I chose a profession that most people have never heard of and don’t understand. I am often asked what a registrar does. I usually tell this story.
Artifacts cannot talk. They cannot tell you if they are too hot or too cold. If it is too humid or if the lights are so bright they are getting sunburned. They don’t know where they are at all times (they just don’t think that way) or where they are going when they are in transit. They cannot tell you that they are afraid to fly so they want a good sturdy crate to protect them. They can’t complain that a truck ride may be bumpy so they need extra foam and support to keep them from bouncing around. They cannot call the conservator when they start getting dirty or faded or torn. They certainly can’t tell you that they are not compatible with the object sharing the box with them and need to be moved to their own space.
That is where the registrar comes in. The registrar is the voice of the object. We tell you where the object is at all times. We make sure the living conditions of the object are just right for each one. We make sure the conservator is called when they need to be and that they are put away when they need to rest. We make sure they get safely between one location to another – from this museum to one across the country or from one building to the next. We make sure that the object is installed in such a way that it is protected from damage and theft. We can do this because the objects speak to us. Registrars speak “artifact”.
This is why I became a registrar – at the end of the day – I can say that I take care of the collections and make sure that whatever happens, I have done what is best for the object. Of course you have to weigh public access in with care. One school of thought may say that the best way to keep an object safe is to keep it in storage. I disagree. We all need to do the best we can to protect the object in every way, no matter where it is – storage, the gallery, on a truck or a plane, or in some other museum. If an object cannot be seen by the public, it will become forgotten and the object wants to be remembered forever.
A collection object, just like all of us, wants to fulfill its destiny of being an important member of the community, now and in the future. It wants to be loved and appreciated for being just what it is. It wants you to question it. It wants you to ask how it was made or who made it. It wants to sit and stare and think and wonder. Most of all, it wants your children, and your children’s children to sit and look and wonder the same things. As a registrar, I hope to keep the object safe for future generations to appreciate and allow it to continue on the path it was destined for – to be.
Joy – This is a really lovely way to describe the profession! The voice of the objects are often thought of through external perspectives (who made them, what are they used for, etc.), yet here you honor their own innate qualities as distinct things. This will be a post I share with people who are new to our field…. Thank you!