It’s time for another addition of “Meet the Staff.” Today, meet Michael, or Mike as he is often known. Mike was a welcome addition to the museum staff earlier this fall and increased our number of male employees by 100%.
How would you describe your work at the Hull-House Museum?
I’d describe my work as “varied” which tends to make the days go pretty fast. As Facilities Manager/Historic Preservationist, I’m in charge of the buildings and grounds that make up the Museum. My work tends to fall into one of three categories. First, there’s overseeing the day-to-day operation of the Museum’s physical space. This can mean anything from setting up before and cleaning up after special events, coordinating minor repairs, opening the museum in the morning and locking up in the evening, and so on. Second, I’m helping to coordinate the renovations that need to take place to prepare our space for the new exhibition. There’s a practical side to this; helping to plan for things like a new elevator to make the second floor accessible, and new paint, wallpaper, flooring, etc.
There’s an academic side, too. As an historic preservationist, I have the responsibility to help guide all decisions affecting the museum’s physical space so that it’s historic integrity is maintained. This can be as simple as scheduling regular preventive maintenance, or as complex as advocating one renovation proposal over another. Finally, as the staff historic preservationist, I am tasked with preserving and interpreting the built environment of the museum. It’s my job to be the buildings’ chief advocate. I do this through research to help enrich their context and through day-to-day watchfulness and care so that the museum space is maintained for future generations.
What are you currently working on at Hull-House?
Our new permanent exhibition will feature a series of “Architectural Encounters”, using original decorative and functional features to highlight the social and personal influences that helped shape the physical space of the museum. Before I came on board, work had already begun on sampling the various layers of historic wallpaper and paint present. We’ll be presenting our finding in the new exhibition and asking the question – were the decorative choices merely aesthetic, or do they suggest a stronger connection to social movements of their era? Currently, I’m beginning the research on the marble fireplaces found throughout Hull House as well as trying to assemble a chronology of the lighting fixtures used over the course of Hull House’s history. There are some interesting questions to be answered. Were decorative features like fireplaces individually designed and carved, or were they ordered out of a catalog? If so, what does that suggest about commerce and consumerism in the late 19th century? For the lighting, what was it like to switch from gas to electric? How quickly did it happen? What changes were made possible by electric technology?
What do you like about this work?
I like that intellectual curiosity is encouraged. I like that each day is different. I like the fact that on my desk right now are notes about the set-up necessary for a special event in December, a set of blueprints for the new exhibition, historic paint and wallpaper samples, and a book called “Art and the Empire City, New York: 1825 – 1861.” I think this is awesome.
What are the challenges?
Organization and time management, hands-down. It’s a balancing act. My system so far has consisted of many post-it notes, but I’m always looking for better ways to keep myself organized.
What is your favorite artifact in the museum?
My favorite artifact is the museum. Historic buildings have so much to teach us. In my spare time at work I like to peek into dusty corners and crawl around the basements and attic. There are so many stories here, I’d wager most of which we don’t know. Only by keeping our senses open and playing detective, by always asking “why?” do we have a chance of learning what those stories are.
What is your all-time favorite museum?
My all-time favorite museum is, without a doubt, the National Air and Space Museum. I love that kind of stuff. I have probably visited an unhealthy number of times. I could lead a tour if they asked me.
What do you do when you aren’t hard at work?
My wife, Emily, and I are recent transplants to the Chicago area, so we’ve been doing a good amount of exploring. Other than that, we stay busy visiting our family and friends, going out to a restaurant or a movie, and indulging every unreasonable whim of our cat, Spooky.