WILMINGTON — Mikaela Prescott checked the contents of box number 136 — a framed photograph, a 19th-century diary, a Friend’s copy of the Holy Bible and other Quaker-related artifacts — against the corresponding page in a thick binder cataloging each piece in the ever-growing collection at Wilmington College’s Meriam R. Hare Quaker Heritage Center.
It’s one of 300 or so identical, archival quality boxes that line the shelves in a storage space in Boyd Cultural Arts Center. While the Quaker Heritage Center (QHC) gallery is a jewel in the crown on WC’s campus, this off-the-beaten path depository is known simply as the “Collections Area.”
Few visitors to the QHC even know this space exists, but if Prescott’s wishes and those of director Dr. Tanya Maus are ultimately realized, it would become a regular stop for WC students and other QHC gallery visitors.
“Our pipe-dream is to turn this into an open area so visitors can get an idea of the magnitude and diversity of our collection,” said the junior history major from Dublin, Ohio, who is heading the once-every-five-year inventory of the QHC collection. Prescott’s cataloging work, which began last summer with the arrival of new shelving, is a hands-on learning experience closely aligned to her career aspirations involving museum collections inventory and management.
“This was an awesome opportunity for me because this is what I want to do,” she said, Prescott plans to use what she’s learned in this out-of-the-classroom experience in a career working with indigenous artifacts and reparation. Her special focus is facilitating the return of artifacts to the indigenous communities from which they originated.
Prescott said cataloging the QHC collection has become a “rite of passage” for student workers since the Quaker Heritage Center opened in 2005.
The arrival this summer of sturdy, open-sided, seven-foot high, steel shelves lining three walls created an especially opportune time to begin transforming the Collections Area. Gifts from alumni and friends as part of the #GivingTuesday promotion in late 2018 made the shelving purchase possible.
Now, instead of being relegated to a dark corner, pieces of antique Quaker and Shaker furniture are off the floor and actually on display on three levels of shelving. Other valuable and historic items include a framed set of Marshall Plan posters, the late emeritus history Professor Larry Gara’s iconic peace signs, a large collection of international dolls and numerous other pieces of Quaker iconography and memorabilia — including three tombstones!
“Things you might not expect; there’s an incredible range of artifacts,” Prescott added. “We’re transforming this into more of a learning space. We want to show students there’s so much to Quakers.
“This is a library of wonders!”