CGP Community Stories

C.R. Jones, November 30, 2011

Title

C.R. Jones, November 30, 2011

Subject

New York State Historical Association
Cooperstown Graduate Program in History Museum Studies
Concord (Mass.)
Charles City (Iowa)

Description

C.R. Jones is a member of the first class of the Cooperstown Graduate Program and conservator at the New York State Historical Association. He was born in Charles City, Iowa on Oct. 20, 1939. He grew up in Charles City and went to college at Iowa State University for Botany. After a brief stint at NYU, Jones became a member of the first class of the Cooperstown Graduate Program in 1964-5 for History Museum Studies.
After graduation he worked at the Concord Antiquarian Society for three years. He then returned to Cooperstown to become the associate curator at the New York State Historical Association. He then went through the conservation program at CGP in order to become the conservator at NYSHA. Over Jones’ career he worked under seven directors at NYSHA and was an adjunct professor at CGP teaching classes on both exhibits and collections.
C.R. Jones has been involved with the boards of several organizations including the Association for Gravestone Studies, Hyde Hall, the Cooperstown Planning Board, and the Cooperstown Art Association Board. Jones has a life-long interest in architecture, conserving objects, and funerary customs.
Mr. Jones speaks very clearly and expressively but suffers from illness, which at times can hinder his speech. Any impediments, false starts or interruptions have been edited out of the transcript in order to maintain clarity.

Creator

Ryan Leichenauer

Publisher

Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York-College at Oneonta

Date

2011-11-30

Rights

New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown, NY

Format

audio/mpeg
27.5mB
audio/mpeg
27.5mB
audio/mpeg
16.2mB
image/jpeg
1536 × 2048 pixels

Language

en-US

Type

Sound
Image

Identifier

11-064

Coverage

Upstate New York
1939-2011
Cooperstown, NY

Online Submission

No

Interviewer

Ryan Leichenauer

Interviewee

C.R. Jones

Location

3691 County Hwy 35
Middlefield, NY

Transcription

RL: Ryan Leichenauer
CRJ: C.R. Jones

[START OF TRACK 1 0:00]

RL:
This is the November 30, 2011 interview of C.R. Jones by Ryan Leichenauer for the Cooperstown Graduate Program’s Research and Fieldwork course, recorded at 3691 County Hwy 35 in the hamlet of Middlefield. Mr. Jones, how did you come to be a member of the first class of the Cooperstown Graduate Program?

