Category Archives: Turks and Caicos National Museum

Architecture Lesson

Neal is working with the Provo architects on the design of the new museum building. I stick my nose over his should every once and a while to see how things are going. Inevitably, I get a lecture for my troubles: offices should be over here for this reason, the entrance should be inviting and open, and if you imagine the center of a circle just here the rest of the building should flow around it to create a building inviting exploration. I’m not complaining. I don’t know anything about architecture and I’m happy to learn.

Last night’s lesson, however, was abstract. Neal was explaining how the museum design is starting to look like a shipwreck. He diagrammed the stages of the wrecking and finally morphed it into the building design.

I was skeptical. He was clearly inventing a story that didn’t exist, like Michelangelo seeing things in the rocks. Look at this grouping of chairs in the middle, that doesn’t look like a ballast mound to you? What about walls of the gift shop, that’s clearly the bow of the ship.

Yes, I understand that you see these things, but I see a group of chairs and some curved walls. What you are doing is like modern art, I said, it doesn’t matter what the artist put there – it is whatever you imagine it to be.

Well that started it. An architect’s building should be a piece of art, countered Neal. Modern art can be diagrammed into simple lines that reveal they follow the composition tenements of the classics (understand we are talking about Western civilization here).

Take the Oath of the Horatii. A classic piece, cut into a diagonal by color – dark at the top, light at the bottom. In fact, because it’s a classic piece it’s very literal – the diagonal line is actually drawn into the wall design at the top right corner.

The painting is inundated with triangles, and in fact the whole composition is triangular, from the handle of the swords down. This weighs the picture down to the bottom of the canvas. These are the basic rules of classic composition.

Now let’s do Guernica:

Diagonal line cut across, divided more with shading and coloring than composition – dark on top, light on the bottom.

Triangles every where with an overall triangle from the tip of the candle down, weighing the canvas toward the bottom of the frame.

“It might as well BE the Oath of the Horatii,”
exclaimed Neal.

I made him do this exercise a number of times. I’m going to work on breaking things down into diagrams. It seems like good practice to get the creative juices flowing. I’m a chairs and curved walls type of person, but with a little imagination anything is possible.

Family Friends

I feel so loved by this island at the moment. I had family friends (actually, they are close enough to be called family) coming in off the Carnival Miracle today on their 50th Anniversary Cruise. We had a wonderful day starting with the patent Neal Hitch Tour of the Island. I was supposed to give a special tour to a group of young pilots at the museum at 11am so we finished our history lesson in the “big artifact” room of the museum while we waited to hear from the distinguished group.

They ended up canceling again, which was a big disappointment for me. I’d prepared a slam-bang finish for them and was really looking forward to showing off the best parts of the museum collections. I gave the tour to my family instead, so at least it didn’t go to waste. They loved it.

Just as we were about to leave the museum for a swim down at the cruise center, the head of the Tourism Board pulled up in his car. He’s the person I’d been working with to host a tour for the young pilot group. When he found out my family was in town he decided to give them a little something extra – just because they were my family. Cufflinks for the Gentleman and a TCI pin for the Lady, and some other goodies – Caribbean music CD’s, a DVD of pictures of the island, etc. That made us all feel special. Good job Tourism Board: my friends will never forget Grand Turk and my work love tank just got filled a little higher.

We continued the day with a trip for lunch to the new local sensation Joan’s Place. Almost as good as a New York deli. The day finished back at the cruise center for a quick swim and a bit of relaxation.

Boxing Complete!

I was offered a job today. One of the bus drivers who guides people through the historic homes tour that stops at the museum asked me why he hadn’t seen me for a while. We chatted for a while about how the tourism industry is back on the rise and about his soon-to-be business. He’s got big plans. He told me I should come back and help manage his Grand Turk business. What a sweet compliment. It’s nice to know that I might have something to fall back on. I’m feeling pretty good about the current plan though, I must say.

The archive collections are all in boxes.

In series.

In labeled folders.

I cannot express how awesome that is. Progress is a beautiful thing.

