Our Year in Review: Collections and Belongings

In this second of our three installment "Year In Review" newsletters, I'd love to share some of what you didn't always get to see. Behind the scenes there was consistently invaluable work being done.

For example, this summer (in the hat I wear as NPHM’s curator) we launched a collections analysis and inventory project staffed by Robin Bartram from Northwestern's PhD program and University of Chicago undergraduate Ayelet Pinnolis.  This project was conducted in parallel to a qualitative assessment of the core exhibition research by Princeton PhD candidate and Research Resident Richard Anderson.

Pinnolis and Anderson also conducted new research of UIC’s Special Collections to augment NPHM’s resources on the history of the Jane Addams Homes. What they unearthed was surprising and quite frankly, revealed historical workings at our site which are of "national significance".

In this and other initiatives we together created a context that will enable us to increase the number of stories we’re able to integrate through oral history programming, and conceptually target the kinds of material culture, historical documents, visual representations and personal belongings we collect.

What follows is a chronological narrative highlighting what we, together with NPHM’s core staff, achieved -- not only in archiving  NPHM's collections, but also in framing new narratives and "ways into" these stories.

All of this works together: museum collections are a means for engaging the public as participants in a lived history, and as co-authors in exhibits and programs which progressively come to terms with public housing: a most significant and relevant (but misunderstood) aspect of shared civic history.

-Todd Palmer, Interim Director & Curator


JANUARY Assembling of commitments for a curatorial advisory team as part of implementation planning for the Four Apartments project. NPHM looks forward to partners including University of Chicago’s Adam Green, Columbia University’s Cassie Fennell, Irina Zadov from the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum and Edward Goetz at the University of Minnesota.

JUNE NPHM accessions into its collections its second-largest physical artifact (to-date). We were happy to receive a “slice” of the Roosevelt Square sales center model, as a gift from Related Midwest. This 3D model represents planning for the original Hope VI redevelopment of the Jane Addams Homes and ABLA. It has become a relic because the sites it represents are to-be-newly-visioned in a 2015 masterplanning process led by CHA and Solomon Cordwell Buenz.

The largest material evidence of public housing history is of course our heritage site at 1322 Taylor Street.

JULY Based on work by NPHM’s Ayelet Pinnolis and Richard Anderson, NPHM is able to preview research findings that reveal a new insights into the national significance of the museum’s home site.  It opened this year’s Annual Appeal on July 30: the date in 1935 when the government transaction to purchase real estate closes.  The new findings set Chicago as a central stage where the shared vision of Interior Secretary Harold Ickes and progressive settlement house founders like Jane Addams play out:  demonstrating the power of slum clearance to address a failed private real estate market, replaced with the new bold new architecture and social construct of public housing.

SEPTEMBER Collections analysis and inventory project completed by NPHM Research Resident Robin Bartram (a Northwestern PhD candidate) and University of Chicago Research Intern Ayelet Pinnolis.

OCTOBER NPHM learns that’s its community co-curation initiative will be supported by a Boeing grant.  This initiative connects current public housing residents in NPHM’s Youth Advisory Council program (led by Programs and Development Associate Camille Acker) with NPHM’s personal narratives, civic history collections and engages NPHM’s scholarly and curatorial expert advisors as mentors and guides.

DECEMBER NPHM’s Telling Belongings program, moderated by Georgina Valverde, a Chicago artist and Art Institute of Chicago interpretive specialist is the first engagement of the public with representatives from three families  (Hatch, Medor and Sopena) who’ve been involved in NPHM’s oral history and public housing resident engagement efforts.

Qualitative assessment of NPHM’s core exhibition research resources completed by NPHM Research Resident Richard Anderson (a PhD candidate at Princeton University)

NPHM Site Projects and Public Engagement Coordinator Daniel Ronan completes a preliminary preservation assessment of the Edgar Miller "Animal Court" sculptures with a visit to where they're being conserved (at Oak Park's Conservation of Objects and Sculptures Studio). NPHM endeavors to be a civic partner in the sculptures restoration, siting and intepretation: as these figures, with 1322 Taylor, are the only remaining large physical remnants of the Jane Addams Homes. The sculptures figure prominently in shared neighborhood memories of life in Little Italy from 1938-2002.