“Furniture Fit for a Queen”: How a table led the way to building an inclusive community approach to acquisitions

Panel 1: Community Archiving Projects
 “Furniture Fit for a Queen”: How a table led the way to building an inclusive community approach to acquisitions

Presenter: Cynthia Engle is the Curator of the National Historic Landmark, Washington Place in Honolulu, Oahu.  She oversees the care and preservation of the home and its collections including: archival material, works on paper, furniture, and other decorative arts.   Originally from the Big Island, Cynthia obtained her dual degrees in anthropology and art history from Ithaca College and a MLISc, beta phi mu from the University of Hawai`i at Mānoa.  With over 10 years of professional experience, Cynthia has held numerous positions in academic and special libraries, archives, and records management in state, federal, and private institutions.  

Presentation Description: What does a koa table, a kahu (priest), and an archivist have in common?  Although it sounds like the beginning to a great joke, the commonality is love. Recently, decolonization has been a buzzword in our profession. The complexity of this movement interweaves between individuals and communities, cross-culturally. This movement has encouraged our profession to reflect upon the role we play in museums, libraries, and archives. As collection stewards we strive to create an inclusive and relevant site within the community, while advocating and preserving its resources and our job. However, the action can be more difficult than the theorizing. Despite the data, archives can hold different meanings to different people, and it changes depending on the way we perceive and connect. Archivists must stay at the center of these stories and connections that involve our place, our collections, and our role. The first part to community archiving or decolonization is to no longer be purely objective, but to empathize with these connections. This presentation tells the story on how Queen Liliʻuokalani’s koa table makes its way home to Washington Place. The individuals and work that went into it from building donor relationships, researching and vetting the acquisition, to fabricating a custom shipping crate, and interweaving cultural practices with archival procedures and standards. The personal love and connection everyone had with the Queen’s story led to a mutual connection and shared experience that adds value to Washington Place, its collections, its staff, and the relevancy in the community.