Apropos of the Morris Museum's acquisition of the Murtogh D. Guinness
collection of music boxes and mechanical music machines, I should
mention that a number of other organizations were in hot competition to
win the Guinness collection, including the Smithsonian Institution and
the Strong Museum here in Rochester.
There was a suspicion that the attraction for some of the suitors was
not the collection itself, splendid as that is, but the multi-million
dollar bequest that went with the collection for its housing and
maintenance. As the cited New York Times article points out, it was
the more disinterested influence of advisors like the MBSI's Steve and
Jere Ryder that helped to get the Guinness collection awarded to an
institution that would truly focus on it.
One of the things that donors of collectibles should beware of is
that their prized objects may disappear into the attic of a museum or
library that ostensibly wants them, but actually has other motives.
Or just as bad, the deed of gift or other legal conveyance document
worked out between donor and donee isn't written tightly enough to
prevent the donee from selling off the collection and adding the cash
to its operating budget.
The Strong Museum is an interesting case showing how a collection can
evolve and change. Margaret Woodbury Strong was a rich, unmarried
woman who from childhood traveled the world and bought all kinds of
things that caught her eye in her travels. Her huge collection had
no focus and comprised the gamut of human artistic and mechanical
creativity. In her will she provided for the establishment of a museum
in Rochester to preserve and display her collection. When the museum
applied to the State of New York for a charter, its trustees were hard
pressed to define the focus and purpose of their museum.
Under the directorship of G. Rollie Adams, Margaret Woodbury Strong's
museum was eventually redefined and renamed as "Strong, National
Museum of Play," a place dedicated to that activity and to the study
of how play affects child and adult development."
The museum has become a huge success, with an interactive Sesame Street
feature, a child-scale Wegman's grocery store, a Bob The Builder
interactive, the National Toy Hall of Fame, a Dancing Wings Butterfly
Garden, housing 800 varieties of live free-flying butterflies, among
other magnets for the child in us.
But -- to accomplish this, the collection of Margaret Woodbury Strong
has been moved into storage, with only selected items displayed on top
floors of the museum, while other things she expected to be kept were
sold off as not pertinent to the museum's new focus.
The moral here is to give some thought now to how your prized instruments
will fare after you are gone. Someday you will be gone; that is certain.
Irondequoit, New York