CRJ:
To start the story at the beginning of the story, I was born in a small town in northeastern Iowa Charles City in 1939. Charles City was the birthplace of the farm tractor. Charlie Parr started to build gasoline traction engines there about 1900, 1901. It eventually evolved into the Parr Tractor and then into the Oliver Corporation, which was the major industry there. In my high school days I became very interested in local architecture, history. I had rather interesting jobs aside from the usual mowing lawns and all that kind of thing. I worked for the theatre as the relief projectionist mainly in the summer full-time but during the school year part-time a couple of days a week. So I was exposed to the movie theaters and that became a lifelong interest actually the theaters themselves. Later on I worked between semesters of college for the local post office. So I managed to get around and meet a lot of people and learn a lot about the community and a lot about the houses and where things were. I graduated from high school in ’57. Went to Iowa State, had family connections there, my grandmother had been a house mother there and both of my parents, my father and his father had attended school there. The family actually lived there at one point. So I felt at home in Ames. I did four years in science thinking of becoming a school teacher but in my last year I discovered museum work and I had done volunteer work with the local museum the Floyd County Historical Society, which is still there, and decided to embark on graduate work at NYU, the Institute of Fine Arts at 1 East 78th Street because they had a museum program. That was interrupted. I attended in fall of ‘61. At that time people got drafted. It was between wars, if I recall, between the Korean War and the beginning of the Vietnam War. So I was essentially drafted and had to dropout of graduate school after one semester and went down to take my pre-induction physical at Whitehall street. If you’ve ever seen the movie Alice’s Restaurant or heard Arlo Guthrie’s song he describes Whitehall Street and the giving of the physicals, well it’s really as bizarre as he showed it in the movie it is for real. So I went back home and worked in the tractor factory to wait it out, I didn’t want to enlist. Finally, I was drafted to be inducted and they decided on the basis of my impacted wisdom teeth and history of hay fever that they didn’t want me. So that was happy news, my military career only lasted a year and a half. I went back to NYU and took another semester. At the end of that semester I was getting a little disenchanted with the place. I was interested in American architecture and art mainly, and museum work, and the American professor was going on sabbatical. At that point in April, I think it was, the CGP program came out and I applied and was accepted. I did have to do an interview. Dr. Louis Jones, no relation to me we determined that (Joneses assume they’re not related when they meet), was going to be in New York at the Century Club which he frequented. He wanted to interview prospective students even though it was kind of last minute that they started the program so that virtually anybody who applied got in. So I went down to the Century Club and was ushered up the grand staircase and he sat there in this great renaissance McKim, Mead, and White room in a huge armchair with the cigar smoke slowly wafted up to the rafters, a very imposing person. We hit it off right away, so I was in. That fall I came to Cooperstown for the first time ever and was impressed by the area, by the program, by the whole thing really. I was also given the AASLH scholarship or fellowship whichever they called it. Which covered virtually all of my expenses. Most of us did have assistance in that early class and it really helped. Although Jane Spellman recently pointed out in something in the newsletter that our total expenses for the year came to something like fifteen hundred dollars including tuition including everything. So that part was quite easy. So that’s how I landed.
RL:

Was there any issue, did you find, in that you were the first class and there was no history to the program?
CRJ:
Well I think it was an interesting group in that very few of us were directly out of college, a four-year program. Most of us had had some experience in the museum field. And that was varied. We had a wide range of ages, we had a wide range of experiences, in the whole that helped. We were constantly told we were the pioneer class, and amongst ourselves we said really we’re the guinea pigs because they weren’t too sure about exactly how they would handle anything and I think we helped them a lot in forming what the program should be because we did as I say have expertise in some areas and quite a bit of experience. It was rather enjoyable because we did participate so much. The first classroom was in the White House, what’s now a conference room. It was quite intimate really. The faculty that had been assembled, well historically everybody knows who they were. Lou Jones did some teaching. Fred Rath did some teaching occasionally. Milo Stewart, I think Wendell [Tripp] did some about publications. And then the regular people: Frank Spinney who had a lot of history in museums and a very kind of laid back, anecdotal way of teaching, we learned a lot from him. Mainer Redfield was the history instructor and he was one of the most popular ones because he came from SUCO, he was full time at SUCO. And he always stopped at Schneider’s and got a bag of jelly donuts, cream filled donuts when he came up, couple days a week I think it was. Bert Fink who taught the research course, extremely capable. Became a very good friend because he and his wife later attended the Presbyterian Church that we attended so we got to know them even more in ensuing years. Bruce Buckley for the folk part of the program. That was good exposure to the idea of the folk culture and you can defend collecting almost anything, information or objects on the basis that it’s popular culture, folk culture and it was good to get that outlook as well. Is that the entire faculty…I think so. The adjuncts, of course, were the NYSHA employees who taught. After I graduated from the program I was in Concord, Mass. for three years at the Concord Antiquarian society and then came back to be associate curator at NYSHA and then I was teaching after that and became an associate professor. Being an associate professor had a few advantages, it kept you on your toes, kept you learning about your own field, meeting new students every year. There were two things you got from SUCO as an adjunct professor. One was to get an invitation to the president’s breakfast every year in the fall. The other was a dunning letter from campus chest and that was about it. I only discovered later that much later that as a faculty member there would be an advantage because you could get a parking sticker for the campus but you had to pay twenty dollars but once you retire it’s free, so now I get a free parking sticker. But we were not on salary, of course. Do you want to go back to the first year?
RL:
Do you recall any specific assignments that had an impact in any way?
CRJ:
I stuck to the history museum part of the program. I didn’t really take any of the folk courses, per se. Many of the students did take folk technology. I know that was another adjunct faculty member, Per Gulbeck. Per was a kind of a down-to- earth folk, if you were. Although he had grown up, I think, in Chicago but he tried to play a very ethnic kind of person. He was the outdoors type. In his folk technology program one of the things he would do, he would talk about tanning leather for example. You would have to do some brain tanning with a deer carcass and that sort of thing. He had one assignment where the students would have to go out on a nearby farm, catch something and cook it and have them serve a full meal using only the kind of campout technology of the day. They got a big kick out of it. It was not really my thing, I was not into the great outdoors and constructing snares and illegal fishing and all that kind of thing, whatever they could dream up. Per, as I say, was kind of a folk person. He always walked around in very causal outdoorsy clothes. He always had a backpack with him and in it was anything. We might go on a field trip to Manhattan and you might need some Pepto-Bismol on the bus on the way down, he had that. You might need a band-aid if you had some injury, he would have that, all the first aid stuff. You might need a hunting knife, he always had a hunting knife with him. He wouldn’t get very far today flying with that. Whatever it was he seemed to have it with him and was quite proud of the fact that he was ready for any eventuality. Other memorable things, well, my interest was in history and architecture, particularly architecture. We did have a couple of research assignments in Frank’s Spinney’s class and I delighted to work on the groundwork I already had in the time I already had to get that kind of thing done. Now in the first however many years it was a one year program. Theoretically you could graduate at the end of that year and several of us did. I think it might have been a majority of us were completely finished with a thesis at the end of that first year. You had to bring some background with you to do that. You couldn’t start out cold with a subject you knew absolutely nothing about and proceed to do that in that time period. We graduated in June. Never has there been such an accomplished class.
RL:
Do you find that the switch from one year to a two-year program is a good thing?

