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Students (from left) Savannah Kruguer, Amy Ciminnisi and Sara
McNamara carry the replica trundle bed frame into the Amstel House in
New Castle, where it will be displayed.
Tours of historic New Castle, Delawarethe first capital of the First Stateoften include the Amstel House, an early Georgian residence built in 1730 and considered Delawares first grand mansion.
The house, with its well-preserved architecture and furnishings and with a parlor where George Washington once attended a wedding, is a popular stop during field trips for fourth-graders studying Delaware history.
And now, beginning this summer, projects planned and implemented by a museum studies class from the University of Delaware last semester are providing some new exhibits to enhance the experience of visitors to the Amstel House.
One group of UD students turned a small storeroom into much-needed display space and used it to house an exhibit they designed of selected items from the houses collection. The second group created a replica of a small bed from the house, complete with activities designed to make the tour more interactive for children.
I was already familiar with the Universitys Museum Studies program, and we agreed to try out this project with a combined group of graduate and undergraduate students, said Daniel Citron, executive director of the
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Adalynn, 9, and Avery, 6, try out the replica trundle bed in the Amstel House. UD students hand-made the bed linens, including a mattress stuffed with straw and three small pillows of different materials.
New Castle Historical Society. Its been very successful. The
Historical Society was happy with the results, my board was very happy,
and the students have told me that they learned a lot.
The project had its start with a graduate class last year taught by
Jennifer Van Horn, assistant professor of art history, and Catharine
Dann Roeber, assistant professor affiliated with the Winterthur Program
in American Material Culture, that focused on historic properties. Those
students visited New Castle and suggested possible enhancements to some
of the sites. Two of the ideas, both proposed by student Sara McNamara,
were selected for implementation by a new class during spring semester,
said Katherine C. Grier, professor of history and director of the
Museum Studies program.
That class consisted of six undergraduates and was led by McNamara
and fellow graduate student Tess Frydman, who worked together to create
the syllabus and guide the projects. The class split into two teams,
each taking one of the suggested ideas and putting the plan into action.
McNamara said her proposals came
from taking a tour of the Amstel House in the way that any typical
visitor would. In a bedroom, she saw the corner of an old wooden frame
poking out from under the tall, four-poster bed. When she asked about
it, she was told that it was the frame of a trundle beda separate
small, low bed, some 200 years old, that could have been pulled out at
night to accommodate a child or a servant and then stored out of sight
under the larger bed during the day.
The finished "Tools of Many Trades" exhibit with the students who created it, Tess Frydman and Elliott Henry (standing) and Hannah Rosato and Carolanne Deal (kneeling).
McNamara asked something else: Did many people touring the house
wonder what the trundle bed was? The answer: Yes, it was a common
question posed to tour guides.
We decided to make a reproduction bed and mattress, and we came up
with some activities that would be fun and educational for kids,
especially around the age of fourth-graders, McNamara said.
how the mattress and pillows would have been made, and we learned
different sewing techniques, and we made everything by hand.
The result is a trundle bed that, unlike the original bed frame still
on display, is sturdy enough for youngsters to try out. They can
experience a mattress stuffed with straw and see how the trundle would
have fit under the larger bed. The frame itself, made of pine and
painted with two coats of milk paint, was built by volunteer Stephen
Hess, who says the reconstruction is as close to the original in
materials and design as possible.
The UD students also sewed three small pillows, stuffing each with a
different material (straw, feathers and modern-day polyester filling) so
that children touring the house can feel what each is like.
Meanwhile, Frydman and a second team of undergraduates spent the
semester adding another new attraction for Amstel House visitors. During
her tour, McNamara had spotted a tiny room at the top of a staircase in
the house and noticed that it was being used as a kind of storage
"I thought it could be cleaned out
and used for display space, McNamara said. Tess and her team took that
idea and ran with it.
The result is a newly installed exhibit in the room. Students
researched items in the Amstel Houses collections, many of which are in
storage because of a lack of space, and came up with a theme for their
Tools of Many Trades showcases a variety of tools that would have
been used by those living in the house and by workers in the surrounding
In front of the Amstel House in New Castle are (front, from left)
Hannah Rosato, Amy Ciminnisi, Savannah Kruguer and Prof. Katherine Grier
and (back, from left) Elliott Henry, Sara McNamara, Tess Frydman, Emily
McKeon and Carolanne Deal.
The exhibit includes a shoemakers tools, a wooden shovel, a cherry
pitter, hackles used to comb through flax in producing linen, a
firemans ax and a dental key, which was used in pulling teeth. Theres
even a mystery object for visitors to speculate about; research didnt
immediately turn up anything definitive about its use.
For the UD students, the opportunity to create museum displays was both valuable and unusual for an undergraduate-level class.
Its pretty awesome to get this experience before I even get to grad
school, said Carolanne Deal, who will start UDs masters degree
program in art history for museum professionals this fall. This isnt
something that many students get to do.
Both Citron and Grier hope that the Amstel House project will serve
as a model for similar efforts at other historic properties, especially
those with relatively small staffs that can benefit from additional
help. Grier also wants to continue the structure of the class, with
graduate students supervising undergraduates.
Its good for everyone, she said. The graduate students get the
opportunity to lead a project, and the undergraduates get to work on a
real project, make contacts in the community and see how grad students
Meanwhile, UDs involvement at the Amstel House is continuing this
summer, with three Museum Studies interns helping out. One of them,
graduate student Katherine Riley, is working to create a workbook for
visiting students and families.
Article by Ann Manser; photos by Megan Hutchins and Kathy F. Atkinson