EMS Museum will use grant to improve geology, technology, art collection storage

Julianne Snider, managing director of the EMS museum and art gallery, looks over historic meteorological instruments that are part of the museum's vast collection of vintage technology and safety equipment that relates to the college's research efforts. A recent grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services will help the museum care for its collection. Credit: David Kubarek / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Earth and Mineral Sciences (EMS) Museum & Art Gallery has secured the fourth in a series of grants totaling $450,000 from the Institute for Museum and Library Services, which will be used to continue the effort to securely store some of the museum’s collections.

Specifically, the grant will allow staff to finish storage for the geology collections with high-end cabinetry designed to protect items from deterioration. It will also fund the beginning stages of securing the museum’s technology collection, which includes historic mining safety gear, cartography tools, meteorological instrumentation and industrial glass-making equipment.

Using grants from the Institute for Museum and Library Services, the EMS Museum & Art Gallery obtained storage units for much of its collection. Some of the units allow for controls to protect its contents.  Credit: David Kubarek / Penn StateCreative Commons

“One of the reasons that there’s value in our collections is that they serve so many purposes,” said Julianne Snider, managing director of the museum and art gallery. “We use them for exhibits, we use them for education and we use them for research. And our researchers come from within our college as well as outside of the University.”

Snider said the grant, which is matched 1:1 through museum staffing and funding, will help secure the last of a geological collection that’s been stored in inadequate cabinetry for many decades. Many of these specimens, she said, require certain environmental controls to keep them from degrading.

Some of the items in the Museum & Art Gallery — including rocks and minerals — require humidity and other controls to avoid becoming damaged.  Credit: David Kubarek / Penn StateCreative Commons

Snider said the museum’s technology collection includes artifacts such as first University president Evan Pugh’s personal laboratory equipment as well as items to advance safety in the mining industry. Some items include personal safety equipment and instruments to warn of explosive mine gasses. Many of the items, she said, help tell the story of the college and also the history of the state. Most of the technology collection has been stored in unmarked boxes since 2004. Unpacking these boxes will yield surprises, she said.

Snider said the EMS Museum’s collections are important for research as well as historical preservation. Several researchers — including experts at Penn State — are using coal and ore samples to spot opportunities for rare-earth element extraction from abandoned mines. Other items, such as objects in the art collection, are studied by art historians, material scientists, and archaeologists for the art, the materials used to create the art, and the industrial technologies pictured in the art. Snider notes that much of the art we enjoy today comes from materials sourced from the ground.

In gathering pieces for the technology collection in addition to those still in boxes, Snider said one meteorologist told her the instruments being donated — although used just decades ago — were unrecognizable to him. Items in that collection include a crystal sun tracker that uses a magnifying glass to burn the path of the sun on a substrate.

Among the vintage research instruments in the EMS Museum & Art Gallery is a globe that burns the path of the sun onto a film.  Credit: David Kubarek / Penn StateCreative Commons

“Without our collection, institutional knowledge would get lost within a very short amount of time, because researchers and educators don’t use that equipment anymore,” Snider said. “But these early instruments provide the foundation for our modern-day research.”

Other areas the series of grants are making an impact include:

  • bringing in painting and mineral conservators to conduct condition assessments of the collections.
  • developing conservation plans for each collection.
  • prioritizing conservation needs for the Steidle Collection of American Industrial Art based on condition, including developing a multi-year schedule of sending paintings out for conservation.
  • caring for museum collections by avoiding the deterioration of museum collection objects and their associated information.
  • implementing plans and procedures for organizing and rehousing the Earth Materials Collection based on the storage environment requirements of the specimens and types of minerals in the collection such as low relative humidity microclimates for pyrites and halites; specified containers for holding potentially hazardous specimens to minimize risk to collection workers and maximize safe access to specimens.
  • hosting free workshops for museums in and outside of Penn State.
Last Updated November 01, 2021