From the Executive Director features news and reflections on the work of PHMC by its chief administrator.

Caring for museum collections is one of the less visible, but among the most critical, functions of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. The recent acquisition of a rare Conestoga wagon by our Landis Valley Museum in Lancaster County reminds us of our responsibility to allocate resources carefully and preserve the objects and artifacts that reflect our rich heritage. The wagon was used on a nearby farm owned by the same family for more than a century and a half. We placed the wagon in a new storage facility that will eventually house more than fifty thousand items recalling Pennsylvania German life during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Visitors will see the legendary Landis Valley Museum collection displayed in a carefully controlled and secure environment.

At Old Economy Village in Beaver County, we are undertaking major renovations to several buildings containing the superb collections of the Harmony Society, one of America’s most successful religious communities of the nineteenth century. More than sixteen thousand objects comprise this collection including art, furniture, manuscripts, musical instruments, and tools. The buildings and grounds of the six-acre complex, designated a National Historic Landmark, are considered integral parts of the collection and require the special attention of a skilled and dedicated staff. One feature of the collection is the group of natural science specimens assembled by the Harmonists and exhibited in the first museum building west of the Alleghenies. This building, completed in 1827, also served as the Society’s feast hall. By next year, we will complete the restoration of the museum and expand our interpretation to reflect the building’s dual historic functions and the collections it houses.

Perhaps our most ambitious current project to improve the care of collections involves the relocation of several curatorial programs from The State Museum to the new Keystone Building in Harrisburg. We will move more than one million artifacts from the archaeology, paleontology, geology, and natural history collections into more than thirty-four thousand square feet of modern storage space on the ground floor of this spectacular building. Curators for these programs and the entire collections management program will move as well. We are proceeding with a long-term project to create an automated data base to keep track of the vast and diverse resources in our custody and to provide greater access for scholars, students, and casual researchers.

The operations of the Commonwealth Conservation Center in Harrisburg is one more example of the significant investments being made to preserve our collections. This facility includes laboratories for the conservation of art, furnishings, and paper. In addition to responding to periodic crises brought on by floods and fire, our conservators offer training for both staff and volunteers on the proper handling and protection of collections. This preventive maintenance is perhaps the best form of conservation and the most effective way to ensure the preservation of an extraordinary patrimony of enduring value.

Brent D. Glass
Executive Director