgets.

Grandma’s quilt

Depending on your ancestry, you may have Scandinavian knits or needlework, English linens with cross stitch, doilies, and all manner of other textiles that you would like to preserve and pass along.

Linens, clothing, needlework, or other fiber crafts require a bit more specialized care. My grandmother made all of her grandchildren quilts, and she intended for us to use them…not just let them sit in a box. There are a couple special ones, however, that I’ve washed, wrapped in white cotton cloth, and set aside in plastic to help them last.

The same can be done for other fiber pieces. Doing a bit of research on archival methods or preservation methods used by museums is a good starting point.

Artifacts from a specific culture or group

Sometimes, we find we are gifted or inherit items that are from a specific culture or group.  If I’m part of that group, then I might consider keeping the item and passing it along to my children. Inheriting a Norwegian bunad would stay in my family since that is part of our cultural heritage. Being gifted a wooden gillnetting needle would stay in my family since we are members of the Chinook Indian Nation, and it was a tool that my grandfather used.

If I’m not a part of the group, then I would pass those items on to someone who is, or pass them to the group itself.

Well, that’s odd…

I’ve come across some pretty interesting things that people would like to preserve. One gentleman I knew had been a teacher, archaeologist, and diver. There was a room above his garage which held an extensive library of books, shelves of archaeological items, and a display case full of old diving gear, old books, coins, even bones. I suggested he go through his belongings and decide what he wanted to pass along to family, and what might be donated to museums, other teachers, educational institutions, or even sold to other collectors.

A woman in one of my workshops mentioned she had a bunch of handmade tools made by someone in her family who was a blacksmith. She didn’t want to just give them away, but she wasn’t using them either. A few of us chimed in that an educational program that teaches trade skills might just want to use the space for a classroom, keeping all the tools there as models and teaching aides. Collectors and museums might also be interested.

So when dealing with the more unruly three-dimensional items, do a bit of research into preservation, decide what you want to keep and pass along, then find creative ways to get special items into the hands of those who want them or could use them. Sometimes archiving and preservation requires more than just acid free boxes and special pens.