Archive for August, 2009

The Yates’ Dollhouse Revisited

The inventory begins!

The inventory begins!

After the death of their daughter Anna Alida Yates in 1834, Governor Joseph Yates and Elizabeth De Lancey Yates accepted their two young grandchildren into their home in Schenectady.  Making the children feel at home and welcome in a new place at a very sad time in their lives must have been a very pressing issue for the grandparents as they prepared for the arrival of their young charges.  Although nothing written survives to give insight into the feelings shared by the Yates, an amazing artifact in our collection gives tangible testament to the love and concern they must have felt for their grandchildren they struggled to make a new home in Schenectady.  The Yates’ Dollhouse is a one-of-a-kind toy that most children during that era could never dream of owning.  Built in 1834, the same year that Anna passed away and her children Susan and John came to live with their grandparents, the dollhouse is one of the oldest in New York State and one of the most intact.


Through a valiant effort by then curator Marilyn Sassi and board member Kati Kindl, the dollhouse was conserved by the Cooperstown Graduate Program for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works in 1981.  Since that time, the dollhouse has had a home in one of upstairs exhibit spaces but until recently, has been in dire need of fresh cleaning, not to mention documentation of the artifacts.  Our inventory volunteers spent three weeks inventorying, cleaning, photographing and, mylaring (yes, a new word) each miniature artifact before re-situating each room (thank you Ann-Marie, Mona, Alan, David and, Phil!).  The dollhouse looks wonderful and really deserves some young visitors!  It has also brought to our attention the need for a proper enclosure to both protect the artifact while allowing as much visibility as possible and (according to more than one young dollhouse enthusiast, and a few old ones!) the need for a replica dollhouse that was hands on.  We will work on both improvements (with any help always appreciated!) in the next year but for the time being, come enjoy the newly cleaned Yates’ Dollhouse and while marveling at the detail and skill used to build and paint it, reflect on how this one artifact is really our only documentation of a grandparent’s love for their grandchildren in a time of difficulty.


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Programs at SCHS

As a small museum, the Schenectady County Historical Society has to be creative with what we have so we can draw in the public.  While my summer here has been filled with typical museum work (i.e. researching exhibits, giving tours and coming up with ideas for future exhibits) my days have often included stints of brainstorming to find ways to attract the public.  One of my solutions was education programs. 

While being a small socity is difficult at times, one benefit is that we have a bit more freedom on how to use different budgets.  Often, our curator is able to meet with people who want to do programs here at the historical society and come up with a specific plan of action.  With this kind of attention, incoming groups can get EXACTLY what they want out of the museum, and the fee is very reasonable.  We have had a lot of success with education programs.

With that being said come check us out and try our programs on for size.  We have some already planned, or you can have a meeting with our curator and/or librarian to discuss what you’d like to do during your time here.  A museum/library program is a great way to get any group active within the historic district whether they be primary school students or a conference group.  SCHS welcomes all participants and encourages them to use the historical society to its fullest potential.

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You never know what you’ll find…

Our "evening ensemble"

Our "evening ensemble"

While researching an unrelated, yet very interesting, collection we discovered the answer to an enigma that has been entertaining and confusing our volunteers for almost 3 years.  In our collection is a wonderfully loud/synthetic/rhinestone jumpsuit from the 1970s. Knowing the focus of our organization and its sometimes conservative approach to collecting the question was “What is it?” and “How did it get here?”. Unfortunately these questions could be applied to many of the artifacts we have discovered, but, happily, this is one where the mystery (at least for now) appears to be solved.

While looking through our newly digitized gift reciepts, the entry of one “evening ensemble worn by donor in 1970 for the 25th anniversary of the College of St. Rose. Green and silver brocade. Culottes, trim of rhinestone and diamante” stuck out. It appeared too good to be true that this was actually our questionable item, but after after comparison with the photographs it does fit.

Although, this is an amusing artifact to be concerned about it does symbolize the very difficult issues we have on a daily basis reconciling artifacts and their history. The “who” and “why” of an artifact is often even more important than the “what”. A china tea set does little good in portraying the history of Schenectady County unless you know who used it and why they thought it important enough to save for the future. In the case of our ensemble, it was merely an amusing artifact, but now its story has been rediscovered. Whether this will help it stand the test of time is yet to be seen, but who knows how many people threw out great-grandpa’s 1890 jeans thinking they were unimportant.

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