The next step is to make the box labels and create the database records. Since this is a survey project with the aim of making the records accessible, I’m going to accession the series and create a folder/box list of the contents. I’m using the adult/child relationship of the database to create my finding aid. First, accession the collection: Government Records. Add (as accessioned items) to that collection the series: Commissioner’s Office, Colonial Secretary, Legislative Council, etc. In the “item level” accession record will be a list of the contents of the series. Not quite item level description, but close enough to the ground to get the jist of this spread out collection. The government records cover the years from 1979 – 1992, but only contain 30 linear feet of material. I’ll be relying mostly on key word search ability, but hope to go back and put in some controlled vocabulary.

It’s not the ideal way to use a museum database, but it will keep the records flexible. Some of the items are listed as 5 year loans and some are slated to go to the National Archives, should one ever be created. Accessioning series instead of items will keep the contents flexible – instead of deleting 40 records, the contents of the series can be simply edited – cut and paste the removed records into the “notes” box with a tag: deaccessioned. Boom. Done.

With a staff of 2 or 3, this type of system seems easiest to keep the work-flow down. When the next archivist comes along with a mandate geared more toward research, they can add in the details. At least when I leave there will be an idea of what’s in the collection: creating entities, dates of creation, box and folder lists.

I think I can get most of the records into the database by the end next week. That’ll leave time for me to tackle that hodge-podge corner of the office that has been collecting government reports, uncatalogued library books, and low priority museum projects. Oh and that other Astrolab article. And whatever else Neal can come up with.

* * *

I also have some new helpers in the office. The library shelves are getting labelled – in one afternoon the job is half done. I’ve been chipping away at that project since the beginning of February!

The McCullom scanning – the project that started it all – will be finished next Tuesday. Over 200 man-hours have gone into processing and scanning the collection of 2,100 slides.

The youngest of the boys is practicing his typing skills. He’s diligently typing a pathfinder list for the reference files in the office.

Other projects? Well let’s see… still working on contacting the Special Collections department at the National Library of Jamaica. I started to track down the publisher of our self-published museum publications. I finally have a name, now I just need to place the call. The semester is wrapping up so there are more and more students using the after school program. If today is any indication, it’s safe to say that the Museum has become a part of the community here.

Students walking in and out our door – from elementary to college level, the Red Cross is using the Science Building for a meeting tomorrow, the Tourism Board called yesterday to say that a group of international young pilots are touring the island – included in this group are writers for National Geographic Australia. They wanted us to give them a good show. No problem – one behind the scenes tour coming up. They canceled today, but want to come tomorrow morning.

This means we’ll be juggling a cruise ship and tours, the Red Cross, and the young pilot group with the writers. Did I mention that I have family coming in on the ship who I’ve promised to tour around? They will also be getting the behind the scenes tour.

The Harold and North Wells

I love the Harold story, it deserves it’s own blog entry.

It seems I’ve been missing a couple interesting stories over the months. Like the story I never told about the bike ride we took just after Rory left. After those 175 hours and the weeks that followed, I declared one day that we needed to “do something”. A bike ride it would be. We started at the North wells, which have been there for a very long time, but were later built up as drinking troughs for the feral animals on the island. We disturbed some grazing cows and donkeys who paid us little mind. We walked around in that area, having just completed the GT-4 survey, and I practiced my new archeological skills. There wasn’t very much sign of life until we found some chiseled out water catchments with pottery scattered around it. Then Neal and I had a fight about a hole that was clearly formed by water erosion, but since we were so far from shore some people didn’t think it was plausible. Then we road around poking our noises into abandoned US bases and the old quarry. It was such a nice break from sitting at a computer, I guess I didn’t want to get back in front of one to share it. The day ended up at the mangroves at North Point that I took Patricia too, hence the jogged memories.

Anyway, the Harold is a wonderful tale. The version I’m told goes as follows:

The Harold wrecked just at the middle point between Cork Tree beach and the mouth of North Creek in 1890 – about a mile off the shore. In his report, the captain claimed that the Lighthouse light was out and caused them to hit the reef with no warning. It was violent. You can still see how the stern of the ship whipped around to face the bow, with its insides strewn about in between.

