Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Museum Review: The Mercer Museum

Since this week seems to be a lot of pathetic mishaps on my part for this class (missed the link (is there one?) for the new reading, I think my computer is revolting against the dashboard and not showing updates, my printer ran out of ink,), I'll try to make up for at least the last part by including some more photos from my Mercer Museum trip on here.

So, the short version of the review:
The Mercer Museum is the concrete castle home of Henry Chapman Mercer's collection of pre-industrial (pre 1850) American hand tools and hand crafts. Mercer, a native of Buck County PA, started collecting tools of pre industrial America in 1897, and built the castle for his collection of about 30,000 pieces in 1916. He wanted to force people to look at items not too far removed from the presented and how they told the history of Bucks County and the nation. The set up of the museum forces people to look at common objects in new ways.
The museum today houses about 50,000 items, many with their original labels in their original places within the castle. These items are separated into over 60 different catagories, based on what they were used for. This includes things such as threshing, butter making, music, medicine, local iron making and crime and punishment (which includes a set of gallows). The goals remain in line with Mercer's, and attempt to describe history through these tools, demonstrate how these tools portay Bucks County history, as well as examine Mercer's ideas of how museums should be run in the early 20th Century.
Through detailed placards in the exhibit areas describing whatever task (Fruit Preservation), what it is, how it is done (explaining the apple corers, right), how fruit preservation fits into the history of the Northeast and Bucks County, and how Mercer felt about this, the museum manages to bridge the time gap between the current audience and the tools. This significant distance in time between the tools and the audience is not something mercer had to grapple with so much, but the museum has successfully addressed the problem.
The Mercer Museum is increadibly informative, and succeeds in knowing its audience and making the collections accessible and approachable. Because Mercer, and today's curators, choose to encorporate many intertwining narratives into the museum's exhibits, it provides interpretation and knowledge not necessarily found else where in one place in such a comprehensive manner.

Anyway, it's incredibly hard to appreciate the Mercer Museum without visuals.

Yes, there are items upside down from the ceiling, Mercer's way of forcing people to look at things different, as well as saving space. And yes, those are real paw prints in the cement (from Mercer's dog, Rollo, who plays an integral part in the museum interpretation today)