The Fish of Māui : Te Ika a Māui

Kolie Swavely is the Elvira Growdon Intern for Collections Management and Curatorial Practice for summer 2017. Her work at Boston Children’s Museum has focused on cataloging and digitizing the Polynesian collection and finding cultural materials that connect to stories, myths, and legends around the world. She is completing a graduate certificate in Museum Studies at Tufts University.

Hello! Or, as the greeting goes in New Zealand, Kia Ora!

As the current E. Growdon Intern at Boston Children’s Museum, I work within collection’s storage, a place that some could compare to the likes of a secret garden. Now, imagine that garden filled not with flowers, but with ethnographic artifacts and pieces of cultural history collected by world travelers over 100 years ago!

As museums continue to care for their collections, ensuring that each and every piece of art and artifact is in the best condition possible, it is easy to lose track of the stories each one tells, and has yet to tell. Like a fish to a glittering lure, there is always an artifact that catches your eye, beckoning to be explored and revived. Here at Boston Children’s Museum, I myself have been hooked. While carefully documenting objects, I continue to uncover many that speak to me; and this fishhook I present today definitely speaks loudly of its cultural origin, the Māori of New Zealand.

Fishhook/ “Matau” Culture of Origin: Māori of New Zealand. Object ID: OS 78. Collection: Oceania; Polynesia. Materials: Bone, Abalone, Wood, Sennit Cord. Dimensions: 1.125” x 0.625” x 3.75”. Collected by Miss Lucy M. Prince, 1898. Donated, 1915

This beautiful fishhook (above) was donated to Boston Children’s Museum in 1915, Continue reading

Eleanor’s Adventures in Wonderland

Two summers ago, I went “down the rabbit hole” of dollhouse furniture in the Museum’s collection ( With hundreds of pieces of previously uncatalogued dollhouse furnishings, one of my interns finally picked up where I left off. Read more about her adventures in here with Boston Children’s Museum collections…

IMG_7593My seven year old self would be extremely jealous of the position I’m currently in. For the past few months I’ve been helping digitize records of Boston Children’s Museum’s dollhouse furniture collection as the Growdon Collections Intern. Growing up an avid doll-lover, memories of playing with my own dollhouse are some of my strongest; and one of my favorite places to go – and drag my unwilling family to – was an independent doll and dollhouse store. Getting the chance to dive headfirst into the endless drawers of miniatures at Boston Children’s Museum is literally my childhood dream!

It’s my last day as Growdon Intern and as I look back fondly on my time here, I’m astounded at how much I’ve learned. It’s hard to appreciate the work the Collections team does when visiting Boston Children’s Museum for a short time, with 24 window displays, and special programs only showing a small percentage of the range of over 50,000 objects! Continue reading

Borrowed and Returned

ExhibitOne of the most frequently asked questions I have here in collections is, “How did the Museum get all this stuff?!” (Considering how eclectic our collections are, that question
is usually asked with a hint of awe and wonder.) For the vast majority of materials in the collection, the answer is simply that they were gifts or donations to the Museum. Occasionally items are purchased; occasionally items are “found in collections” (which is just what it sounds like – an object with no documentation that has been lost to time and storage); and occasionally items are loaned. Well, in this past year, one old loan has been of particular interest. Continue reading

Down the Rabbit Hole

Lord House original

Archival photo of Lord House when it first arrived at The Children’s Museum in Jamaica Plain

For the past few weeks, I have immersed myself in the Museum’s dollhouse collection. Let me just say, it is extensive! Not only do we have a number of wonderful large and small dollhouses, but many of these original gifts came with furnishings and doll residents too. Over the years, some of these original sets have been scattered, with pieces borrowed from one house to decorate another, used for other exhibits or sadly lost to time in the move from Jamaica Plain to Fort Point. My task has become to reunite houses with their proper furnishings…thus, down the rabbit hole I go.

As I delve into the sorting and organizing, it has been a wonderful opportunity to also explore the stories of these houses. Fortunately, one of our former Curators of Collections, Ruth Green, was an avid record keeper and maintained correspondence with donors and kept notes on exhibit use for many houses. Having these records and photographs has helped with identifying specific furnishings and accessories, which is no small task when the object in question may be a wall clock smaller than a thimble…and may be in storage with other similarly tiny wall clocks. Continue reading

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder…I hope

DarumaCollections have been missing from the blog lately, and as it is already February, I am compelled to make up for that absence. We have been keeping quite busy lately. Here are a few highlights:

  • We have a new Japanese House website! If you have visited the Museum website recently, perhaps you have noticed a new banner on the homepage. Just in time for Japanese New Year, we have launched a new Website featuring all things Japan: the Japanese House Exhibit (Kyo no Machiya), curriculum activities, archival materials and, of course, Japanese collections materials. You can find it here:

It has taken a team of people three years to completely catalogue, research, and photograph over 1000 artifacts, and that is just the team focusing on the collections. Not all of the items are currently on the website, but there is a selection of categories to search through and learn more about these hidden treasures. We hope you will take a look and let us know what you think. Continue reading


GregoryObjects tell stories. Unfortunately, they cannot tell them on their own, they have to be written down or shared by the people who know the objects best—their owners. In the collections world, we call this “provenance.” This is the backstory on where an object comes from, who owned it, who loved it, basically all the juicy details that cannot be seen on the surface of the object but that imbue it with meaning.

While many of the objects in our collection have been separated from their stories, some have not. One of these storied objects is “Gregory Bear.” Gregory was a gift to the Museum in 2010 from Ursula Marrero. He entered the collection with an adventure story beyond compare. Continue reading

H, I and “Pea”

S Prep 3For those of you who have been following our growing alphabet this summer, you may be wondering what happened to those final letter installations. Not to fret! S, W, H and I have all been fully installed and are visitor ready.

Charlotte Kaplan installed “W is for Washing” and Margaret Bellafiore installed “S is for Symbol” back on May 14. Both windows can be found on the third floor. “W” gives a whole new meaning to laundry day and “S” is filled with symbols both new and familiar. (“S” could also stand for semaphore.) Continue reading

What is a Collections Manager?

old teacupsAlthough I have been posting about the Museum’s collection for a couple of months now, a lot of people still wonder what exactly it is that a Collections Manager does (I get this from friends and family regularly.) While I have been out in the Museum more lately working with artists on the new alphabet exhibit, truth be told, I am often tucked away in collections storage working behind the scenes. Even my colleagues rarely see me! Continue reading

Increasing Alphabet

A InstalledThe alphabet exhibit project was kicked into high gear these past few weeks. The ABC’s are nearly complete with A, M, N, O, P, R, T, V, and XYZ being added to our windows. Here are a few more behind the scenes photos from the installations:

A is for Arctic
Our team of Visitor Experience Associates (VEAs), Jessica Englund, Sarah May and Sara Sargent, brought a wintery wonderland to life. Along with Native artifacts from the collection, they also created their own recycle art to include in the space. Continue reading

Out of Order Alphabet

K prep 4

Artist Janet Kawada installs
“K is for Kites”

“K” and “Q” joined our window alphabet this past week, which means we are nearly halfway through our ABCs!

Q prep 5

Just a glimpse of Philippe Lejeune’s “Q is for Questioning”

Take a look at descriptions of the letters we have so far, and photographs of these windows below. Can you match up the title and artist with the objects and work in the window? Continue reading