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The Emily L. Knapp Museum
Creative leadership and intensive labor key to restoring Brockport’s landmark museum
At 49 State Street, the Brockport Village Hall is attached to the Victorian era Seymour family mansion with the Emily L. Knapp Museum upstairs. The joint structure symbolizes Brockport’s loving link to its rich history represented in the museum’s vast collection of Brockport artifacts. Several years ago, the collection was found to be in extreme need of organization. Since 2013, Sue Savard and her team of volunteers have made remarkable progress in restoring the collection and reviving one of Brockport’s historic treasures.
Some pieces of the museum collection were restored by professionals. A magnificent golden eagle was sent to a taxidermist. Well over 107 pictures, with more coming, were reframed with archival materials. Three maps were restored to pristine condition by a conservator.
The major work of restoration is being done by devoted volunteers; a small sample is cited here. Tim Fabrizio restored a 1905 Edison phonograph. A grand bookcase was designed by Jim Bolthouse and built by George Cedeño. At home, Sue Savard made a dozen military uniforms look like new. Also at home, she typed labels for files and pictures, and transcribed four long diaries written in script. She has published the transcribed diary of Joseph A. Tozier, a prominent Brockport citizen.
There has been extensive work in sorting, labeling and cataloging 251 duplicate items deaccessioned (released from the collection). Hundreds of original documents, pictures, news clippings and letters were organized, labeled and filed into 36 file cabinet drawers. Also, detailed attention went into restoring floors, repairing wallpaper and painting. All this took an estimated total of 5,000 hours by 25 volunteers since the restoration began, not including Savard’s work at home
On a visit to the museum for this story, several volunteers were at work that day. Sue Savard oversees the work and, since the beginning, she has assigned tasks according to the particular interests of each team member. Briefly, here are their stories with reflections on the museum and what the work means to them:
Maggie LaPierre began volunteering last spring. She is happy with any task like sorting books, cleaning brass fixtures, sorting photos and moving furniture. “The hands-on aspect of what we’ve been doing is very satisfying,” she says. “This little museum is a treasure trove of Brockport history. It’s a lovely time capsule of the past. I’ve learned a great deal about the history of the village and its early residents.”
Roberta Hesek began as a volunteer guide three years ago. She has worked on the Mary Jane Holmes Room and the kitchen. She joins in photographing and entering items into a data base. “It is exciting to learn about Brockport’s rich history that contributed to the development of Western New York,” she said. “Through this experience, I have met so many great and talented people connected to the museum and village. We feed on each other’s enthusiasm.”
Rosemary Smith began volunteering two years ago. She emphasizes the work of sorting, labeling and filing “boxes just full of articles on Brockport,” she said. “Having always lived in Brockport, the museum has brought back so many memories of my family’s past. It has been an incredible journey and so much more to do.”
These three volunteers were asked about Sue Savard’s leadership. From LaPierre: “Sue is great to work with. She has so much energy and enthusiasm for the museum that is contagious!” Hesek: “Sue has boundless energy and the ability to enlist volunteers from many segments of our population. She is dedicated to making this museum a place of pride for the Village of Brockport.” Smith: “Sue has worked long hours at the museum and at home where she does all the typing and phone calls. She is a wonderful friend and a joy to be with.”
Sarah Hart has been working for a couple of months on a special project at the request of Sue Savard. As a professional classical painter and teacher at the Rochester Memorial Art Gallery, Hart’s expertise was needed to examine and assess an artist’s paintings and sketchbooks found in the attic, work that is ongoing.
“It is an honor to have my education serve in this capacity,” Hart said. “Working with Sue Savard is like being with a best friend and being part of Scooby and the gang, as we all have fun trying to solve mysteries.” And, she added, “Sue brings a fantastic sense of adventure to the project. She has a wonderfully honest and thoroughly organized sense of what needs to be accomplished in that museum.”
Pat O’Brien has been working in the museum for about two years. She is also chairperson of the museum board. Retired from senior leadership in a major corporation, she has applied her skills to the operation and management of the museum. Among her many contributions are: A policies and procedures manual; a semi-annual report; facilitation of development of a strategic plan; applied for and received grants; led a program to digitize maps from the 1800’s. She also worked with a team of volunteers who painted five rooms.
“Sue is a pleasure to work with,” O’Brien said. “She has a high-energy level and always finds a way for people to contribute in a way that is consistent with their skill set.”
Outreach to promote the museum and Brockport’s history
A vital part of the restoration is the work of attracting people to visit this historic treasure. Compared to other community activities and places of interest, on a relative basis, attendance at the Emily Knapp Museum is low.
One way to get the public’s attention is the Brockport Community Museum, a “Museum without Walls,” which brings Brockport’s history to the people. The project includes nine display cases placed in visible public locations. Most of the case contents are provided courtesy of the Emily L. Knapp Museum (some by private individuals). The displays potentially might attract viewers to the museum.
Savard created a variety of outreach events to increase appreciation of local history and potentially draw visitors to the museum. Celebrating the first phase of renovation, a Grand Opening was held in July, 2014 attended by 100 people. A Black History Month event was held in collaboration with The College at Brockport, featuring Brockport’s important African American residents of the past; 170 attended.
There were presentations on the Moore Shafer Shoe Company and on Myron Holley’s work on the Erie Canal. A Downton Abbey clothing display drew fans of the TV series. “Be an Historian for an Afternoon” had kids looking in each museum room for an item she “planted” that did not belong in the 1800’s.
Chet Fery, “The Bread Man,” taught children the art of bread-making at the Seymour Library’s Local History Room where there was a display from the Knapp Museum.
An increase in volunteers has enabled the museum to expand its open hours, April to October, to Sunday afternoons from 2 to 4 p.m. This adds to the original open hours: Tuesday 6 to 8 p.m and Wednesday 2 to 4 p.m and 6 to 8 p.m.
There is a prolific website created by Sarah Cedeño, Brockport Village Historian:www.brockportknappmuseum.org. She also created and monitors the museum’s social media, a blog with about 65,000 hits and Facebook page with around 20,000 hits.
Savard’s recently published book, In His Words: Brockport 1858 – 1866 The Diary of Joseph A. Tozier, brings one of the museum’s treasures to the reading public.
“We hope to increase our community outreach this spring with more talks about Brockport’s history,” Savard said. “This year our board has set a goal of attracting young people to the museum to learn of Brockport’s rich history. We are working to reinstitute the fourth-grade students annual visit.”
For her leadership and hands-on work in the restoration of the Emily L. Knapp Museum, Sue Savard will receive the Monika Andrews Creative Volunteer Leadership Award from the Brockport Village Board on February 6. See the story elsewhere in this issue.
Photos by Dianne Hickerson
Editor’s Note: An article on the initial restoration work at the museum appeared on the April 27, 2014. Click here to view article www.westsidenewsny.com/features/2014-04-27/emily-l-knapp-museum/
The print version can be seen in Seymour Library’s Local History Room.