Day in the Life of a Curator of Collections

by Anne Motto, Curator of Collections
October 24, 2023

The title Curator of Collections may seem very specific, but in a small organization, it can be surprisingly broad. Describing an average day is actually rather tricky, as almost every day brings with it something new. Depending on the day and the season, I wear a lot of hats and with collections, archives, and galleries on three different floors, climb a lot stairs.

The best part of my job is sharing the rich history preserved within our collections and archives with the public.

What makes Acorn Hall so remarkable, as well as such a very cool place to work, is how much of the original mid-19th-century interiors have remained unaltered down to the wallpaper, carpets, and cornices. To ensure their ongoing longevity, many of my recent days were occupied with applying for funding from the Morris County Historic Preservation Trust and New Jersey Historic Trust for the development of documents to guide their conservation and restoration.

Blogs also offer an opportunity to share discoveries from my research, which has included tracing the 487 known students of the Morristown Sewing School (1879-89) and their 60 known teachers from birth to death.

MCHS, however, is much more than Acorn Hall, and as the county historical society, we receive around 50 (i.e. weekly) donations each year that can be anything from 1,400 summonses from early-19th-century Roxbury to a c. 1940s Epstein’s Department Store hat. Coordinating their arrival is only the beginning. From there, each individual item needs to be inventoried, cataloged, photographed or scanned, entered into our collections database, and properly housed in either our archives or collections storage. I am phenomenally lucky to have a team of eleven volunteers who not only assist in this process, but are also helping to improve our records and organization. On any given day, at least one will be arriving to work on their assigned project.

Every Tuesday begins as “blog day.” Most often written by myself or our research assistant, Erin, each blog is edited and refined over the course of a week before I post the final version and accompanying photos that morning. To tie in with our current exhibit, I also highlight a local historic site in a social media post every Thursday that, if I can manage it, tangentially ties to that week’s blog. These initiatives enable us to present so many more facets of Morris County history than could be covered in exhibits or programs alone while also continuing to grow our online presence.

Conservation of and research on our St. Cecilia stained glass window was an exciting yearlong project, and her return to Acorn Hall came with fascinating insights from her conservator.

Exhibits, of course, are probably one of the most fun aspects of my job. Researched, designed, and developed over months, they are an exciting way to use our extensive holdings to tell a story. Currently in the works is a mini exhibit that will highlight the creations of a longtime Morristown dressmaker, Mrs. R.F. Dempsey, and our very talented collections assistant, Noël, is preparing one of MCHS’s newly acquired Dempsey dresses for its debut in January. Another mini exhibit on local weddings is in the nascent stages, and initial research was begun by one of our summer interns, Henry, for our Morris County taverns exhibit slated for fall 2024.

As you might guess by now, my job requires playing a lot of “Tetris,” carefully organizing the various parts so that they don’t figuratively – and physically – pile up. In fact, my old-school paper calendar with its menagerie of Post-its and highlighted notations has been described as “a work of art.” Dotted not only with donation appointments, volunteer schedules, grant deadlines, and social media posts, but also programs and events, member newsletter writing sessions, and a bountiful array of ancillary tasks, one thing is for certain; my “average” day is rarely boring and often goes very fast.