CRJ:
Well I think ultimately it was. So many things had to be added to the curriculum over a period of time it really couldn’t be done in one year. While it increased the cost for people and so on I think then they got a lot more out of it. The complaints always were number one that you had to do a thesis, and sometimes a project was permitted instead. The number of courses of course increased, you could get into them a little more deeply and I think it made for a better program definitely, making it the two years, because you had a little more time to do research to do assignments, to get things finished up properly. The place where a lot of people lagged was in finishing their thesis. Everybody realized once they were out of here it sort of got put on the back burner and people would have four or five more years to finish and a few didn’t or finished just at the deadline. Because once you get out and get a job, which most of us did, not all of us in the museum field, you tend to put that off, you don’t get it done. So I think having people here a little longer got them on a better start to doing all of that getting it done. I think it was worthwhile.

RL:
Did you find that your thesis, going through that, and finishing on time was helpful for you either personally or professionally?

CRJ:
Well it was helpful to knock it off and get the degree and not have to worry about it hanging over my head definitely. What I picked was really more of a historical study of Orson Squire Fowler. He was a nineteenth century phrenologist. He wrote a great deal on a variety of health and reform subjects like water cure and all the rest of it. But my main interest was he was a proponent of the octagonal house. He first started with the board wall, big planks laid on top of one another to build your walls. And then got into the gravel wall which was the forerunner of modern concrete construction. I had known about him, I had a very good friend on Brooklyn Heights even before I went down there to school. Clay Lancaster who was an architectural historian wrote any number of books on Kentucky, his home state, and on other places, Brooklyn Heights he wrote a book on that. He had done a little bit of research on Fowler and I continued to do some and went through all of his writings and all of that kind of thing. And I already had some background knowing who he was so that went much faster than it would have otherwise. Doing it again, well, with today’s research it would be much easier because you can do so much online. You can track relatives, you can do all that kind of thing very quickly. In those early days the Xerox machine wasn’t even around universally. We would go over to the state museum, they had a good collection of stuff, and do our research and you would take notes or pay for thermal copies of things and then work from those. So it was much harder at that time, well I think it was harder…it took a lot more time than now where you just type things in and get your leads very quickly and contact people by email. But it was manageable because I already knew something about it.

