As the IMA website indicates, we have taken official possession of the Miller House and Garden in Columbus, Indiana. This will make the second National Historic Landmark property the IMA has in its collection (Oldfields-Lilly House and Gardens being the first). How’s that for bragging rights! As a practical matter however, home ownership is not all fun and games in this situation. Ahead lies a road of challenges for the staff working on MHG teams.
Columbus is an hour’s drive south of Indy, which makes it difficult to explore the house and conduct business with the current local staff. Director of Lilly House Operations Bradley Brooks, head of our team of six, has spent a lot of time on the phone and making the trek south in the run-up to taking possession of the property. He has interacted with everyone from members of the Miller family to a nephew of Eero Saarinen. Bradley has been, and continues to be a very busy beaver.
The task of converting a residential property into a museum showcase has been an educational experience for our team, so far. It has forced us to look at all the things we do here at the museum, a lot of which we take for granted, and formulate how to adapt and transplant these practices to a former family home fifty miles away.
Chief Registrar Katie Haigh and Conservator-in-Charge David Miller (along with more staff down the road) will need to inventory, evaluate, photograph, and catalog the entire contents of the house. Katie and David are currently working with Buildings guru Bert Reader to determine what can be done with the climate control systems to best preserve the house and its contents. And don’t forget, the house itself is a piece of art–made primarily of steel, marble and glass—so David will have to develop a list of acceptable cleaning supplies, and a schedule for keeping the house spic and span. Structural drawings, building materials, maintenance records and other information on the house and other buildings on property will need to be collected and researched to assist with preservation efforts.
Bert, Safety Manager Mindy Summers and I have been looking at the safety and security needs of the house. Needless to say, there are some interesting and quirky aspects to MHG.
It’s been an Easter egg hunt at times to find some of the security devices hidden in the many nooks and crannies, and Bert has had to deal with the Complex Issues Dept. at the phone company. Who knew? In addition to proposing some upgrades to the existing security and fire systems, we have met with Columbus fire and police personnel to discuss access issues and response procedures to ensure smooth cooperation with local agencies.
Mindy and I will take our existing procedures from the IMA, such as access lists, on-call lists and key control, and adjust them to fit the Miller House environment. We will eventually have to add other safety procedures, such as a disaster plan and a hazardous chemical inventory, to the many books that will reside at the house. After the house is reconfigured to our satisfaction (or budget limits), we will determine staffing levels, work schedules, the inventory process, lockdown procedures and other security duties to be performed.
In the meantime, Director Max Anderson, Sr. Curator of Design Arts R. Craig Miller, Director of Environmental and Historic Preservation Mark Zelonis and others will devise the plan for how to present the house to the public.
The to-do list is endless, but having another landmark property like the Miller House adds a huge feather to the IMA’s cap and broadens the art experience that we can offer to our visitors.