Interpreting winter seasonal decor in New England for the pre-Civil War period can be a tricky thing. Christmas as a major national celebration didn’t truly come into its own in the United States until the mid-19th century and Thanksgiving on a Thursday in November wasn’t established at the national level until President Lincoln’s decree of 1863.
Without delving too deeply into the history of Christmas and other winter holidays in the United States and early colonies, I wanted to share a little of how we decorate Buckman Tavern for the winter. I cut my eye teeth in museum work at Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. They host an annual Candlelight Stroll of their many historic houses and helping prepare for these events taught me what traditions are pretty universal in wintertime (at least north of the equator!).
When the days grow short and the weather grows cold, it’s natural to want to add light and natural elements to your home. Decorating with fresh greens and fresh or dried fruit was common even before the excess of Victorian-era Christmas. Real natural objects in a historic building, however, are not recommended due to possible risk of pest infestation or fire. So what do you do if you can’t use real? Go faux!
We use a lot of faux greens and food in the houses, which come from a variety of sources. From specialty companies that produce faux food for museum exhibits to IKEA and Amazon, we’ve spent years amassing the raw material with which to make the tavern glow.
Take this photo, for example. This is the long table (actually two historic tables) in the West Room of the tavern. Normally, it holds candlesticks, writing paper, inkwells, quill pens, pounce pots, and reproduction maps and newspapers. As such, it is interpreted as a meeting space for the town government and for the local militia.
For the holidays, however, it’s interpreted as a meal space for a large group. The tablecloth and napkins are oatmeal colored linen that I use for exhibits, the tartan scarf is a Munroe family pattern that I borrowed from gift shop stock, and the greenery is faux pine garland from a craft store. The apples, turkey, and lemons (far end) are faux. Note: the turkey is one of our tour guide and staff favorites. Check out this video to see how it came to be.
The candlesticks, ceramics, pewter plate, and most of the pewter mugs are period, all probably dating between 1750 and 1840 (details about most of these objects are in our online catalog). It’s great fun and a great challenge to tie modern, exhibit-appropriate props with period pieces in a way that looks consistent and appealing.
One final item to mention is our Christmas tree. We place a small fake tree in the kitchen and decorate it with basic rustic ornaments of wood and tin. It also bears a large text label “ornament” that explains that it is, in fact, a time traveler. Our historic houses are interpreted for 1775 and Christmas trees didn’t arrive in Lexington until the 1830s. There’s a fascinating story about how they did, actually.
Buckman Tavern is decorated for the season and open to all for free on the day of the Lexington Tea Burning. The 2019 date is not decided yet, but it is usually the second Sunday of the month. Watch our social media and website next year for your opportunity to see the seasonal decor in person! And check out the photos below to see how the tavern looked in 2018.
-Stacey Fraser, Collections and Outreach Manager
Deaccession: /ˌdēakˈseSHən/ verb, to officially remove an item from a museum’s collection.
For museum professionals, especially those who work directly with collections, this word is relatively commonplace and frequently utilized. If you are not plugged into the museum world, though, you may have never heard this term before. In fact, the term itself is fairly new. The first known use of the word “deaccession” was in 1972 – the year in which deaccessioning and its related ethics were brought to the forefront with the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Hoving Affair”. (You can read more about that event here.)
For those of us who work with museum collections, deaccessioning means removing certain items from a museum’s holdings. There are various reasons for doing this. For us at Lexington Historical Society, items are typically considered for deaccession if they do not directly pertain to Lexington and its history. Or, items are sometimes deaccessioned if we have numerous copies of the same item (as is sometimes the case with books or pamphlets), since it is archival best practice to keep only about three to five copies of a specific item.
Lest anyone be concerned that we are spontaneously removing items from our collection, rest assured that we are not!! Deaccessioning is not a simple process, and for good reason. Removing items from the collection is something that takes a lot of time and consideration. The required criteria and steps for deaccessioning are detailed in our Collections Management Policy, which is a policy that most collections-based institutions have in some form. Our policy includes specifics concerning criteria for deaccessioning, the procedure for deaccessioning (including who can approve a deaccession), the process for disposition of materials, and any required related documentation. Each item that is a candidate for deaccession is carefully considered by staff, the Collections Committee, and the Board of Directors. Thus, no items would or could ever be carelessly removed.
Items that are deaccessioned due to their lack of a Lexington connection are often sent to an institution where they might be more relevant. For example, if we have a book about the Old North Bridge, we might contact the Special Collections at Concord Public Library.
On occasion, deaccessioned items may be brought to an auction house for sale. In these cases where items from a museum’s collections are sold for profit, it is important to consider the appropriate use of any income received from these deaccessioned materials. At Lexington Historical Society, we make sure that any funds received from deaccessioning collections are directly channeled into collections and their care. This is the standard accepted by several professional museum organizations, and thus it is our standard, too. (You can read more about this in American Alliance of Museums (AAM) Code of Ethics for Museums under the “Collections” heading here.)
Though this seems straightforward, there is often a debate concerning whether funds from deaccessioning can be used for institutional survival or a museum’s financial well-being. After all, is it worth retaining these invaluable, cultural items if there is no institution to house them in the end? (You can read more about this debate here.) While this is a valid point, we want to ensure that museum ethics and building public trust are at the forefront of everything that we do.
This might all make deaccessioning, when done properly, seem straight forward, organized, and ethical. This is certainly the goal of having and enforcing of these types of policies! As deaccessioning is often a necessary procedure for museums, archives, and libraries, following these policies is crucial. The staff here at Lexington Historical Society want you to know that we take the custodial care and maintenance of our collections very seriously, and we make it a priority to hold ourselves to the highest of ethical standards when assessing the items in our holdings.
-Elizabeth Mubarek, Archives Manager
Featuring the voices of Lexington Historical Society permanent staff and occasional guest authors.