“One of the things I love about being a conservator is that every piece is a puzzle to solve” says Kerith Koss Schrager. “The free music machine wasn’t intended for people to appreciate it 100 years from now. It was created for a moment in time. My challenge here is to recreate and preserve Grainger’s vision at that point in time—a point in time I really don’t have all the evidence for.”
Ms. Schrager is the object conservator working on the conservation of our free music machine, “Gliding Tones on Whistle” created in February 1950. An objects conservator works toward the long-term preservation of three-dimensional works including stabilization, structural repairs and cleaning.
Over the years, the Grainger Home and Studio has had several visits by different type of conservators. In September 2015, Kathleen Craughwell-Varda, a museum conservator sent through the Greater Hudson Heritage Network’s C2CNY Circuit Rider Program, visited and urged the board to consider the house and collection in light of our mission, her report noted:
The role of the collections (furnishings, clothes, decorative arts, fine arts, musical instruments, etc.) should be considered once PGS (then, IPGS) has a board-approved mission statement. What role do they play in illustrating the life and career of Percy Grainger? What connection, if any, does the personal property and artworks of his wife Ella have to the new mission statement? Is the care and maintenance of a historic house and its furnishings key to the mission of PGS?
Great Hudson Heritage Network then arranged a visit by Donia Conn, a book and paper conservator, to review and focus on preservation of the letters and books in the basement. Again, the recommendation was to have a serious discussion about the role of the collection in the Society’s mission.
The PGS board listened. The house and collection are now a major focus of the latest mission statement. Volunteers and staff have sorted, inventoried, and organized many of the rooms and much of the collection. While the process is slow, often item-by-item, each small project is part of the stewardship of the entire collection and gives a greater understanding of the the unique genius of the Grainger family. Some items, like the free music machine, warrant special attention.
In 2021, PGS again submitted a grant proposal, this time to the NYSCA/GHHN Conservation Treatment Program. The grant proposal noted:
Conservation of “Cross-Grainger Experiment–February 1950” fits squarely into our mission to preserve the legacy, home and artifacts of Percy Grainger during his life in America. A significant and unique object in our collection, the Free Music machine model is currently in storage and cannot be displayed. Elements are misaligned and/or broken and there are tears in the aged paper rolls. Unattached components rest on the surface of the table. Heavy surface dirt and dust throughout magnify the risk of further deterioration. Conservation is essential for display and preservation.
The review committee of GHHN agreed. A grant of $5220 was awarded and the conservation work has recently begun.
“The free music machine played such an important role in Grainger’s life, and we are so glad it has been moved back to the dining room, the space where Grainger actually worked on many of his experimental machines. Restoring it and placing it on the first floor will go along way to making the house an even more interesting tour for house visitors,” says Susan Colson, long-time PGS board member and frequent docent. “We have told the story in various ways (for example, our YouTube video), but having the machine itself in place is central to its living history.”
The conservation of the free music machine was supported through the NYSCA/GHHN Conservation Treatment Grant Program administered by GHHN (Greater Hudson Heritage Network). This program is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.