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Tracy Jentzsch (right) works with graduate students Rachael Beyer (left) and Della Keyser at the Upper Bay Museum.
Frigid temperatures and a lack of
building heat were no match for a group of University of Delaware
graduate students in the Museum Studies Program
last week. With dedication in their hearts and determination in their
eyes, the students set out to clean, label and catalog hundreds of items
related to hunting and fishing at the Upper Bay Museum in North East,
The students represented a variety of areas of study, including
history, fashion and apparel studies and historic architecture and
design. With the help of Katherine C. Grier, director of the Museum
Studies Program and professor of history,
and staff assistant Tracy H. Jentzsch, the students put their knowledge
to work in identifying and understanding the many objects in the
By participating in UD’s fifth annual eight-day service project,
dubbed SWAT and funded by an Institute for Museum and Library Services’
Sustaining Places grant, the students experienced on-site and hands-on
opportunities not readily found elsewhere, Grier said.
Covering a four-state region, the grant that funded the project was
created after a national study found that 80 percent of small museums
lack systematic records of their collections, which are in danger of
falling into disrepair. This year, the SWAT team worked at the museum
Jan. 20-23 and Jan. 27-30.
“The benefits of participating in the SWAT program are the students’
ability to take their content knowledge and skills acquired through
traditional classroom experiences and apply them to real world
experiences,” Jentzsch said.
Students receive credit for the work toward a Museum Studies
certificate and also get the opportunity to network with museum
professionals to build strong relationships for future job placements.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Josh Gates works with a miniature decoy, part of the museum's extensive collection.
Originating in the late 1800s as H.L. Harvey, a local fish house that
officially closed in the 1960s, the building was purchased in the 1970s
by North East, Md., to preserve the very culture that had allowed the
town to prosper. Today, the Upper Bay Museum houses an extensive
collection of hunting, boating and fishing artifacts that date back to
With hundreds of items and little existing historical identification
for many pieces, the museum called on the SWAT team’s extra hands and
expertise to make cataloging and labeling the collection more
Through non-invasive cleaning techniques with lightweight hand
brushes and variable speed vacuums, each item delicately shed the years
of accumulated dust. After pieces were labeled, numbered, photographed
and cataloged, the information was transferred and stored in
PastPerfect, a computer database. Although tedious, the process was
necessary to efficiently provide the museum with proper documentation.
“It would have been extremely difficult for us to pay for this work,”
said Lori Bouchelle, a regular volunteer at Upper Bay. “We would have
to secure grants or undertake a significant dedicated fundraising
effort. Because this service [by UD] is provided at no cost to the
museum, we can instead pursue funding to improve our displays, increase
our educational efforts and continue to preserve and update the museum
Students noted the museum’s vast array of interesting and unique
pieces, but there was no missing the extensive collection of duck
decoys, complete with a period room Duck Decoy Shop. Though the
installation is a replica, the makeshift sander belts, benches and
carving tools provide a snapshot into duck decoy culture, a vital aspect
of the hunting industry that thrived along the Chesapeake Bay and its
Also on display in the museum is a boat known as a double sink box,
the only one known to be still in existence, which aided duck hunters.
The sink box rig would submerge, surrounded by hundreds of duck decoys.
The two hunters who could fit in the boat were able to kill 400-500
ducks a day, shipping them to the restaurants and hotels. The sink box
was eventually outlawed in 1935 to protect declining duck populations.
“This is such a fantastic collection because of the great quality of
the pieces and the strong community base,” Grier said. “Once upon a
time, the community was making its money this way. It was a way of
To learn more about the museum
The museum has its
annual season opening on Memorial Day weekend, when it also hosts
gunning demonstrations. These re-enactments will be held this year on
May 24 beginning at noon. The gift shop showcases local artists and
authors, and an adjacent building hosts the Chesapeake Wooden Boat
The Upper Shore Decoy Show at the museum on Oct. 18 will feature
demonstrations such as decoy making, waterfowl taxidermy, chair caning
(by the Boat School) and oyster shucking.