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Author Topic:   Curatorial errors?

Posts: 1507
Registered: May 99

iconnumber posted 09-09-2003 02:55 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Brent     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Hello all,

I recently visited the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, Virginia. It is a fine musueum, and it has a nice collection of silver on display. I did, however, notice one or two errors in the descriptions of the items on display. For example, a lettuce fork in the popular LILY pattern by Whiting Manufacturing Co. was attributed to E. G. Webster. My question is, is it polite/welcome for the public to point out errors in museum displays? Are there any standard guidelines in the museum world for handling busy-bodies (like me, I'm afraid) who feel the need to correct? I'm just curious.


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Ulysses Dietz

Posts: 1265
Registered: May 99

iconnumber posted 09-09-2003 03:22 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Ulysses Dietz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
An EXCELLENT question. Curator's are not divine--they are mere mortals, and as often as not, as generalists they know less than other folks about any given topic (collectors, fanatics) who focus on one kind of material. SO I think it is essential that the public correct errors that it finds in museum exhibition labels.
Now, that said, I think there is a certain amount of tact that needs to be employed in correcting a curator, because our jobs are all we have in life (we aren't supposed to collect, really, and we can't make money from objects, and most of us aren't socially very adept anyway....).
Personally, any curator who mis-attributed Whiting's "Lily" to Webster should be summarily fired. But, there might be a good reason that this error was made. Maybe this is a knock-off of Whiting's "Lily," and is an incredible rarity. Or maybe the curator was writing down the maker's name while Rainwater was in his lap, and the page flipped when he turned to answer the phone, and he just wrote down the wrong damn thing. Or maybe the attribution came with the piece from the collector who gave it to the museum, and the curator trusted the donor and never bothered to check his facts. In any case, if it is an honest mistake, the curator will be mortified and be happy to change the label.
Bottom line: be tactful, and the curator will respond with appreciation. "Dear Mr. Blank, I was so excited to see the "Lily" pattern widget in your galleries during my visit last week. I had always thought that only WHiting made this pattern, and am really interested to see an exact duplicate of the design made by E. G. Webster, who only made plated crap, and not fine sterling--which was even MORE interesting...etc. etc. etc. You get the drift.
On a final note, I have been corrected over the years for very stupid things, but have also been corrected when in fact I was absolutely right, and the corrector was working from misinformation (or old information). So tread gently.

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