NORTH EAST — The Upper Bay Museum has collected and displayed the history and heritage of the Upper Chesapeake Bay for more than three decades, but now that history will be easier to research after the help of a group of University of Delaware students.
“Before we had 300 items inventoried, but now we have three-quarters of the entire building done,” said Rick Bouchelle, an Upper Bay Museum board member. “It is amazing what these students have accomplished in two weeks. It was overwhelming for us. We could have never done this ourselves.”
Upper Bay Museum volunteers and 14 University of Delaware museum studies graduate students sorted, cleaned, inventoried and cataloged all of the items in the museum in North East over the last two weeks in January.
The university’s museum studies program holds a credit course for two weeks over the winter interim period.
In those two weeks, the students spent close to 800 hours at the museum going over all of the items in the museum with volunteers. The students spent time photographing the displays, cleaning them, identifying each item, inventorying, categorizing and photographing each item, and entering the information into a searchable computer database. In total, the students inventoried about 1,600 items, including decoys, tools, boats and other different artifacts in the museum.
“There were a lot of things that we didn’t even know we had. People would bring things in and say our grandfather had this and we want you to have it,” said Vernon Bryant, president of the museum. “We have a very good group of volunteers, but this was overwhelming. The students asked questions, looked up what the items were and the volunteers helped in identifying a lot of the items. In turn, the students taught us how to enter the items into the database, so we have complete records of where the item is located, a number, description and a photograph.”
Graduate student Jodi Fredericksen said on Friday that the museum’s volunteers were an indispensable part of the large-scale effort.
“There is a lot of pride and heritage in the museum,” Fredericksen said. “I am from Iowa, where we do not have a lot of water around us, so this was all new to me. It has been a great experience.”
Sequoia Barnes, a fashion studies student with a focus on costume history, found some inspiration in many of the rare items.
“I would love to get my hands on those scuba suits (high up on the wall), just to see the material that they are made out of,” she said. “This is a very serious business with the decoys. I had no idea they were worth so much money. They are truly work of art with such attention to detail.”
Megan Hutchins and Heather Gerling were busy working on cataloging items Friday and even earned the nickname “Catalog Whispers,” since they managed to get some of the volunteers to join in and identify tools and input items into the database.
“This has been so much fun working with the volunteers,” Hutchins said. “It is great to see how the hunting and fishing works and how much they love what they do.”
Gerling said she enjoyed reviewing tools from different time periods and studying how they evolved over time.
“They can adapt anything to make it work,” she said.
Bouchelle said he was especially glad to see each item in the working decoy shop donated by the Horace Graham family, of Charlestown, cleaned, cataloged and returned to its original spot.
“That display has been up since the early 1980s in the museum itself and the things in the shop have been in there since at least the 1950s or 60s,” he said. “It has never been this clean before. I might just have to throw down some sawdust to make it look real.”
Kasey Grier, museum studies program director at the university, said the graduate students were well prepared to tackle a task of this size. The students were also leaving behind the knowledge of how the museum can finish the effort over the next few years, she said.
“We will leave them with a cleaning kit to help them, along with books and binders with all of the catalog items so they can finish, but they are well on their way now,” Grier said. “When you add up all the hours it equals a half year of a full-time staff member. It was a wonderful experience for the students and each of the volunteers wanted to get in and help, so it is a win for everyone.”