RL:
How was the social life of the class?

CRJ:
Well we were I think a pretty gregarious class. In later years sometimes the folk people kept to themselves and the museum people separate. But I think in that first class it was all one big muddle and we were involved in a kind of experiment or a pioneering effort and we did quite a bit together. We did have on the campus one place where we could go to eat our lunch or just sit around and talk or whatever. It was an apartment over a former garage building right next to Fenimore house; this was before the library building was built. There was a little garage there with a tiny apartment above, Ginny Parslow Partridge who was in charge of the textile part of the program at The Farmers’ Museum lived up there and she had a boyfriend Ed Partridge whom she later married. They had been living in the apartment but they had moved and bought a house about the time the program started. So the apartment was turned over to the students to use as a kind of student center if you could call it that, it was tiny. Actually the first dark room was in the garage section because there was an old cast iron sink back there. So they built a counter and built in an enlarger and partitioned to block off the light. That was the dark room where we learned how to do photography. Because I think of Lou Jones’ sense of humor, he knew of an eighteenth-century novel titled “Fanny Hill” which might have even been made into an X rated movie later on, “The Lady of Pleasure” or something like that I think was the subtitle. So we dubbed the place “Fanny Hill,” the place where we could go up and sit down. The pun was very very good for those who knew about the eighteenth century and what that meant.

RL:
Because your class was generally older did you have a different or particular rapport with the professors?

CRJ:
The rapport was they respected us and we respected them. I think we all hit it off. I don’t remember any really outright or strong criticism of the faculty coming from the students and they were careful to respect us and not treat us like children. We weren’t children, several people were married, they had families. Some of us older, some of us younger, it was just a nice mix and everybody got along very very well I think.

RL:
Earlier you had mentioned that you found that your class had an influence on figuring out how the program should develop later on. Is there anything you can speak to about that?

CRJ:
I don’t remember too many specifics but we were constantly asked what should have been included that wasn’t, if we had ideas. We did presentations ourselves and probably in some cases it was in areas that the individual professor either wasn’t familiar with or felt that the additional help was good. I think it was just an overall thing, there wasn’t any tremendous revamping after the first year. But I think they realized a lot more needed to be included. I remember an ongoing thing for probably six or eight years was give us more financial training, more accounting, more of an idea of how all of that happens. Those of use who went out into jobs often had to get involved with that. Very little was done that first year to explain any of that. Now with computers it can be a lot easier but it does become a big consideration. Accreditation hadn’t come along so nothing was done talking about that. When it did come along it got into the program too. Miner Wine Thomas who was another adjunct and later became director of NYSHA and I think one of the best courses they ever came up with was his doing probably about the third year of the program called pre-industrial technology. He had come from The Henry Ford, he knew all about everything. And went to Diderot for most of the illustrations because that was the way it was done in the eighteenth century and is applicable right up until the present day of hand technology, working silver, wood, whatever it might be, iron. He developed a bang up course in that. There are tape recordings of his lectures and the slides are all at CGP too. They have them buried in an archive somewhere. I took that course over after he retired and enjoyed it no end. I learned something every time I gave it. That was something that came along a little later on in answer to a real need capitalizing on the talents they had there on the staff.

RL:
Did you find that having graduated from the program was significantly helpful or because it was new people didn’t really react well.

