The Governor Bruce Dinwiddy and wife Emma took a private tour of the National Museum earlier this month, accompanied by Chairman Harris McCoy lll and Director Anita Ebanks.
Their visit provided an opportunity to learn how the museum fared during the recent hurricane and what challenges lie ahead for the museum and its staff, states a GIS press release.
The nearly 150-year-old harbour-front building, formerly the old Courts building, sustained rainwater damage to the roof and ensuing interior during the storm.
Fortunately, Museum staff had prepared for the worse-case scenario beforehand, moving all artefacts into the central theatre (the old Lands and Survey vault) where the concrete walls, floor and ceiling acted like a watertight safe room. Thanks to that effort, all items placed there survived without harm, including this year’s McCoy prize exhibits.
Quite another situation occurred at the three thousand foot Museum Support Facility at Paddington Place in Industrial Park. The facility was flooded by unsanitary seawater, leaving nearly fifty percent of the 7,000 plus objects in the National Collection water damaged. Staff have worked tirelessly since to recover and preserve hundreds of the Nation’s patrimony, which is still ongoing.
Ms Ebanks told the Governor that an object conservator will be coming to the island soon to assess the condition of artefacts and will create a schedule for restoration. Adding to this, Ms Ebanks said that volunteers are still urgently needed to salvage and recover historical objects in danger of deterioration, including maritime and household objects made of wood, metal and cloth. She said the mouldy and unpleasant conditions for recovering objects are challenging for volunteers but that the Museum provides all protective gear and encourages people to work at their own pace.
Mr. McCoy lll noted the volunteer services given to the Museum recovery effort by fellow Caymanian cultural organizations including the National Gallery, teachers and other private citizens. He also gave special recognition to the museum staff: ‘They went beyond the call of duty to save this historical building and ensure the preservation of our national heritage and precious objects that are our only link to the past,’ he said. Adding to this, Ms. Ebanks too expressed gratitude for the outstanding work by the Museum’s small staff namely the Collections/Recovery Manager, Debra Tabora; Facility Manager Kenneth Stewart; Archaeologist Peggy Leshikar-Denton; Business Manager Suzie Lidstone; Retail and Visitor Services Officer Jaime Azan; and Executive Secretary Kathy Andes.
Mrs. Peggy Leshikar-Denton, Museum Archaeologist in charge of preserving shipwrecks and land sites, voiced her appreciation for the help of volunteer Mrs. Lynda Parsons. Mrs. Parsons’ experience in photography saved many water-damaged photos when she air dried prints on a makeshift laundry line. Mrs. Parsons enjoyed the experience: ‘It was like a free course in archaeology,’ she stated.
During the tour Ms Ebanks led the group through the main floor where the Natural History Gallery was relocated and upstairs to the Cultural History Gallery. Here the Museum sustained the most damage due to moulded sheetrock, since removed. Ms. Ebanks pointed out to the Governor and Mrs. Dinwiddy areas where the traditional wattle and daub construction, original shiplap timber and ironwood frame were revealed. Noting the stability of this building method, Ms. Ebanks expressed concern for the condition of other historical buildings; ‘Since the hurricane damaged many historical structures and traditional Caymanian houses on the island, there is real concern that the character of the island will disappear. Funds are needed to make sure restoration is done properly to preserve our traditional built environment with its history.’
At the tour’s end, Ms. Ebanks mentioned that although the Museum itself would not open for several more weeks, the Museum Shop was open as normal. The shop is the official carrier of the Cayman Islands flag and coat of arms and is open from Monday to Friday from 9am to 3pm and Saturday 9am to 1pm. Local books, Caymanite jewellery, prints and other gifts are also available.
Anyone interested in helping in the Museum’s recovery efforts can contact Ms. Ebanks on 949-8368.