Curator's Corner Blog

Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Case of the Curious Curator: Horses in High Heels

That’s right, I said horses in high heels. Although truthfully, it is not quite how it sounds, but still  amazingly similar. One of the latest things discovered at the museum was a type of horse shoe, but not like the typical metal shoes that you are probably imagining that attach to the base of a horse’s hoof. This object is an actual hand-made shoe that would encapsulate the entire hoof of a horse. This interesting item was donated by Walter Eugene Johnson who used this shoe as a prosthetic for a horse who had one leg shorter than the others so that he could walk more easily. As you can see here, the shoe was created with a base made out of a thick piece of wood to add height, a metal piece along the front that I would presume was used to give the shoe some resilience, and the actual “shoe” part was made out of leather with leather straps, and shoe laces. This horse shoe is remarkably similar to shoes we humans use for ourselves, and even in the same context. What I mean is, humans have a similar way to correct a similar problem when we have one leg shorter than the others and do not fix it using surgical methods.

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When I saw this object I was sure I had never seen anything quite like it before so I decided to do some research and I certainly found some interesting results. I knew there were some more modern technologies that we have created, but had never seen one in person. One example is what I found at this site: http://www.thehorse.com/articles/15234/prosthetics-science-not-science-fiction, which seems to be quite common, and I even found what appears to be a similar type of prosthetic shown on an elephant at this site: http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-10311556-1.html . However, what I became most excited about finding was a story about a shoe, or rather a boot, used on a miniature horse that reminded me very much of the one in our museum. This story by Eric Mack and video can be found at http://news.cnet.com/8301-10784_3-20046304-87.html and is about a horse who was born without a segment of his lower leg, including his hoof. The current owners of the horse managed to get a prosthetic leg for this horse in the hopes that it would at least help him walk (but the owners were happily surprised that he could now run as well with his new prosthetic). It reminded me of Walter Johnson’s horse shoe because it fit around the animal’s leg just like a boot; was fastened with, the slightly more modern, Velcro; and was used for the same reason: to help a horse walk.

It’s true that this horse had a slightly different problem, but I think the concept is very similar and the people who helped these animals had a similar mindset. I simply think that it is incredible that this man, Walter Johnson, went to the trouble to create a solution for a horse who probably only had one other grim alternative; and even though it was a relatively simple invention, it appears to be a little ahead of its time, for it is not unlike the impressive alternatives that we see today.

The Case of the Curious Curator: Need to Know Numbers

In my hand, I’ve got a yellow box, or maybe it would be considered gold or golden. It’s rectangular, it has stripes that look red, but maybe orange, and it’s relatively small. It opens as if it’s hinged, but there isn’t an actual hinge, just the paper-like material encasing the box. There is a brand name on the lid or some kind of title anyway, and other words. Inside are what look like black licorice Jelly Beans, but that’s not very technical because they are actually pills, or maybe capsules is the better word. Hopefully some of this will be helpful.

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I give you this strange description because these are the kinds of things that you have to think about when you are trying to find an object that has no number. See, generally when you receive an object for your collection, that object receives an accession number that it can be identified with and you may also describe the object so you have a secondary way of searching for it or identifying it. However, some items slip through the cracks and it is up to us here at the museum to figure out where this item belongs, if at all. I thought at first that maybe I just couldn’t find the number on this object, because sadly this wouldn’t be the first time. Sometimes they are written very small, or in interesting places, or sometimes I just don’t think to look in a certain place. Every time this happens though, I bring it up to Nicole Webb, the curator and she finds the number every time in some place I have carelessly overlooked. That day though, she couldn’t find the number either, and then I knew that this was a serious matter; that this object had no number and it was up to me to discover it. Since then, I have looked over this object again and again, so please if you think there is anything I could be missing, let me know.

