Museum of My Stuff

April 2, 2020

By Silvie Andrews

An Oregon Historical Society museum cataloger’s job is pretty straightforward: categorize and classify objects in the museum collections and store them according to museum best standards and practices. When access to those collections is restricted due to a global pandemic, we have to get a little creative. This power cord is one of several objects I’ve cataloged from home for the Museum of My Stuff.

Like the majority of Oregon’s population, I’m currently homebound due to everyone’s least favorite virus, COVID-19. The Oregon Historical Society (OHS) is closed to the public and to staff. While we’re staying home and staying safe, staff continue to work remotely to preserve and share Oregon’s history in all of its myriad forms. For some of us, this is easier said than done.

My job as a museum cataloger is fairly self-explanatory: I register objects in the OHS museum collection, which consists of all things three-dimensional. I record information such as physical description, dimensions, and provenance (historical background), and then I store the objects according to museum best standards and practices to ensure that they don’t get damaged.

As you might imagine, this work is difficult to do from home. Alright, it’s impossible. Museum cataloging requires access to the museum and the catalog, both of which are strictly off-limits for the time being. For that reason, I’ve been forced to get creative. Instead of giving in to boredom and playing computer solitaire until my eyes roll back in my head, I’ve decided to catalog what’s available to me: my household belongings. Here are a few of the records I’ve written so far.

Scale model of a pit toilet, ca. 1960–1975.
Model, Architectural: pit toilet, c. 1960–1975

Object Name: Model, Architectural

Category: Documentary Artifact

Date: c.1960–1975

Description: Scale model of a pit toilet (outhouse) composed of unfinished softwood and plywood. Outhouse has a pitched roof with white semi-opaque plastic ventilator affixed to center with a screw. Interior contains two bench seats with toilet holes, second bench lofted above the first and accessed by ladder; catalog on each bench composed of small wooden block with decal on top reading "Sears." White plastic sawdust bucket with brass handle on floor. Door is hinged with two small strips of black nylon webbing, opening outward; black crescent moon decal adhered to center of door near top; knob is a push pin with a green plastic head. Rotating white plastic latch holds door shut from the outside. Square base. Black plastic label with white embossed lettering reading "TWO HOLER" affixed to exterior of front wall above door. Matching label attached to bottom of base reads "NORIEGA'S."

Dimensions: 5.75 in (width), 5.75 in (depth), 10.75 in (height)

Remarks: Piece was originally thought to have been made by collector's great-grandfather, a carpenter who lived and worked in East Multnomah County. The discovery of the label reading "NORIEGA'S" appears to refute this, however, as the collector's great-grandfather was not called Noriega nor did he go by that name to the best of anyone's knowledge. Piece was owned by collector's grandfather and later gifted to collector's father.

Condition: Good. Extremely dusty due to prior storage in barn. Door slightly warped from moisture. Minor surface rust on ferrous components. Absent a HEPA vacuum, dust was removed by blowing on object, leading to a coughing fit and raising brief concerns that collector had contracted COVID-19.

Location: House.Shop (current)

Location notes: Placed in temporary outdoor storage on tailgate of truck for cleaning but moved to indoor storage due to threat of rain. Being processed on lid of boot box.

Apothecary bottle, ca. 2004, condition is fair
Bottle, Apothecary: c. 2004, condition is fair

Object Name: Bottle, Apothecary

Category: Tools and Equipment for Science and Technology

Sub-Category: Merchandising T&E (Tools and Equipment)

Date: 2004

Description: Four-ounce transparent plastic bottle containing small amount of transparent gelatinous substance (hand sanitizer, or at least used to be). Bottle is rectangular with slightly sloped shoulders and beveled edges; slightly recessed base with stamped lettering reading "EXP 11/2008" (veracity disputed). Decals adhered to front and back listing brand information and product specifications. Threaded neck with cylindrical white plastic lid; lid has a small dispensing spout covered by a self-hinged cap with snap closure.

Dimensions: 2.125 in (width), 5.5 in (height), 1 in (depth)

Remarks: Three minutes of exhaustive online research has revealed that hand sanitizer can indeed expire but that expired hand sanitizer is better than nothing. So there.

Condition: Fair. Exterior of object is covered in dust that has kind of fused to the plastic to form a slightly tacky brownish coating. Some cobwebs between lid and shoulder.

Location: Kitchen.Counter

Location Notes: Previously stored in glove box of truck but retrieved after other known examples had been used and discarded. Flagged for deaccession due to lack of utility but retained in collection due to current scarcity of hand sanitizer.

Bracelet, recent acquisition from artist Julie, aged three and a half.
Bracelet: recent acquisition from artist Julie, aged three and a half

Object Name: Bracelet

Category: Adornment

Sub-Category: Jewelry

Date: 2020

Description: Decorative wristband comprising bright pink plastic strap with glitter. Pink stitching on edges. Obverse side is custom-adorned with self-adhesive decals with transparent resinous coating; shapes of decals include butterfly, hearts with smaller hearts inside, semi-abstract flora, five-pointed star, and heart-shaped locket, all in bright metallic hues. Fastening is pink Velcro™, attached to both ends with pink stitching.

