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|Carla's Mom, Carla, Carrie|
To get the most of your museum visits be alert to the many sights, sounds, tastes, textures you find (even static museums have interactive features). Listen to the sound of the printing press or the loom, feel the heat of a cooking hearth, smell of gunpowder smoke, admire the craftsmanship, experience the the atmosphere and accommodations of work and home, pay attention to the spoken language and manners, taste authentic food, enjoy the music,
the muse . . .
Some of the highlights other than being immersed in the colonial period for a few days were to research some of the trades involved in my novels such as milliner, tailor, silversmith, ship carver, etc. The "Fashions and Accessories from Head to Toe" exhibit at CW was wonderful and included videos to watch of colonial dress. I was especially interested in quilted petticoats and also enjoyed the quilt exhibit. Earlier, I was able to speak to Mark Hutter, an interpreter who portrays a tailor at the Margaret Hunter Shop. He was gracious enough to give me a business card with a contact for further research on my topic. This proved to be extremely helpful, for a few days later I learned that my novel featuring a quilter and a tailor, A Design for Love, was accepted for publication!
Mystic Seaport: A Museum of America and the Sea in Connecticut which features an exhibit of gorgeous carvings and also a ship carver's shop. I had the opportunity to interview two gentlemen there who provided me with a great deal of information on my topic. Although Mystic Seaport depicts mostly early 19th century life on a coastal town, the historical interpreters were very knowledgeable of the trade in the 18th century as well.
Talking to curators and historical interpreters is an amazing resource to assist with research for our historical fiction. Listen carefully to the things they say. Even in the exhibits that don't seem as important to your research - you never know what you might learn that will spark some ideas. I actually picked up a few unexpected tidbits that I plan to use, one from the wigmaker. (Below are some of the interpreters that we had the privilege of speaking with.)
Tips to maximize your visit to a historical museum:
Plan ahead and review exhibits that you want to see. Be aware of calendar of events and special programs. Obtain a museum map for navigation and prioritizing.
Plan your questions ahead of time. Bring paper/pen or a recorder.
Be courteous of other visitors and arrange interviews if extensive research is required.
Get contact information (business cards) of curators and interpreters.
Experience and collect information that engages all the senses to help bring your novels to life.
Photos: Ask permission to take photos as a courtesy and to post online if you plan to do so. Take plenty, including the signs with text on your topic to save research (bring extra batteries, memory cards, film).
It doesn't stop on location. Visit museums on the web (websites and even facebook) for more information including educational opportunities and contacts.
I hope you'll join me at Writing to Distraction in days ahead where I'll share more about my road trip and historical adventures. But for now, I'd like to hear about yours. What are some of the fascinating finds that you've discovered at historical museums that have contributed to your research? Do you have any tips to share?