Making History (Last)

The Lowell National Historical Park in Massachusetts offers a vivid regional perspective on the Industrial Revolution. But inside these former textile mills you can also find the fabric of America.  
 
Lowell NHS is headquarters to the National Park Service’s Historic Architecture, Conservation, and Engineering Center. This is where conservators restore irreplaceable antiquities sent from national historic sites from Maine to Virginia: a wooden hoist used to build the Bunker Hill Monument. Various Civil war artifacts. Thomas Edison’s phonographs.  
 
For Mary Terese Vigliotti, these pieces from the past form a pathway to the future.  The Massachusetts native recently served in a conservator internship before resuming her post-grad studies at West Dean College in Sussex, England, an internationally recognized institution for conservation and creative arts. 
 
“Seeing objects from different periods of history provides a contextual story,” Mary states.  “They give you so much more than just reading words from a book.  I want generations to enjoy these objects.”
 
As a child, Mary often visited museums with her family, but even then “my focus wasn’t on how the artist made the object but how could I preserve it?” 
 
At Lowell, among other projects, she treated a candle snipper, a hat box and a pair of ice skates dating back more than 200 years.  “I’d had previous experience with ceramics, glass and metals,” she says, “but never wood or leather. Adding these areas to my portfolio will be a huge help when I look for a job.”
 
The highlight of her term, Mary says, was traveling to nearby Minute Man NHS to clear a brass statue.  “There’s something special about working offsite in an outdoor environment, the birthplace of the American Revolution.  There were tons of tourists and people and thanked us for preserving an important piece of American history.”
 
Nodding toward staff conservators Joannie Bottkol and Margaret Breuker, Mary adds “I’ve learned so much here, gained so much knowledge.  Every object I worked on was fascinating.  
 
“The history and the objects – they’re everyone’s.  They represent different eras and cultures and we have to preserve them or we’ll lose part of the American story.”
 
PHOTOS: The Thomas Edision National Historical Park in West Orange, NJ consists of Edison’s home and laboratory and touts itself as the place “where modern America was invented.”
 
Photos: in the image atop this post, Mary Terese stands with the bonnet from Edison’s wheelchair (immediately below). Each piece of fringe had to be hand-restored. Edison was in poor health during his final two years; he died on October 18, 1931 at his estate.
 
Does your music system have your name emblazoned in it? Edison’s phonograph did. And those cylinder phonographs date back to the 19th century.
 
Finally, from an unrelated collection, the skates and snippers referenced earlier in the post.