By Lauren Brincat, Curator, Preservation Long Island
A cornerstone of Preservation Long Island’s mission is the stewardship of historic sites and collections. When we were founded in 1948, we decided that we would “acquire and maintain…collections of paintings, drawings, and prints; of books, manuscripts, autographs, and photographs; furniture and examples of the decorative arts; coins and medals, and any other objects of historic, literary, scientific, aesthetic, and education interest related to the history of Long Island.” Over seventy years later, Preservation Long Island stewards one of the strongest regional assemblages of decorative arts and material culture in New York State. You may be familiar with our decorative arts collections through our publications, Long Island is my Nation and Elias Pelletreau: Long Island Silversmith and Entrepreneur, but did you know we have amazing things hiding in our archives as well?
Behind the scenes, Preservation Long Island has embarked on a project to assess and make accessible collections of photographs, manuscripts, and personal papers. To achieve these goals, we were fortunate to receive both an Archival Needs Assessment and a Preservation Survey from Documentary Heritage & Preservation Services for New York (DHPSNY) which helped us secure grant funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) through their Inspire! Grants for Small Museums program.
The IMLS grant enabled us to hire professional archivist, Katie Ehrlich, to survey all 185 cubic feet of our archival collections and create a Processing Manual for Archival Collections using up-to-date descriptive standards and best practices. The essential document provides step-by-step instructions for collections staff, interns, and volunteers on how to arrange, describe, and house different types of archival materials and how to catalog collections in PastPerfect and produce a finding aid.
As part of her work, Katie processed and rehoused the personal papers of Preservation Long Island’s founder, Howard C. Sherwood (1870–1957), which were largely unknown and never fully studied. Sherwood was a Colonial Revival collector of American decorative arts and an early Long Island preservationist. The Sherwood-Jayne Farm, Sherwood’s circa 1730 country retreat in Setauket, is one of Preservation Long Island’s three interpreted historic houses and is filled with many of Sherwood’s original collections. Cataloged and accessible to researchers for the first time, the Sherwood Family papers, which include about 5 cubic feet of photographs, diaries, and correspondence, provide an intimate look at Howard Sherwood’s life as a collector, preservationist, world traveler, and chronicler of the rapidly changing world around him. As more is revealed about Howard Sherwood, we will be able to tell new stories at the Sherwood-Jayne House that explore its 20th-century history. Select items from the Sherwood Family papers are now digitized and can be viewed in our new online exhibition, Preserving Howard Sherwood: The Sherwood Family Papers in Context, curated by project archivist Katie Ehrlich.
Preservation Long Island is grateful to the IMLS for supporting this important project. Researchers interested in viewing the Sherwood Family papers may make an appointment by contacting [email protected].