Once the ship was declared a total wreck, the inhabitants were allowed to salvage what they could. There is a story of a small boy drifting away from the crowd who were busy vying for their share of the cargo. He was later picked up on South Caicos. Did he go unnoticed, or was he just ignored and left to his own devices? We may never know. The tiles that were in the Harold’s hold can still be seen around the downtown area.

There are also reports of another ship not long after the Harold wrecked. The captain, trying to nagivate through the channel, judged that the dim light from the Lighthouse meant they were about 6 miles from the island. Feeling secure with this distance, the captain set his course to follow another vessel just ahead, also making it’s way around Grand Turk. They wrecked right next to the Harold.

Stories like these started gossip that the Turks Islanders were intentionally causing shipwrecks to collect the cargoes. The Harold’s captain’s report is one of a few officially lodged complaints to the fact, but no one knows say for sure. I think about these things when I read the Lighthouse Log book – but that starts in 1895, too late to clear up these stories.

Photos courtesy of Karen’s underwater camera and the Lighthouse Collection (TCNM.2009.45) in the Archives of the Turks and Caicos National Museum.

Tuvol of the Archives

It started simple: finish putting the binders in order and we’ll head down to the cruise center. I’ve created an archives monster. We had to take pictures of his work. Then he got the opportunity to show off to one of the students who stopped by to reserve computer time.

It seems he’s changed his opinion that archives are just old junk. Well, maybe it hasn’t gone that far, but he has decided that it’s fun old junk. It makes me laugh that he enjoys labeling folders. He’s a natural at what is possibly the most hated job in archives internships (after removing staples). It’s also slightly aggravating that a 13-year-old volunteer is executing with precision a job I had to pay tuition to get a shot at (but that’s another story). Let’s just say that Tuvol gets mad at me if I label folders without him – that’s his “department”, as he says when he explains the archives process.

A Front-of-House Type of Week

With Patricia safely back at home, it was back to work for me. Neal and Dave took their turn working from home (somehow Patricia’s vacation had become my vacation too).

I thought, since Aliatt is back from her teaching internship, that I’d have a quiet week in the back, but it turned out to be much more front-of-house. I thought of the people at MIT who would probably tell me I should have known better. Archives work is not about being behind a desk.

Continuing with the visitor engagement trend, I gave one of the new behind the scenes tours to Freddie and Bridgett. Days later, when we ran into them at the Sand Bar, they were still thanking me for the tour. They found it fascinating. No big deal, I thought – the history here is fascinating so it’s easy to talk about it. Using the artifacts we walked through TCI history: the conch shells from the recent GT-4 dig, the 1550 Spiller coin, the sword handle from the Fort St. George Survey, the oldest image of Grand Turk – the 1830’s water color, the 1888 hurricane report, and the turn of the century spy glass. We covered the best bits of the history and the collection. Freddie and Bridgett are are pictured here with the 1888 report and the sword handle.

This was only the start of the week. I also fielded a phone call from a member of the Stubbs family (an old name in the TCI) who found some family papers in the National Library of Jamaica. Would we be interested in bringing those papers home? They date back to 1790. Pre-1900 records? If we get that grant we’d be VERY interested in accepting those papers. I sent an email inquiring as to the Library’s policy on moving records. We’ll see if I can’t get in touch with them next week.

The after school program was in full swing this week too. My work in the archives got slightly stalled. I’m still working on making those labels, but almost everything is properly stored in a new box. (It seems that the order Tiffany and I put in is working out just out perfectly.) I had to work on Saturday to do it, but I’m really wanting to get the collections in order so I can start putting records into the database by the end of next week.

A very eventful week. Of course, the new A/C units are on the fritz again too – I guess it can’t all be perfect.

Archives Event – Spring 2 Collections

On the heels of all the wonderful Spring 2 Collection events at the museum came the Archives Event.

This was a great moment for me. Finally, I would get to show people what I was here to do! I’m always introduced as the Visiting Archivist at the Museum, but I’m sure that people don’t know what that means. Or how significant it is in the Turks and Caicos.

I have the same speech for everyone: The holdings of the museum are the only secured and publicly accessible archives in the country. And we’ve just applied for a grant from the British Library for Endangered Archives to collect pre-1900 records. (that always gets an eyebrow raise). When pressed, I’ll add a bit about archives as living memory.

