Accepting donations is a very important part of being a museum curator. It helps the museum’s collection grow, so we can then showcase more items to the public.
There are four important areas I look at when considering a donation. First, I need to make sure the time period is correct; at Cowtown we aim to portray the timeframe 1865-1880. Second, the item needs to be relevant to our mission; we portray life on the Plains during the 1870s, so I cannot accept a samurai sword from imperial Japan. Third, the condition of the items is important; I cannot accept totally broken or destroyed items. And finally, the museum need is very important; for example, Cowtown currently has 19 pump organs and does not need any more at this time.
One additional area that is not required but always welcome is provenance. Provenance gives the history and sometimes actual documentation of the donation. This is wonderful to authenticate an item with the most certainty.
One thing to clarify is that while Old Cowtown Museum is run by the city of Wichita, the collection is owned by the Cowtown Board of Directors. Their official name is Historic Wichita Cowtown Inc.
Donating to Cowtown is a multistep process. The initial inquiry can happen via email, telephone, or in person. Follow-up research may be necessary to deem the donation as appropriate. Then a verbal accepting of the donation occurs. During the physical acquiring of the donation, the donor fills out a donation form; the main statement in the donation form reads as follows:
I, (print name), give the following items to the Historic Wichita Cowtown (Old Cowtown Museum) as an outright and unconditional gift: to be, in all respects, the property of the Museum, to be used at the Museum’s discretion.
Once the donation is signed over to the museum, processing of the item takes place. Sometimes the item needs cleaning or fixing. It is then given a number; normally this number contains the year acquired. Finally, the last step is to find the new donation a home at the museum, whether right to an exhibit or to storage.
Below is an example of a recent acquisition. The item itself is a glass-plate negative of the image of the Oak Street Hotel in Wichita, KS.
If you are interested in donating an item to Cowtown, please contact me at 316-350-3321. Thanks.