March 22, 2021
Megan Kane, Collections Manager
I am the Collections Manager here at the Museum of Sonoma County, and I am going to let you behind the scenes of the Museum and tell you a little bit about what I do.
It is my job as the Collections Manager to care for all of the objects, artworks, documents, etc. that are in the Museum’s collection, as well as any items that are on loan to us from other museums, institutions, and private individuals. This is a wide-ranging job that includes everything from the daily care of the collection, to preparing items for display in our exhibitions, to negotiating loan terms with other museums. When I sit down to work in the morning, I hardly know what I may get up to in the course of my workday!
Basic collections care keeps me on my toes from day to day. Ultimately, it is my job to keep track of each and every object in our care, what it is, where it is, what condition it is in, and what its needs are-- a tall order for a collection of over 18,000 items! I spend a great deal of time updating and adding to our database of objects. If we do not know what we have and where it is, we cannot possibly care for it, so recordkeeping is high on my priorities. I also rehouse or repackage objects periodically to preserve them. Some of our objects need to be checked on a regular basis because they are in fragile condition and may require the attention of an outside conservator.
One thing that does happen every day I am in the Museum is that I monitor the environment in our collections storage and exhibition spaces. One of the best ways to preserve a collection of historical objects and artwork is to eliminate the factors that can cause damage in the environment where they are stored or on display. This means maintaining a constant temperature and humidity, low light levels, and a space free of pests. To do this, I check dataloggers that track the temperature and humidity and pest traps that capture museum pests routinely. This is our first line of defense in preserving our collection for future generations.
One of the dataloggers that records temperature and humidity in collections storage
When we are planning a new exhibition or installing, one very unusual task can pop up for me. Before any object can go on display, it requires a very careful inspection and documentation of its current condition to make sure that it is stable enough to go on display and that no harm comes to it while it is on exhibit. I check paintings for tiny cracks in the surface of the paint, paper archives for light damage, and metal items for corrosion. I also consult with our curators about how an item is to be displayed. I may design a mount to hold an object at a certain angle and protect it from earthquakes. I may dress mannequins in historical clothing like I did for our “From Suffrage to #MeToo” exhibition. Sometimes objects need to be cleaned before they go on display, like with the large fishing basket that will appear in our upcoming history exhibition. The most surreal moment on the job in the last year was the four hours that I spent cleaning “Nobody’s Poodle” with tiny cotton balls and distilled water until it shone under the lights in “35: Thirty-Five Artists for Thirty-Five Years”!
Dressing a mannequin is not as easy as zipping up a zipper. Sometimes you have to make the mannequin fit the dress! I had to pad out the mannequin to match the Victorian ideal for this one.
As a Collections Manager, not every task is as exciting as examining historic objects or unique works of art. I also handle a great deal of PAPERWORK. This may be arranging for loan agreements with other museums or collectors or donation paperwork for items that people give to the Museum. All of these forms and more cross my desk. Reviewing loan agreements and getting forms signed may not seem like the most thrilling of all tasks, but it is critical to the Museum and one of the ways that we can bring exciting exhibitions to our visitors and share our collection beyond our own doors.
The thing that all of these tasks have in common is that they are behind the scenes of the Museum. I sometimes think that if I have done my job right, you should never even know that I was there. While much of being a Collections Manager is invisible work to the average visitor, it is nonetheless an extremely important part of the work of a Museum and the preservation of the history and art that is entrusted to us. One of my favorite parts of working as a Collections Manager in a museum is getting the chance to bring you, our visitors, supporters, and fans, behind the scenes and to share my work with you! To show you the parts of the collection that are not on display and to share the excitement of being up close and personal with history, art, and culture in action.
The Museum of Sonoma County maintains a permanent collection of over 18,000 objects, documenting the region's rich history and celebrating local artists.
More About MSC's Collection: museumsc.org/collections
View "35:Thirty-Five Artists for Thirty-Five Years" Exhibition: museumsc.org/35-exhibition
View "From Suffrage to #MeToo: Groundbreaking Women in Sonoma County" Exhibition: museumsc.org/suffrage-metoo
The mission of the Museum of Sonoma County is to engage and inspire our diverse community with art and history exhibitions, collections, and public programs that are inclusive, educational, and relevant.