APH Museum houses artifacts that outline the history of APH and of the blindness and rehabilitation field. We spoke with the Director of the Museum, Mike Hudson, about how he and his team obtain, preserve, and display artifacts at museum events.
Q: How many employees work with you in the museum, and what do they do?
A: Anne Rich is our Collections Manager. She is responsible for knowing where everything is, monitoring the condition of our collection, and maintaining all our documentation. Anne is also our primary reference archivist, answering questions from inside and outside the company about blindness and rehabilitation, and leads tours of the museum and factory. Katie Carpenter is our Museum Educator. She plans and implements our schedule of educational programs for scouts, home schools, public schools, nursing programs, community groups, and the general public. Katie is also our weekend supervisor during Saturday hours.
Q: What does your job at the museum entail?
A: I manage our staff, handle budgeting, and serve on a variety of working teams across the company. I serve as the public face of the museum, speaking to community groups about APH, and on community committees like the Louisville Arts and Culture Alliance. I am also the curator of the museum, which means I am responsible for knowing what everything in our collection means, what is significant, and what we should be collecting to fill in holes. I write the scripts for all of our exhibits and supervise their design and installation. I also lead tours.
Q: Since not many EOTs come to Louisville, what kinds of artifacts are featured in the museum?
A: Our museum preserves and interprets the history of education and rehabilitation for people that are blind or visually impaired. That history starts with the invention of raised letter books and dot codes, and proceeds through the development of writing tools, educational aids for all areas of curriculum, the history of residential schools, the development of orientation and mobility training, and the impact of technology. We have:
- Forty different braillewriter models
- Copies of the first raised letter book ever published
- The first publication of the braille code
- A dog harness worn by the first Seeing Eye Dog: Buddy
- The stage piano from the Michigan School for the Blind played by Stevie Wonder
- A copy of the first Talking Book record pressed at APH in 1936, “Gulliver’s Travels”
- Helen Keller’s desk from her home at Arcan Ridge
- Speeches written by rehabilitation pioneer Father Tom Carroll
- A long cane used by Russell Williams, the first head at the Hines V.A. Blindness Program
Q: How do you obtain these artifacts?
A: Initially, APH collected a lot of items from within its own walls. As our museum became better known, folks began seeking us out, looking for homes for things they were throwing out, or for their precious heirlooms that they wanted to preserve. We do buy things every now and then, and we have partnered with other blindness organizations like AFB, AER, the Carroll Center for the Blind, BANA, and the Kentucky School for the Blind to preserve their stories.
Q: How do you store and preserve older artifacts? Are there special considerations when taking care of the Helen Keller archives?
A: Good storage involves stable temperature and humidity, no light, and wrapping objects in archival materials (tissue, foam, and cardboard supports) that have been manufactured to be stable and non-reactive over long periods of time. In order to store the American Foundation for the Blind Helen Keller Archives, which arrived from AFB in January, we built a brand-new storage space with mobile compact shelves, LED lighting, and a special HVAC unit capable of maintaining 50% relative humidity and 70 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.
Q: How do you decide what artifacts to display and where?
A: We always start with a story. Then, like a painter choosing colors from her palette, you select artifacts, photographs, and documents from your collection that illustrate the story. The Stevie Wonder piano is a 1922 Steinway Baby Grand. But, it carries a lot more heft when you start with a little twelve-year-old boy from Detroit whose mother was in trouble with the truant officer. When you tell the story right, you are there with Stevie as his parents, teachers, and record executives tried to figure out what to do with this special boy.
Q: What types of methods or processes are in place to educate people about the museum and its artifacts?
A: We have a website. There are a lot of resources there, and we are always adding more. We do monthly education programs, although all of that is on hold right now while we deal with the virus crisis. You can get a tour of the factory and museum, and if you have research questions, we are always available to help.
Q: Tell me more about the process of planning and executing museum events.
A: In June, Katie Carpenter will meet with us to review her schedule for the following calendar year. Most of the programs are implemented by Katie and our community team of museum associates, who are all blind or visually impaired. Every March, our Braille Readers Theater puts on a show. Some summers, we will have a Bards & Storytellers program that celebrates performance traditions within the blind community through history. We make masks, mosaics, holiday ornaments, and cards. A few years ago, we held a reading marathon where narrators from studios all over the region re-recorded our original recording of “Gulliver.”
Q: Do you have any events planned for when the museum reopens?
A: We do not know when we will reopen. Our number one priority is the safety of our staff, visitors, and community. If things get back to normal, we are hosting a program on Blindness in Japan on Saturday, April 25th, organizing a touch tour of the new Louisville Botanical Gardens for May 16th, and celebrating Helen Keller’s birthday on June 27th with a discussion program about the recent controversy in Texas. We hope to be able to reschedule our Braille Readers Theater performances of Eugene Ionesco’s “The Bald Soprano.”