Last year, the Chenango County Historical Society (CCHS) embarked on the “Celebrating & Preserving Chenango County’s Heritage” initiative. Supported, in part, with federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds allocated to the New York State Library by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and administered by the South Central Regional Library Council (SRCLC), the initiative ushered in a new era of collections management at CCHS.
Funding to support the work of “Celebrating & Preserving Chenango County’s Heritage” allowed CCHS to bring on temporary, seasonal staff with expertise in archives preservation and exhibit curation. Former CCHS Intern Zachary Greenfield was hired to professionally digitize a portion of the museum’s paper and photographic archival collection. Thanks to CCHS’s grant-sponsored affiliate membership in the SCRLC, all materials digitized through the initiative are now included in the “New York Heritage” collections (NYHeritage.org), an online portal for learning about the people, places, and events that contributed to the making of New York state.
Greenfield was able to digitize approximately half of the museum’s “Perry Browne” materials, a collection of photographs taken by Frank “Perry” Pearsall Browne. Having worked for the Norwich Sun in the first half of the 20th century, Browne’s collection includes nearly 1,000 photographs of people, places, and events in Chenango County, from high school sport teams to a crowd watching firefighters at work.
Greenfield also curated a series featuring Vernon Duroe (1872-1958), a pioneer in landscape and portraiture photography, whose work had largely remained undiscovered. Upon retiring after teaching photography for 20 years in Brooklyn, Duroe returned to Chenango County, photographing landscapes and people. Many of these resulting works were exhibited at the Sherburne Arts Festival and other local shows during his lifetime. In collaboration with renowned modern-day landscape photographer Wells Horton, CCHS and the Sherburne Public Library presented an interactive program on “Techniques and Photography of Vernon Duroe.” Greenfield also hosted cyanotype photography workshops during last summer’s Sherburne Arts Festival. He also curated “Views of the Past: Through the Camera Lens of Vernon Duroe,” a traveling exhibit and slide presentation hosted in several regional venues.
In the midst of “Celebrating & Preserving Chenango County’s Heritage,” it became evident that the museum’s capacity limitations meant that most of the CCHS archival collections were not digitized, and therefore not widely accessible. At that time, CCHS was awarded a $2,500 Technology and Digitization Grant by the SCRLC in support of the museum’s archival digitization program.
Once external funding for the “Celebrating & Preserving Chenango County’s Heritage” initiative was expended, CCHS decided to invest in a full-time, permanent position to focus exclusively on collections management. The “Archives & Collections Coordinator” role will provide additional access to collections and increased exhibit installations, allowing the museum to generate community awareness and pride of place. Research material will become more available to scholars, thereby increasing the visibility of Chenango County’s unique culture and heritage.
Greenfield officially joined the CCHS team as archives and collections coordinator on Jan. 2. Originally from Great Falls, Mont., he graduated from George Mason University with a bachelor’s degree in history and the Cooperstown Graduate Program with a master’s in museum studies. Greenfield previously worked with the National Anthropological Archives as well as the Special Collections Research Center at George Mason University. In August 2020, Greenfield began serving as a senior museum assistant and curatorial consultant at CCHS. Greenfield resides in Norwich, and enjoys video games and reading in his spare time.
“I’m looking forward to getting to know more about Chenango County,” Greenfield said. “I’m excited to learn about all the secrets and unique stories that CCHS and the surrounding area have to offer, and helping to make these stories accessible to as many people as possible.”
First established in 1939, CCHS is the primary organization dedicated to actively and comprehensively preserving the history of Chenango County. The area’s premier heritage museum, the organization celebrates local culture – unique traditions, noteworthy residents, and unusual stories of the region. CCHS programs are made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.