So at the event that night I was able to show people exactly what I’ve been talking about. I showed them a “before” (unorganized piles) and “after” (pristine boxes with labels). We talked about the importance of acid-free containers, the ink/paper reaction of 1800’s records, the benefits of saving the originals vs. placing materials in a database.

I think this last point hit home when we looked up one of the participant’s family names in the 1888 hurricane relief report. The report listed the occupation of the head of household (carpenter), the number of family members (6), and the damage (kitchen totally destroyed). Of all the documents I’ve come across in the collections, this report is the most powerful. It tells a story all on it’s own and demonstrates how archives can tell a story long after living memory has forgotten. Which is what I told my listeners and watched with satisfaction as they nodded in agreement (success!!).

All in all, I think the Archives Event was a great way to end the Spring 2 Collections Series at the museum. I was happy at the response we got, and we had a rather large crowd and some new faces. We finished the night at the Bohio (Italian night) with some new friends and some old. For my first lecture I think it went very well.

Patricia’s Visit

I’ve gotten behind in my blogging. We’ve been doing a considerable amount of visitor engagement the last couple of weeks and I feel like I’m missing a number of great stories that need to be shared.

Patricia visited the week before last and was treated to quite an eventful visit, if I do say so myself. She also said she’s never seen me talk so much. “Comes with the territory,” I explained. Everything we do here is about making the Grand Turk experience phenomenal enough that people want to visit again next year.

Patricia came in on the same flight as Dave – one of Neal’s friends who was visiting that same week. That eased my mind about whether or not she’d find the small corner of the Provo airport where the local flights depart. I sent her an in depth email with all the details, but who really reads my long emails anyway?

Having safely arrived we commenced the visiting: Wednesday was a recovery day for Patricia, she napped and I finished up my work for the day. But we did have dinner plans with Bion and Colleen who live just down the beach. Patricia and I decided to walk it and we discussed the things we always discuss: rock formations, stars, the universe, and I gave her a brief history of the TCI.

Later that night Dave heard us laughing in the other room. When we emerged Dave ventured, “You girls are having fun. Girl talk?” I refrained from giving him a “don’t be ridiculous” look (he’d just met us, after all). “Heck no, we haven’t gotten there yet.” Patricia and I have a bad habit of letting things like interesting images on the NASA website get in the way of our catching up. I think we finally started talking about personal life on day 3.

Thursday was a half a work day. Later that evening I was to give the much anticipated Archives Lecture for the Spring 2 Collections at the museum. I’m not kidding, people really were looking forward to it. I’ve been asked numerous times when the archives talk was and could we talk about this type of ink or that era of materials. So an hour or so in the morning was dedicated to setting up. Patricia helped me set up the intended flow of the evening and it was really great to have someone to bounce thoughts off of. More on archives later.

On the way to pick up wine and cheese for the event I took a long loop around the island. I showed her the light house and old US Navy Base at the north point, pointed out the salinas, and drove down historic Duke Street. (This is the normal visitor tour, but it’s the first time that I’ve been the tour guide. Normally it’s Neal showing his friends around!)

Patricia experienced the island tip-to-tail that day. The afternoon plan was to head to the southern most point at the Cruise Center. With 2 ships at port was a crowded mess and not a very good day to visit, but the contrast between the Cruise Center and the rest of Grand Turk became very apparent. We couldn’t even get a table at Margaritaville. Instead, we walked down to Jack’s Shack to grab a bite to eat and get a breather from the crowd.

My event that evening was a great success (more on this later). We finished the night with a dinner at the Bohio. Some friends we made that night would influence much of our week. Dave and Karen (front left couple at the table) were on a trimaran from Florida, though they live in Oregon. “Did you sail from Oregon?” someone asked. “Oh no,” they corrected us, “This is our East Coast boat.” Ohhh, of course, how silly of us. Apparently, boat renovations are a great love of Dave’s and they have amassed a small armada over the years. (Colleen and Bion are at the back right of the table).

