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Wentworth Collaborates with Museum of Fine Arts and Simmons College for Library Exhibit

July 25, 2018

A group of people gather in the library

From left, Jack Duggan, Ella Howard, Alexandra Ghiz, Kevin Kidd, Rhonda Postrel, Edie Waldsmith, LeeAnn Gordon, and Jody Gordon

Various Wentworth departments, Simmons College, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston have collaborated to collect, examine, and display everything from elixir bottles to an intact jar containing pickles. These antique glass bottles were excavated during the construction of Wentworth’s new academic building for engineering, innovation, and sciences, set to open in the fall.

The bottles, which can be dated from the late 1800s to the early 1900s, will be on display at the Guarracino Family Gallery near the entrance to Douglas D. Schumann Library & Learning Commons until September 12. The exhibit, “Buried Treasure: Antique Bottles from Wentworth’s MpA Building Foundation,” is open to the public.

Rhonda Postrel, the curator of the exhibit and a reference and instruction librarian, said that experts from all backgrounds came together for the exhibit. Those involved included Kevin Smith, clerk of the works; Jack Duggan, chair of the Department of Civil Engineering; Jody Gordon, associate professor in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences; and LeeAnn Gordon, an associate curator from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Postrel said the exhibit was special not only because experts brought their wealth of knowledge and skills to the table, but also because non-experts also contributed and learned much through their involvement.

Jody Gordon said the project aligned closely with the EPIC (externally-collaborative, project-based, interdisciplinary, culture for learning) model of learning emphasized at Wentworth, noting the MFA and Simmons connections.

“The project is also interdisciplinary as it involves the collaboration of librarians, construction managers, civil engineers, archivists, modern historians, and an archaeologist,” he said.

Jack Duggan, who conducted much of the research into the glass bottles, worked with special analysis machines at Simmons to determine what the bottles were made of. Duggan also worked with both Wentworth and Simmons faculty to conduct the research. Historians including Ella Howard, associate professor of social sciences and humanities, and Allison Lange, assistant professor of social sciences and humanities, then pooled that data with knowledge about trends in glass production to determine the age and use of the artifacts.

“This was a great project not only to teach history, but also to teach how we can use technology and chemistry to learn more about history,” Duggan said.

Duggan noted that Wentworth recently received a National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation Grant, which will be used to purchase the same analysis machines used at Simmons for this project.

“It’s funny to think that these machines will be housed in the new building, and that we are going to use them to analyze more of the artifacts that were once under the building,” Duggan said.

Others involved in the project included LeeAnn Gordon from the MFA. Gordon was a content contributor for historical and materials research about glass. Gordon also assisted with the installation and presentation of the artifacts.

Jody Gordon said that he and the other contributors hope that students and faculty “gain a new sense of the historical time depth of the Wentworth campus, and that they realize how they themselves are also contributing to the histories of Roxbury, Mission Hill, and the Fenway, during their own time at Wentworth.”

“We want them to realize that objects can tell stories and that today’s Wentworth is connected to an entrepreneurial ethos and spirit that thrived in Boston over century ago,” Gordon said.

Attendee Fred Driscoll, dean of the College of Engineering, said he was fascinated by the discovery of the bottles.

“It’s amazing to think that there’s more artifacts and bottles to be discovered right in this area, and that we could be standing on top of more fascinating artifacts right now,” Driscoll said.

For more information about the exhibit, check out this article with more details about the bottles and their excavation, in addition to this blog post about the exhibit by Postrel. For photos of the opening reception, see our Flickr gallery.

-Samuel Kim