Behind the Scenes: Reimagining the Concord Museum’s Galleries
by Erica Lome
When I began my job as Decorative Arts Trust Curatorial Associate at the Concord Museum in March, I did not expect to spend only three weeks at my new office before relocating to my apartment to work from home. Like other cultural institutions, the Concord Museum is currently closed to the public in response to COVID-19, but our work continues apace.
I arrived at the Concord Museum during the early phases of the museum’s two-and-a-half-year plan to reinterpret, redesign, and reinstall its fourteen permanent galleries. This project endeavors to better engage visitors in the fascinating story of how Massachusetts’s first frontier town became the center of the Revolution and nurtured some of the greatest literary minds of the 19th century.
My primary focus has been assisting my colleagues with the installation of three galleries related to April 19, 1775, the day when the local Massachusetts Provincial militia and minute companies assembled in Concord to defend a stockpile of military supplies from being seized and destroyed by British Regulars. The carefully planned and officially sanctioned violence of April 19 set the stage for the American War of Independence and was sustained for eight long years.
The main gallery will explore the events of April 19 hour-by-hour, guided by the first-hand accounts of the participants. Visitors will also encounter objects that act as “witnesses” to the conflict, including one of the lanterns hung in the belfry of North Church to signal the movement of British troops (figure 1), the Nathaniel Mulliken clock which ticked away in Buckman’s Tavern as the Lexington militia mustered (figure 2), musket balls fired by Provincial minutemen at the North Bridge, and a sword seemingly abandoned by a British officer during the Regulars’ bloody march back to Boston.
Bookending this gallery are two smaller “Focus Galleries” that will showcase, respectively, domestic furnishings owned and made by the Concord citizens who engaged in the day-long conflict on April 19, and Daniel Chester French’s “Concord Minute Man of 1775” sculpture, made for the centennial anniversary of that momentous day (figure 3). The current plan is for these three galleries to open to the public this fall.
Working on this project has been an incredible learning opportunity. On any given day, I’m managing communication between our design partners, working with our curatorial team to develop and refine interpretive content for the galleries, consulting with the education department on programing for our History Learning Center, and coordinating with our collection manager on object movement and conservation.
As a material culture scholar and aspiring curator, I am fortunate to have such an active role in crafting new and exciting interpretation for the museum. Taking an object-driven approach to history will enable our staff to tell more compelling and evocative stories, as well as center the lives and labor of people not typically featured in mainstream accounts.
Moreover, as a self-described “furniture person,” I am excited by the opportunity to do research on Middlesex County craftsmen like Joseph Hosmer and William and Daniel Munroe for future projects, likely with a significant digital component (figure 4). In particular, I am eager to work with curator David Wood to investigate a group of late 18th-century case pieces attributed to an anonymous, and possibly enslaved, woodworker in Concord who made the fascinating and unusual choice to construct his furniture without using any glue (figure 5).
For History at Home on Memorial Day, I was able to share virtual tours of Daniel Chester French’s maquette of Mourning Victory in the Lisa H. Foote History Learning Center and the Mourning Victory monument at the Melvin Memorial.
I am looking forward to sharing more about these and other projects with the Decorative Arts Trust community over the next two years. For now, feel free to follow the Concord Museum’s Facebook and Instagram feeds to find out more about our collection.