The next morning Patricia and I biked over to the museum with the intention of cleaning up the collections from the night before and then going for a morning ride. By the time we left the museum, however, the sun was a bit higher than in the morning and we were both more than ready to go home after a short walk around the mangroves on the left bank of North Creek.

The afternoon plan was to enjoy the beach-side company of Vale at the Bohio. She is the most lovely woman I’ve ever met and easily the best company of all the ex-Pats who live on the island. Her husband works with the government so Vale has a strict regimen of house chores in the morning and afternoons at the Bohio beach. They also religiously attend Thursday night dinner, when I took Patricia over to show her off as proof that I exist as a human in the “real world”, she insisted that we keep her company the next afternoon. We spent a few hours and a few beers chatting about almost everything you can imagine and left as I always leave Vale – with a huge smile.

The evening was a quiet one. Patricia mentioned she had just started watching LOST so we had to watch a few episodes. Of course.

Saturday we had no plans at all. Neal and Dave were committed to a Rotary function so Patricia and I lounged around the house with the mild intention of swimming sometime later. Around 11am I got a call from Neal. The Bohio was sending a boat to Gibbs Cay and did anyone want to go. “Patricia!” I called. “Put on your sunscreen we’re going on a boat!” I didn’t think I was going to get to do this little adventure, so I was too excited to properly explain and a little dazed at the generosity of the Bohio’s proprietor. For the price of the beer we were invited on a $60 excursion. (Though I think it’s really that she’s a good business woman. I think the quality of the trip was significantly increased by our presence). Dragging my poor friend with the smallest explanation of the Gibbs Cay Sting Ray Adventure I hauled her off to the Bohio where we grabbed a small breakfast before we departed.

The Sting Ray adventure is one of those “only on Grand Turk” activities. Gibbs Cay is a natural preserve, but people are allowed to bring their boats over and feed the sting rays. At this point in history, the rays are well trained and come running as soon as they sense the motor. What I didn’t know is that the adventure also includes a conch salad – that you pick up on the way. I managed to dive down to get one, but barely made it up without passing out. It was a good 20 ft dive.

On the beach, while our captain was preparing the conch salad, we commenced feeding the sting rays. The first ones to arrive were babies, but of course I didn’t know that until a monster 4 foot wing span ray came up on my blind side while I had my head in the water with goggles on, watching a baby nibble on a fish. All I heard was “Jess Jess Jess!” and turned my head (with goggles on) to see this monster coming at me. I was up and out of the water faster than lightening. After regrouping I decided, on principle, that I had to feed the big rays until I could do it without flinching. By the end of the trip I was letting the rays brush up against my legs like it was no big deal and laughing at the Army guy who wanted to feed one of the big ones, but couldn’t seem to stand in the water long enough… especially when the rays headed for his feet! It was a good trip. And I accidentally talked Patricia into eating the unmentionables of the conch. Having licked an ant’s butt in Cairns, I thought I had to eat this thing (that I was told was part of the intestines!) and keep up my new habit of experiencing local traditions. Patricia followed my lead, but we didn’t know what we’d done until much later. I still would have eaten it, but Patricia might not have. You’ll have to ask her. (photo couresty of Rowing_Queen on Trip Advisor)

We had dinner that night with Dave and Karen and made plans to go snorkeling on the Harold the following day. Since we were with boat people, we were able to take their dingy out to the wreck, thus taking about 50% of the death defying-ness out of the trip. Which was probably good, seeing how we had company.

I was slightly disappointed in the snorkeling that day (not even an eagle ray!) But I’d managed to take Patricia to the good reef (now named “Rory’s Reef”) earlier. So she got a glimpse of a turtle that day and I guess today was about the ship wreck. (photo courtesy of Karen’s underwater camera)

We met up for lunch at the Sand Bar later to enjoy the view from the best Caribbean beach bar in the Atlantic. I also suggested that we couldn’t be this close to such a beautiful vessel as Dave and Karen’s and not see the inside. We made plans for a sunset tour with wine (finally used my bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau) and chocolate. Not too bad for 5 days on a desert island, eh Patricia?

