Objects and Artifacts

For specific exhibit needs, like artifacts unique to your area, word of mouth is essential. It is helpful to develop a list of specific and general needs, and share it with as many people as possible, including board members, volunteers, friends, colleagues, neighbors and family. The more people you involve the better! 

A great place to start sharing your list is with colleagues at your local, regional or state historical societies and museums. Another place to find resources is through local antique dealers. Retirement communities are also great places to find people who have expertise, objects to donate, and interesting stories to tell about their objects.

At MCM, our entire log cabin was outfitted with authentic artifacts from our business neighbor and antique dealer. It was a win-win situation for both parties, because he got to be part of the development of the cabin, and share with us his expertise and artifacts, and children throughout the community got the benefit of this relationship.

Log cabin exhibit

Thrift Stores can be another valuable way to find interesting items and resources. In Madison, The Salvation Army, Goodwill, and St. Vincent De Paul are the most frequented sources. St. Vincent De Paul even has a store called Dig & Save, which sells items by the pound.  If you need a whole lot of clothing or dishes, or old golf clubs for that matter, this is the place to get them. You may have something similar in your own community.

At MCM, we have used all of these sources for materials for both exhibits and programs. These include woolen sweaters that have been felted and turned into fake foods, to a collection of 45’s that are used for programming our Retro Technology Nights; and vintage computers, televisions and electronics that have been integrated into our Wayback Machine exhibit.

Felt pies

St .Vincent De Paul.  has a state-by-state listing of local thrift stores. Some stores also sell  building materials at an incredibly low price. Goodwill Industries also has a national directory for its stores.

Another place to look for salvaged materials is your museum’s own storage area, or within your museum’s own deconstruction process. There may be artifacts and materials you have overlooked for years that could be used in a new context or made into something else. If renovating a building, be sure to look for ways to reuse the materials that are no longer needed

At MCM, we reused old exhibit components in new ways, including objects that had been collected and kept in storage for several decades. Among these were an old dollhouse, a collection of handmade toys and a dinosaur skeleton fossil.

Fire hose bench

This bench was made using old fire hoses that were taken out during the deconstruction process.  All of the wood was left over from the sustainably harvested wood floors in our Wildernest exhibit.