PMH Collection Policy Reflects Pasadena History

Silver-mounted ceramic vase by Rookwood Pottery Company

Silver-mounted ceramic vase, Rookwood Pottery Company, circa 1892. Gift of the Estate of Mary M. Pearson. (2015.014.01)

Among the more than 10,000 objects in the Pasadena Museum of History’s collection is a silver-mounted vase donated by the Estate of Mary M. Pearson. The ceramic vase is adorned with flowers and other motifs that are covered with a clear, high-gloss, iris glaze. This Art Nouveau-style object was created around 1892 by the Rookwood Pottery Company, a Cincinnati-based firm known for the excellent quality of its products.

Although the vase was a good example of Rookwood’s work, Director of Collections Laura Verlaque initially had some misgivings about adding it to the museum’s collection because the pottery firm was not based in Pasadena.

Postcard of Fleming residence

Postcard showing the Fleming residence between the Aldophus Busch and Thaddeus Lowe houses on Orange Grove Avenue, early 20th century. (Postcard Collection)

However, Pearson inherited the vase from a family member who was a practical nurse for lumber baron Arthur Fleming, who prominently displayed the vase in his Arts-and-Crafts-style mansion at 1003 S. Orange Grove Avenue. (The residence has since been demolished). Verlaque determined the vase typified the furnishings in the street’s numerous turn-of-the-20th-century mansions, so it was eligible for PMH’s collection.

Museum officials must make similar decisions about all of the items it accessions (adds) to its collections. “We don’t accept an item just because it’s old or it was used in someone’s household,” explains Verlaque. “It has to tell the story of Pasadena.”

PMH’s Collections Development and Management Policy specifies that collections shall “concentrate on materials unique to the Pasadena area, i.e., items created in or for Pasadena; represent Pasadenan lifestyles; and encompass the area’s early history to the present.” According to the policy, PMH will collect materials:

  • “documenting the community’s heritage”;
  • “relevant to the PMH mission statement and purpose as evidence through document provenance and/or historical research”;
  • “associated with individuals, buildings, businesses, events and organizations that are or have been active within Pasadena and its neighboring communities;” and
  • “typical or representative of items made and/or used in Pasadena.”

Like most museums, PMH has more donations than it has space for its collections. “Once we accession an object, we are legally bound to care for it,” explains Verlaque, “and it has to be maintained here for at least three years before it’s deaccessioned” (removed from the collection). PMH also has limited funding to conserve the items in its collections.

For this reason, PMH will often ask patrons to provide money for the storage and maintenance of donated items. PMH will reject gifts if they are in poor condition; for example, clothing and textiles should be dry-cleaned before they are donated to ensure they are not infested with insects.

PMH maintains four collections related to the history of Pasadena: the print, photographic, audio/visual and other materials available in the Research Library and Archives; the Textile and Costume Collection; the Object Collection; and the Fenyes-Curtin-Paloheimo Collection, comprised of the contents of the Fenyes Mansion, including the books, textiles, household objects, decorative arts and fine arts and the family archival papers.

By Rebecca Kuzins