CRJ:
There were a number of organizations like the one I went to, the Concord Antiquarian Society, looking for professional help. Really it was a pioneering training program. You could get history people and business people and so on but where do you go for a history museum kind of person. A number of people knew from the publicity that this program existed and they contacted them and then the faculty and administration conducted a sort of match up process. It was later criticized because everybody did not know about every job. They tried to say this student probably would work beautifully in this job. So we were directed and I think the organizations were very happy with it. I think it worked very well and it just mushroomed after that. The State Museum and the State of New York, the historic sites people, all of that developed within a couple years of the program. Several people from the program went to state jobs. Now you can argue that working for the state of New York is like riding a roller coaster because they go great guns and then they lay everybody off and so forth. Much of the CGP expertise helped out a great deal over there. A little later on, I think it was about sixty-eight or nine, the third program, the conservation program was formed. That was largely due to Caroline and Sheldon Keck being in Cooperstown. They had been in New York for years. Trained at the Fogg, fantastic conservators, fantastic people, leaders in their field. From year one they gave lectures about conservation. So we were exposed to that. Then they started their own program here in Cooperstown. While that was always a kind of separate thing, that was very good interaction too because that exposed people to that aspect of museum work. To collect, exhibit, and preserve, and to research of course. The preservation was always very important at that time. The publicity was extremely good and it was embraced as the source for jobs in the expanding field and getting professional people into historical societies, especially little local groups.

RL:
Did everyone in the class stay connected after graduating?

CRJ:
That first class we stayed fairly connected. Over the years, and it’s been how many years now? We graduated in ’65, forty-six years something like that. Some are dead of course. Not everybody’s alive. There’s one we’ve totally lost track of. We had a fellow from Turkey who joined the group and I don’t think anybody’s heard from him lately. Most of the others we’ve kept track of. We haven’t had any big parties or anything. Once in awhile a reunion and they’ll be four or five of us mainly from the area. I don’t know that anybody went away mad, some people just disappeared. They went to other fields, teaching and that sort of thing. You finally do lose track after so long but for the first few years we kept close track of one another.
[END OF TRACK 1 30:00]
[START OF TRACK 2 0:00]
We should count how many are dead but I’m not going to.
RL:

After graduating you went to Concord. How did you end up back at NYSHA?
CRJ:
Well I’d been in Concord for three years, ‘65-‘68. I found that community fantastic, the museum was incredible. It was a nineteen-thirties building, somewhat fireproof. Russell Catel had collected period rooms and the furnishings were all there as a result of a local eccentric named Cummings Davis. From the 17th century on furnished or decorative arts everything, it was all locally owned. It was a fantastic museum to be involved with and they had lacked a professional person before I arrived. So I was able to do a little bit with that. I was matched up with that job. They had a board member, president at the time who was very savvy with what was going on in the world and she had contacted the program. Somehow between Frank Spinney, who was a New Englander, and Lou Jones and the others who knew me, they decided I would be a good match. So I went out for an interview and was very much taken with the job and the position. I could kind of create the job, it wasn’t all spelled out. The people were wonderful and I guess I had the right sense of humor to fit in. Once you’re in a local museum like that, that has a lot of support, you have an in with everybody in the community. Everybody from Mike Flood who did the cleaning, I struck it off with him very well. To Mary Anne Miller who had been doing work with the textile collection and head of the guides. All of the guides were great people. And then all of the supporting families, the board members, and the descendents of the first families of Concord who were still there like Gladys Hoziburg and so on. In that community either your ancestors were at North Bridge in 1775 or they weren’t. If they weren’t you’re kind of a new comer. Everything clicked, that worked out beautifully. There was a position that opened up. They contacted me about two years after I went to Concord. Olana was acquired by the State of New York and they were looking for a director of that house museum. I was contacted by Lou Jones and the others explaining that that job was open, would I be interested? At the time I was deeply involved in stuff at Concord and decided that no this was not the time to get involved in some new deal over there. Olana was a bit of a mess at the time because stuff had been hauled out to be auctioned off and came back. The whole thing was very muddled. I remember Lou Jones explaining the job and I said no I didn’t think I would be interested. But he said “Yes, but, now that you’re a New Englander I realize how you feel about coming so far west but you know, you won’t even have to cross the Hudson it’s on the east side.” Even so, I didn’t accept that. [Brief conversation with wife] In May of ’68, it was the day that a bad tornado went through my hometown in Iowa, wiped out the whole middle of the town. I heard about on the radio coming back from an interview here in Cooperstown. They had decided they needed a curator of Fenimore house and the NYSHA collection in general. The position was called associate curator. So they called me over to interview and they said we know you and think you would be a good person for this. I came over and looked at it and decided that that offered a lot of real opportunities for me to move up if you will and be able to teach and do other things. So I decided that that was the way to go. I told them in Concord and shortly after the board that I would be leaving, they said, “Well is it money can we offer you more money?” and I said, “Well, no not really. It will be more money but it’s just what I need to do at this point.” So then they got somebody else to take my position.