Let me back up even further though, because one thing you need to know is how I search for these items with no numbers. I don’t just wander aimlessly around the whole museum as some of you may imagine. Here at the museum, we have a software on our computer called Past Perfect. This software does many things, but for me (and you) the main purpose is to locate, describe, and accurately identify every single item that is in the museum collections. You can search by keywords, by accession numbers, etc. Because this item had no number written on it, I attempted to search for it by keyword. Let’s just say that this was absolutely no help at all. Nothing I typed in turned up anything useful. One of the issues sometimes is that descriptions are so short and simple that they don’t provide much information about the object it’s describing. In the end, the closest description I came up with was “gold box w/lid”. The curator didn’t think this would be the right accession, but I had to try. Now was the time to go old school. So I went to look at the paper records for this object to see if I could discover any further information to help me identify this box as the one in the description. Low and behold…..the same exact description was in the paper files as well.

Regretfully, I must admit that so far this little box has defeated me. Every now and then I go back to the computer or the paper files and try and find this unidentifiable box, but to no avail. I am determined though, and this box will receive it’s proper number. I only hope that I am the one to uncover this mystery. So please, keep your fingers crossed for me as I continue on this quest to find this need to know number.

The Case of the Curious Curator: Blanche Harding and Her Marionettes

As I looked at the objects in front of me, I heard my colleague Stephanie begin to sing the song “The Lonely Goatherd” from the “Sound of Music”. For those of you who have seen this movie, you might be able to guess what this blog is about and what objects I am looking at. For those, of you that don’t, trust me the scene is worth watching and today I will be talking about marionettes, or puppets. As a few of us have been going through collections at the museum we have come across a multitude of interesting things. Some that I’ve encountered recently were five puppets that had previously been owned by Blanche Harding of Polson, Montana. Allow me to introduce these puppets and this incredible woman to you now…

Marcus Daley

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Margaret Daley

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Mr. Montana

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Jim Hill

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Solovig Knutson

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and finally the woman herself: Blanche Harding

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I would like to admit that I am not from Montana, but I thought that there may be some people who would have known Blanche and probably her skills as a puppeteer.  Blanche Harding did many shows in Polson and other areas of Montana and was the first professional puppeteer in the state. Sadly, she passed away in 2004 but she continued to provide her gift of entertainment right up until the end, doing a show just two months prior.

I have to admit that I have never seen a puppet show before, at least not in person, and I don’t know much about marionettes in general. However, that’s exactly why I thought this would be a great opportunity to share the information I have discovered with others. The puppets we have here at the Historical Museum are the ones I have shown above. Blanche not only did shows with these puppets, but was also a part of several conventions such as The Shriner’s convention and the P.E.O Sisterhood of Montana convention. She made special puppets for these plays as well as others like the Polson Centennial show and a show she did all over North Dakota called Centennial Soliloquy for their territorial days. Harding didn’t only bring her marionettes to life through movement and verse but she gave them life by creating them herself (and with the help of her grandson Dan Engle occasionally). Here at the museum we even have a handbook created by her on how to make and operate various kinds of marionettes. Also, most of her puppets were carved from wood and I can’t even begin to imagine the work and dedication it would take to amass such a large collection and master the art of being a puppeteer that she must have enjoyed and loved.

Many newspaper articles were written about her and there was a documentary made about her and her profession, as well. Although we only have five puppets here at the museum, from looking through her handbook it’s clear that there are many others, probably dozens.  I also learned that she had a very popular set of marionettes for a show about Lewis and Clark called Montana with Marionettes. I was curious as to where all these other puppets might be, and although I haven’t been able to get a hold of them, I know that at the Polson-Flathead Historical Museum there is an exhibit called “Lewis and Clark Marionettes by Blanche Harding”. I imagine that they have most of her marionettes, particularly the ones from her traditional Lewis and Clark show if you wanted to see more of her puppets or learn more about her. Looking through all of our information at the museum and researching this incredible woman, I have also found out that there have been many articles published about her in newspapers, Even though I was never around to see her shows or meet her, just reading the articles about her and reading words she has written herself, it is obvious Blanche Harding had a great passion for her profession, took great pride in her work, and everyone seemed to love her and the simple, yet incredible gift she gave to those around her when she brought her puppets to life. For those who knew of her I hope this was a pleasant reminder of her talents and person and for those like me who don’t, I hope this was an interesting and insightful look into the life of a puppeteer.

All of the puppets and the picture of Blanche Harding came from The Blanche Harding Collection (1995.17)