After School Program Mid-way Update

Some of my regular students wanted their pictures taken. I told them I already had one and that they were sure to be on my blog. (They’d had way too much sugar that day and I meant it in the sort of way that they’d be the villains in the story, not the heroes.)

Despite the sugar rush of the other day, I can also say quite a few nice things about these ladies. Keisha (front left) paid mild attention while I showed her some art pieces in the Met Museum database while she was searching for information on African Art. We are reaching a new level at the After School Program. I’m trying to show them resources they can use in the future that have additional educational value – like the descriptions in the catalogs. At the very least Kiesha learned that the Queen Mother Pendant has little Portuguese men woven into her hair (and didn’t blindly pull pictures labeled “African Art” off Google Images).

Veknia (back right) insists that she’s not copying off Wikipedia. When I tell her that I know she’s lying she tells me, “I’m not lying. I’m tricking you, Miss.” Suuure you are. It’s an improvement though – at least now they know that plagiarism is wrong. She’s also stopped beating up the boys. Good girl!

Wilange (back left) asked me for help with her math homework. She distinctly said “Math”, not “Mats” as they call it here. How long ago did we have the math/mats conversation? 3 months at least. She’s a quick one. She says she wants to be a doctor and I believe she can do it.

The week in Review

Me: “What?”

Neal: “We’re picking up the new truck.”

Me: “Huh?”

Neal: “We got a new truck and we’re here to pick it up.”

Me: “What the…?!”

Neal: “What don’t you understand?” Slowing down his speech so I could more easily comprehend: “This truck right here is now a museum vehicle and we are going to drive it home.”

A couple of months ago the old museum truck bit the dust. It took a wrong bounce and the body collapsed on the tire. Two days later the road crews filled the pot holes.

We’ve been making due with the Jeep since then. Taking numerous trips for things, like picking up the archives materials. For heavier jobs: we borrow.

You don’t just get a new truck on Grand Turk. You have to order it and ship it in at extraordinary cost. Or find someone on the island willing to sell theirs and hope it lasts long enough to return the investment. So how can it be that we suddenly have a new truck? Things just aren’t that easy on this tiny island. Surely I’d misheard what Neal was telling me.

Then the Jeep started having engine problems. I was sure that soon I’d be walking to work. Which wouldn’t be such a problem here, except those 8:00 AM tours can creep up on you the morning after a 12 hour work day. Rushing to work is difficult on a bicycle that has almost as many operating issues as the cars.

Once you have one problem – like a failed car – it can seem like a million others rise up right next to it. Suddenly you are conquering one nearly insurmountable obstacle after the other. The last few weeks seemed just like that. Everyone arguing – not all about the same thing – with no end in sight. When it drags on, like it has lately, it just gets tiring.

Neal gave me the look of death when I expressed my frustrations. Of course, I haven’t been dealing with the issues on Grand Turk for very long so I don’t have a right to complain. And I don’t have a family, like he does.

Who live far away.

With kids who are preparing to go to college.

Yes, in retrospect, my issues aren’t that severe. But that doesn’t take away the fact that they aren’t easily resolved. Or tiring.

Everyone’s got problems. Our maintenance man – the most upright, honest, and intelligent person I’ve met on this island – has problems: family members need money all the time, never has time for himself, never has a chance to be happy.

“Life is rough,” I said, “The only thing we can do is laugh in between the tears and let the rest work itself out.”

I tried to take my own advice.

Last week we had house guests. We managed to get tons of work done and swim almost every day at the same time. We swam for 3 hours on Saturday out to the remains of a steamship that wrecked on the reefs off our beach in 1890. We watched an eagle ray feed, swam with a turtle, saw a reef shark. We participated in Moroccan night at the Bohio, which provided not only a fabulous tangine, but a new friend. We hosted a dinner before everyone left on Sunday, went to a local bar and laughed and danced like we were the only people on the island. (Dave and Joel at left.)

This week we completed another edition of the Astrolab and I got to spend the week in the archives – with helpers! In just one week I’ve jumped light years ahead. Relations between records are emerging, boxes are getting labeled, and I have ideas for 2 new Astrolab articles.

It’s a beautiful thing.

That’s what happens when you get a new truck without a headache. Everything seems possible again. Let’s roll with this.