RL:
Did that job lead you back to going to the conservation program?
CRJ:
I came back in ’68. We were doing all kinds of exhibits and so on. Lou Jones was there, of course. He retired, I believe, in ’72 to tour and collect information about folk art all over the country. His successor was Peter Welsh. It was a difficult period of time. Peter Welsh came from the Smithsonian and as director he had done mainly research and encouraged that. Really encouraged us to do more research and study of the collection and study of history, which was very good. But as an administrator he had kind of the Washington bureaucratic outlook. He considered himself in-charge and started to behave in certain ways. It became apparent that he wanted his own people. He didn’t want inherited staff. Several people were backed into corners and resigned or left under various circumstances. When it came to me I was very good friends with the Kecks. Serving as associate curator but I think he was unhappy because I had been there so long. So he worked out a deal with Mrs. Keck that I would go down and take the conservation program, which was two years plus an internship. I would be kept on salary but I would be a student full time. I would not be called upon to come back and do any work at the museum while that was going on, but then I would do my internship there under Mrs. Keck. It was a good arrangement in many ways. I could kind of see the handwriting on the wall. I wanted to do it and Mrs. Keck was happy with it. But it also meant that if I didn’t do that, I might as well start looking because obviously he didn’t want me anymore as curator. So I was sent down there in ’74. It was almost ten years exactly from the beginning of my history museum work I started the conservation program.
Things were not going well at NYSHA; I tried to stay out of it. I tried not to get involved. I was supposed to give monthly reports to Welsh about what was going on. He did not get along with Mrs. Keck very well. It became apparent that what he wanted was for me to be a bit of a spy, if you will, and make sure that he knew everything that was going on in the conservation program. I was really careful in my reports to only report on what I was taking and what I was learning down there about conservation. I stayed out of all the rest of it. In December ’74 Welsh resigned under some pressure. It turned out the chairman of the board, Henry Allen Moe, really a wonderful character. Books should be written about Henry Moe and his wife Edith. It had degenerated to the point where pressure was put on him and he resigned. So he left and Miner Wine Thomas took over, reluctantly. He didn’t want to be director but he had to. He cleared it with Henry Moe that I would continue in the conservation program, which I did. That went on until ’76 and then I came back as conservator. So that is how all that happened, it was kind of serendipity in a way. Difficult at the time but it started me in another direction that I liked very much and helped the organization a lot. So nothing is simple. Wasn’t my decision really, completely.
RL:
But you’re happy with it?
CRJ:
Oh yeah. Never regretted it. I guess I’m not a person who tends to be motivated in the direction of upward mobility. I like to find something I enjoy doing and do it as well as I can. Particularly coming from a small town originally, I’ve seen the world I’ve done other things but I like the small town approach and knowing people and being able to get involved. At one point I was involved in something like six boards of local and even one national organization. From the Association for Gravestone Studies, which is a big interest of mine still, locally it was the Presbyterian Church, Hyde Hall, I was an advisor to the Cooperstown Planning Board for a long time, the Cooperstown Art Association Board. The Cook Foundation was formed in ‘85 to preserve Brookwood. Is that six? Well anyway there were six boards at one point. Sue felt I was spending more time doing board meetings than I was doing anything else but it was worthwhile. Now I’m trying to get out of as much of that as possible. Meetings are not my thing anymore.
RL:
Did the switch of people in charge of the program solve the issues or have new ones continued?
CRJ:
We did have a short string of directors of the CGP. [Jones shows illustration of a chair that contains the names of NYSHA staff] Rather than saying it solved problems, I would say it evolved with the times. That worked out well. We had a series of directors, I think I counted at one point. I served under seven directors or presidents, they changed the title at one point not too long ago, of the organization. With an organization like this where you have a very charismatic…he wasn’t the founding director of it, Lou Jones, but certainly did a great deal for NYSHA and The Farmers’ Museum. Great programs like seminars, which now unfortunately no longer exist. Nationally known things. Fantastic people coming every year, all of that. When you are following that act, just very very difficult. There have been difficulties and as the world of museums has evolved we had quite a boom of private giving for a while and other funding sources, granting and all of that. Now it’s very difficult. Things change and it’s harder and harder to be the head of anything like that and keep the balance and keep it moving and keep people happy. You’ve got both the locals and the overall board and supporters of the museum. You have to try to keep everybody happy and your staff. And you’re not going to be able to keep everybody happy all the time. Every change we’ve had I think has solved some problems but also maybe created some.

