Here at the Read House and Gardens we strive to maintain a homey collection that fills our 14,000 square feet. We manage to clean and care for objects and maintain the home’s beauty, while we interpret rooms and spaces to tell the story of the people who lived here and social life of the past.
The house also tells the story of our daily lives as employees of the historical society and as stewards of the home. The Reads would surely be proud of our curatorial assistants, without whom this would be impossible. Currently our Curatorial Assistance staff is comprised of Barbara Alfree, Mary Fontinha, Stephanie Lampkin, Judith Lloyd, Marilyn Tulloch, and Ying Xu. Curatorial Assistants clean at least two times per month working in teams for several hours to vacuum, dust, care for objects, manage and create props and faux food, and document collections objects as they travel around the house from cupboard or closet to parlor.
Our Curator of Objects, Jennifer Potts, is here at least one day per week and she manages to find collections to suit our interpretations and manages the transport of objects back and forth from our main collections storage in Wilmington. One project that Jennifer has been working on, among many, is our online catalog, “Ask Caesar”. The online catalog actually has a section devoted to collections objects and nearly everything that you see at the Read House in a particular room is uploaded to the catalog, you can see photographs, accession numbers, and detailed information about the object, often including where and how the object was acquired. Here’s a link: http://dehistory.pastperfect-online.com/
Most recently we switched over to “Summer Dress” in our Read period rooms. We are giving the public the opportunity to see what preventative measures were made to protect furnishings from the dirt, insects, and sweat that came with the heat of summer in the early nineteenth century! It was customary in a wealthy home to take reflective, gilded, or shiny surfaces on frames and mirrors and cover them with baize or gauze; this ensured that there would not need to be damaging heavy cleaning practices to remove “fly specs.” Flies and other insects would be plentiful with the windows open without the use of screens. Furniture was covered with slip covers, top shutters remained closed to shade rooms and occupants from heat and sun, and all reminders of heat and fire were removed with fireboards blocking the fireplaces. Come to see how the Read’s would cope with the heat, the current display will be up until September when we will switch to our fall interpretation. This year we have scholarly pursuits in the Front Parlor with a telescope and sundial on display, and games with a picnic basket with bonnets on display in our Back Parlor beside our jib windows which most certainly would be open in the Read’s time and for all subsequent families for that matter. The home was not outfitted with central air until it became a museum property of the Delaware Historical Society.
The heat and swampy humidity of New Castle is something we still struggle with today. We have the constant hum of dehumidifiers in the basement filling the air, central air conditioning in main family portions of the house, hot stuffy rooms in our servants quarters (where our main administrative offices are for myself and our director) and the rattle of those systems in the first floor that often shake the first floor Back Parlor and Pantry, which also keeps our Curatorial Assistants on their toes when they place objects they must assure that they are firmly placed on the acrylic sheets that protect the furniture so that nothing rattles about or falls with those vibrations!
I must say I adore living in the twenty-first century, typing this from the cool wine and meat storage basement of this nineteenth century home.