Dorr Museum set for upgrade 

A museum student takes a closer look at a whale skull. PHOTO COURTESY OF COA

BAR HARBOR — State-of-the-art storage improvements and enhanced preservation and protection of more than 3,000 animal specimens are on tap for the College of the Atlantic George B. Dorr Museum of Natural History following an award of $96,000 from the Institute for Museum and Library Services and a $23,000 gift from the Dorr Foundation. 

The grants will allow the museum to outfit two new collections storage spaces in COA’s nascent Center for Human Ecology. The purpose-built spaces will be outfitted with a movable high-density storage system, including museum-grade cabinets and shelves, related archival collections storage supplies and a walk-in freezer for integrated pest management, said Dorr Museum director Carrie Graham.  

Graham said that COA students will play an integral role in carrying out the relocation project and have already begun that work as part of the Spring 2019 Collections Care Course with conservator, Ron Harvey, and The Kim M. Wentworth Chair in Environmental Studies, Steve Ressel. In that course, students studied best practices in collections handling, transport, organization, storage and safety, conducted background research related to the installation of the collections storage system, evaluated the types of cabinets needed and calculated the total volume of the existing collections.  

COA established the Dorr Museum in 1982 to deepen public understanding of Maine’s natural history through student work. With 13,000 visitors per year, it is one of fewer than five museums in Maine devoted entirely to natural history, with mammal, bird, herpetology, entomology, zoology, geology and skeletal collections and dioramas, all of which have been prepared by COA students as part of their academic experience. The collections offer hands-on experiences to learners of all ages through natural history and art courses at the college, public outreach activities, school group programs and loans to other institutions throughout the state, Graham said. 

“The Dorr is fully integrated into the academic program at COA,” said Graham, with students receiving hands-on training in museum education, exhibition preparation and collections care and management. Over the years, COA students have gone on to post-graduate positions at institutions including the Smithsonian, Field Museum, Boston Museum of Science, Portland Children’s Museum, Abbe Museum and Peabody Essex Museum.  

“To our knowledge, COA is the only institution in the U.S. that offers coursework and related experiential collections care training at the undergraduate level,” Graham said. 

Currently, collections are housed in four different spaces across two buildings, none of which were designed for such purposes. The relocation project will be guided by best practices established by the Society for Preservation of Natural History Collections and advances the prioritized long-term recommendations in the Dorr’s 2001 Conservation Assessment Report. 

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