RL:

Do you think it still has the qualities that brought you to it initially, the positive ones?

CRJ:
Yeah, it has the positive qualities. There are a lot of other things going on with museums that frankly I was never much into. Endless meetings to develop a mission statement, that’s not my thing. Some of the administrative stuff is not really my thing. The budget process every year within the organization even a corporation, it becomes a scramble for different departments or different individuals to try to get the most the can out of the place. Fundraising is not my thing. I like to think that if you have a good cause the funds will come. But it doesn’t work that way. You’ve got to go out and beat the bushes and tell people about what you’re doing. But that’s not what I really wanted to be doing. There are certain parts of it that now are much more complex than it was forty years ago. Change is inevitable. I don’t think you can say things were good then and they’re bad now because when you look at history things change but you can’t necessarily say when was it good, when did it become bad, are we headed to hell in a hand basket. We may end up there but…it’s just change, the reality of it. If I were, say, graduating from high school now and thinking about a profession knowing that the museum field is not going to be very lucrative for anybody I don’t know if I’d pick it or not. I’m not sure. I’d probably end up going into computer science or something like that and that may all crash in ten years, who knows? We don’t know what’s going to happen.
So Louis Jones, Peter Welsh, Miner Wine Thomas, and Dan Porter, who had been head of the graduate program, took over at NYSHA as director in 1982. Let’s see was it Bill Tramposch who followed Porter? Gib Vincent got in there somewhere. We had an interim for a while. She had been at the opera and came in and tried to get the finances straightened out. Now it’s Paul and it was Steve Elliot. Because I served under seven of them.

RL:

Did you have a particularly good relationship with any of those later ones?

CRJ:

I think the best relationship was with Miner Wine. We were both interested in objects and technology, how things were produced. We had a particularly close relationship. He had the good ability to talk to people, both people he was working with and anybody else who was interested and really tell them what was going on. There were no administrative secrets with him. If there was a secret that needed to be kept he could keep it, but he was very open as to what the problems were and talked to people about how to solve them. We never lacked for something to tell. His stories were fantastic starting with his boyhood. He grew up in Williamsburg, Virginia so he knew museums and was the archaeologist there for quite a while. He had fantastic stories. I won’t say he was a hellion but he was active as a child, teenager, and young man. He was interested in chemistry. He and a couple of other students at one point decided to make nitroglycerin and they did in the high school chemistry lab. It got out of hand and they fled and it blew one wall out of the building. His parents were very unhappy about that and so were the school authorities. He often told about that. Later he was in charge of the archaeology and had stories about the different buildings and things that went on. Fantastic stories; however, he was a firm believer in don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story. I learned a lot of his stories and I learned how to listen to other people’s stories. I try to keep some of the folk culture going on. He learned a lot about Cooperstown, Bob Cook also was a good storyteller and a lot of that can be carried on. One of the ways that I’ve done that, I’m interested in Lakewood cemetery and hopefully we can get a group going to help support it. It’s in bad shape financially. We’ve given some tours up there. When you’re in a cemetery I’m mostly interested in the stones, the carving and all of that. When there are good stories you can tell about people that’s a good place to do it. It puts some personality on it. I try to do that, without being too insulting to anybody if they have descendents around.