Dimensions: 7.75 in (length), 1 in (width)

Remarks: Handmade by Julie, a cousin of the collector, aged 3 ½. Gift of the artist.

Condition: Excellent. No visible damage.

Location: Basement.Work Table (Permanent)

Location Notes: Awaiting more appropriate storage solution. None forthcoming.

Electrical adapter, ca. 2005–2015 (estimated), provenance uncertain
Electrical adapter: c. 2005–2015 (estimated), provenance uncertain

Object Name: Adapter, Electrical

Category: Electrical & Magnetic T&E (Tools and Equipment)

Sub-Category: Electrical System Components

Date: 2005–2015 (estimated)

Description: Adapter for electronic device, in rectangular black plastic cartridge. Cartridge has imprinted lettering (indecipherable tech nonsense) on bottom, along with barcode decal. Includes built-in output cord coated with black plastic; plug on other end is purple and weird-looking. Cord is bundled and affixed to side of adapter cartridge with blue rubber band reading "ASPARAGUS".

Dimensions: 2.5 in (width), 3.75 in (length, not including cord), 1.75 in (height)

Remarks: Source is unknown. Provenance is unknown. Use is unknown. Candidate for deaccession (unless it could be important?).

Condition: Excellent. No visible damage to adapter or cord. Input cord missing but possibly never existed. Rubber band somewhat cracked due to age.

Personal scrubber, inventoried and cataloged “in situ”
Sponge, Bath: personal scrubber, inventoried and cataloged “in situ”

Object Name: Sponge, Bath

Category: Toilet Articles

Sub-Category: Hygiene Objects

Date: c.2015

Description: Personal scrubber (or loofah) comprising pale blue and white plastic netting, layered and gathered in loose spheroid. Hanging cord comprised of twisted pale blue synthetic fiber, looped and fastened at center of spheroid.

Dimensions: 4.5 in (width), 4 in (depth), 3 in (height, not including cord)

Remarks: Anonymous gift.

Condition: Very good. Light transparent accretion throughout, believed to be soap residue.

Location: Guest Bathroom. Shower (permanent)

Location notes: Inventoried here and cataloged in situ.

Eraser, ca. 1996, acquired at Oregon Coast Aquarium during Free Willy era
Eraser: c. 1996, acquired at Oregon Coast Aquarium during Free Willy era

Object Name: Eraser

Category: Written Communication T&E (Tools and Equipment)

Sub-Category: Writing Accessories

Date: c.1996

Description: Figural novelty pencil eraser in shape of an orca (killer whale). Primarily composed of black vinyl or similar material with irregular white patches on belly and face. Hole for eye extends through object. Manufactured using millefiori technique in which colors are fused together and shaped in a cane from which individual pieces are sliced off to create multiples of the same form.

Dimensions: 1.875 in (length), 0.75 in (height), 0.375 in (depth)

Remarks: Acquired by collector via an intermediary (the collector's grandmother) at the Oregon Coast Aquarium gift store during the years that Keiko (the "Free Willy" orca) resided there. Collection includes an unknown number of identical examples (as few as two but possibly as many as 8,000), which surface randomly and in unpredictable settings.

Condition: Good. Moderate wear from use, particularly on nose. Light grey accretion throughout (likely graphite dust).

Location: Computer Desk. Top Drawer

Location Notes: Above location applies only to this piece. No comprehensive inventory exists of rest of accession. Other pieces could be literally anywhere (or everywhere).

Beverage mug, several hours old, temporarily located in microwave
Mug, Beverage: several hours old, temporarily located in microwave

Object Name: Mug, Beverage

Category: Food Service T&E (Tools and Equipment)

Sub-Category: Drinking Vessels

Date: Several hours ago

Description: Black-glazed ceramic beverage mug containing room-temperature brown liquid (Earl Grey tea with some sugar and milk). Mug is cylindrical with inverted teardrop-shaped ceramic handle on one side; two heat-transfer decals on exterior, each replicating the poster from the American fantasy-comedy film Beetlejuice (1988).

Dimensions: 5 in (width), 3.5 in (depth), 4 in (height)

Remarks: Beverage was prepared by collector earlier today and then left to cool off a little. Rediscovered an hour and a half later; placed in microwave to reheat, where it remained for a further hour.

Condition: Good. Mug has seen better days. Liquid slightly congealed.

Location: Kitchen.Microwave (temporary)

Location Notes: Reheating a second time.

I should acknowledge the New Yorker for inspiration for this post, especially the title. And for reference, object names and categories came from Chenhall's Nomenclature for Museum Cataloging, a standard source for museum workers.

Silvie Andrews’s Other Posts

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