Marion museum has a new project

By Randy Johnston

Special to the Herald Review

MARION — Do you love a mystery? The Marion Area Historical Museum has hundreds.

It has an intriguing collection of undocumented photos and snapshots offering tantalizing glimpses of a bygone era, fading pieces of Marion’s history that slumber in the archives, slipping deeper into anonymity with each passing day.

On Thursday, Oct. 24, at a special meeting of the Marion Area Historical Society, vice president Marilyn Grose announced an ambitious project to categorize the stacks and boxes of photos and identify the faces, places and events they depict and preserve them for years to come.

Featured speaker at the meeting, Cliff Sjogren, past president of the Wexford County Historical Society and photograph conservator, presented a methodology he implemented at the Wexford museum to successfully organize, annotate, display and protect 1,500 photos of local history.

He summarized important recommendations and procedures critical to the process and explained that they apply not only to museums, but also to individuals who wish to ensure the survival of personal photos and family albums.

Sjogren addressed the physical enemies of photographs. Choose storage locations free from bright sunlight, unfiltered fluorescent light, humidity, insects, temperature extremes, soil and mold, he said.

Only handle the items with gloves or clean hands, hold them at the edges and store them using specialized products such as acid-free paper, mat board, boxes and tape. Separate the prints with sheets of acid-free tissue, he added.

“Once you have the materials on hand you need, like acid free boxes and folders, the fun begins," Sjogren said.

For him, the fun is devising a system to sort and retrieve the photos.

He advised starting with categories, as many as you need for your project. For museums, the categories might include churches, agriculture, industry, transportation, downtown businesses or lakes and parks. Individuals might choose vacations, birthdays, holidays or hobbies. Then, add captions or descriptions for each photo.

After an extensive period of categorizing, annotating and scanning hundreds of historically significant photos, the Wexford museum staff created online photo galleries for residents to view and learn about their local history.

A similar project will begin at the Marion museum using many of the techniques and protocols outlined by Sjogren.

Project leaders are Valerie Eckert, Donna Geyer, Julie Traynor and Sandra Wilson. Their mission is to identify large numbers of photos, preserve them, scan them and provide an online resource for community members to enjoy.

“I’m excited about the project,” Eckert said. “The ideas suggested by Sjogren will be so useful and it’ll be great when people can see the photos.

“Right now, we have so many interesting pictures that no one ever looks at and we can make that change so a lot of folks can see our hidden treasures.”

Sjogren served as director of admissions at the University of Michigan where he earned his doctorate. He is retired, lives in Cadillac and is a member emeritus of the board of directors of the Wexford County Historical Society and Museum.

For more information about the Marion museum and the photo project, contact curator Donna Geyer at (231) 743-2854. The museum is at 505 S. Mill St. (M-66), in Marion.

The Wexford museum is at 127 Beech St., in Cadillac. See the photos galleries at www.wexfordcountyhistory.org.