What Happens at Rokeby Museum in the Winter Months? A Closer look at our Collections Work

Winter at Rokeby

From mid-May to October, Rokeby Museum is open to the public to tour the historic 90-acre site and view our exhibits, but we recently had a patron ask what we do during the rest of year when visitors are not on site?

Rokeby has the privilege of being a multifaceted site, with historic buildings, a modern education center with exhibit space, and the caretaker of a vast collection of museum objects that represent four generations of the Robinson family. The off-season months provide an opportunity to plan for the next season, including programs and the seasonal exhibit. It also allows us to give special attention to the site and the collections.

This winter we are focusing on our textile collection. Today, many people do not think twice about donating or throwing away clothes when no longer needed, but the Robinson family reused and kept generations of clothing and Rokeby Museum is the caretaker of these items. Thanks to a grant from the Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership, we are embarking on a collections grant in 2021 that will focus on the storage area in the historic home, which currently houses the textile collection. In conjunction with the implementation of this grant, we are working to update our textile collection database. Volunteers are working their way through the paper catalogue and conducting an inventory of each item in the collection. Pictures are taken of the items and placed in a searchable digital catalogue called Past Perfect. This effort helps us understand the scope of our collection and enables us to plan for future use and storage of the objects in our care. 

gloves from the rokeby textile collection
Gloves from the Rokeby Museum Textile Collection

To ensure the safety and longevity of the collection we are continuously evaluating what is on display and how long it has been on view to the public. Winter is a good opportunity to review what we display during the season and determine whether an object should return to storage for a “rest”. Allowing museum collection objects to be stored away from the elements, such as light ensures their preservation for future generations to enjoy. This winter we decided to swap the dress on display in the permanent exhibit, Free & SafeVolunteer Joan Gorman identified another dress in the collection. She carefully prepared a new display and coordinated storage of the dress previously on display. 

volunteer working on textiles collection at rokeby
Rokeby Museum volunteer helping to change the dress on display in the exhibit Free & Safe

We are also using this winter to research and plan for our 2021 seasonal exhibit — A Modern Artist: The Commercial Art of Rachael Robinson Elmer. With the galleries closed, we are able to pull objects from storage and display them throughout the gallery space to determine placement and correct display for the fragile collection pieces. As we work through Rachael’s artwork and letters, we are using this as an opportunity to update our collection’s database with high-resolution images and updated descriptions. Through this work, future researchers, staff, and volunteers can use a keyword search to find items in our collection.

volunteer working on letters collection
Rokeby Museum volunteer entering letters to/from Rachael Robinson into Past Perfect, a searchable collections database software

Throughout this winter season COVID-19 precautions are a top priority for anyone working at Rokeby Museum. To ensure safety, we have very few volunteers working this year. Those who are volunteering work in separate spaces, at designated times, to avoid overlap. Rokeby Museum expanded throughout the decades thanks to the work of volunteers from the community. We are hopeful that later in 2021 we can welcome back a multitude of volunteers to the site. If you are interested in learning more, look at our volunteer opportunities below or reach out to our director to learn more.

Volunteer Opportunities: 
  • Tour Guide: Provide regular tours of the Historic Robinson Home and farm site. 
  • Buildings and Grounds Care: Help with yearly grounds maintenance, including trails maintenance, gardening, out-building cleaning throughout the season, and historic building up-keep. 
  • Historic Collections: Help staff inventory the collections, enter collection materials into Past Perfect, and help with the long-term care of the historic collections.
  • Research: Help research current and upcoming projects including season exhibits and education programs. 
  • Visitor Services: Work with staff in the Education Center and greet visitors. 
  • Museum Education & Programming: Work with the Education Manager to deliver programs to groups. 
  • Events & Fundraising: Help staff deliver specialized programming throughout the year including lectures, exhibit openings, and fundraising events. 
  • Join a Committee: We have numerous committees that are overseen by members of our board. If you have an interest in helping with planning the direction of Rokeby consider joining one of our committees — Advancement, Collections & Exhibits, Education & Advocacy. 
  • Specialized skills: Perform specialized activities, such as give a lecture, construction, technology, marketing, or other skills.  
Do not forget! 

While we may be working behind the scenes this winter, we also strive to provide programming to the public. The pandemic expanded our use of digital programming and this winter we are hosting a series of book discussions and lectures to keep you engaged with the history of Rokeby.

Additionally, our trails are open year-round. Please feel free to stop by during daylight hours to explore!