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Getting Creative: Physically Distanced Cataloging

Improvised standing desk taking advantage of multiple laptops to view all available photographs of this piano (PAV.12) while composing a detailed description.

Many of the Pavilion blog posts mention ongoing efforts to catalog the collection but have not gone into detail about the process itself. Cataloging includes many steps: assigning each object a unique ID number (PAV numbers), attaching the object ID number to the object in a permanent but reversible way, capturing a standardized series of photographs to document an object from different angles with additional shots of notable details, assessing the condition of the object, rehousing the object in line with the standards and best practices for preservation, conducting additional research into the object’s provenance, entering all relevant information in the museum database, and finally backing everything up according to protocol. Since we began remote work in mid-March and access to our work areas is limited to brief trips to monitor security and preservation conditions, cataloging has been restricted to what can be done from existing digitized records—verifying object ID numbers, improving existing database entries to bring them in line with established standards, and researching provenance information to verify or refute traditional attributions.

Thanks to additional information from the 1912 Insurance Appraisal from New York City, we confirmed that PAV.8–with its fish carved side rails and paw feet–was the side chair purchased by Sarah Hazard Howland (great grandmother of museum co-founder Stephen Pell) from Madame Jumel of Washington Heights.

Assigning an object ID number is not as simple as it sounds. As is often the case in museums that have existed for more than a couple of decades, different cohorts of museum staff have assigned object ID numbers based on the practices of the day and the Pavilion Collection is no exception. During an accessioning effort in the 1970s, 454 object ID numbers were assigned to various pieces in the collection with a very brief description of the object (or objects) and entered into the Museum Register. However, these numbers were never formally attached to the objects themselves.

Edward W. Pell Graduate Fellow Elizabeth Gouin took the first major steps to associate those object IDs (the PAV numbers) to the objects themselves, with help from associations made during the wall-to-wall inventory conducted in 1994 and six historic inventories made by the Pell family while the Pavilion remained a summer home. Since 2017, we have found eight additional inventories, including three insurance appraisals from the Pell home in New York City. The added detail from these documents has been an immense help in determining which objects are family heirlooms and which antiques were purchased specifically for the Pavilion, which sheds light in turn on descriptions from the PAV Register.