RL:

Do you think that the fact that the folk life program is no longer a part of Cooperstown is a loss?

CRJ:

There was at one point controversy over it and the administration involved. I think the problem was they were trying to do two rather different things so at that point they couldn’t do either one of them well. They needed to concentrate. A lot of the adjuncts cane to this conclusion, most of the faculty did, that we should concentrate on the museum program and let other places do the folk. The folk was sort of transferred down to SUCO for a short time then went out of existence as a separate program. There were other places like Indiana and Pennsylvania and so forth where that was a bigger ongoing thing. We just weren’t equipped here to do it very well. I think that was the biggest problem. I think it was a wise decision to eliminate that.

RL:

Did your personal collecting come out of your work?

CRJ:

I’ve done very little collecting as such since Sue and I were married in 1969. I bought this house slightly before that. The collecting I started as a high school person. I was getting salvage out of old buildings. When they were tearing down houses in those days you could have anything you could rescue, for free. So I started with that, things like stained glass windows. I got a broken one, and figured out how they were made, ordered materials and started making windows in the basement. Mine was not your average childhood. Growing up, I mean how many people make stained glass windows in the basement? I probably poisoned myself with the lead, I don’t know. I went on to get interested in anything to do with theaters. Usually my interests would go toward what other people weren’t really interested in. I got interested in the funerary art through the Concord collection and the collection here. I collected mourning pictures, usually just the printed ones. I couldn’t afford the really good ones. Anything having to do with gravestones. I have a salesman sample for white bronze monuments. It was kind of hit or miss but furniture, a few old pieces Sue and I collected and just things to live with. But frankly, we’ve got more than a houseful now so we don’t go out actively collecting anymore. All the time I was an associate curator you have to be careful not to collect in the area your institution is collecting in. So I would pick up weird stuff, odds and ends of local buildings and oddball stuff. Strange prints and so forth that I knew they were not interested in. Haunting the antique shops and so on pretty much ended when the kids came along. Our time was otherwise occupied. Once and a while now we’ll stumble on something that we really think we have to have. We’ve been thinking of getting rid of some of the stuff. It’s just too much now. The kids are not terribly interested in the stuff. We have stuff stored at our house at 17 Eagle Street. I had one of the kids in there, I guess it was Graham, to help me move something. Handling a coffin and an undertaker’s sign and some other things, and he said “Hope you don’t think that when something happens to you we kids are going to be interested in this stuff. We’re just going to get a dump truck and throw it out the window and have it all hauled away to the dump.” And my response to that was “Graham, what makes you think you’re going to be in our will.” My daughter, when I told her what he had said, she said “Don’t worry Dad, I won’t let it go to the dump. I’ll sell it! Try to get some money for it.” So that’s the stage of their interest. I think it’s time to start getting rid of some stuff. There’s a fair amount of local stuff and I try to get that where it should be.
RL:
Did you meet your wife through the program?

CRJ:
Indirectly, yes. I came back in ’68. She had just graduated. She was working at the Oneida Historical [Society] up in Utica. One of her classmates was Ruby Rogers who was then working with Flip Ward who was then the registrar at the museum. Ruby introduced us and it took off from there. That was the fall of ’68 and we were married in the Fall of ’69. We were close enough that we could commute and get to know one another. Her family are from North Adams, Mass. That’s not too far over the hill. She was born a New Englander, I was only an adopted New Englander having come from Iowa.

RL:

You ended up working together?

CRJ:

We do conservation together. But never for the same institution. She never worked for NYSHA. She only kept that job for about a year after we were married. The commute to Utica was pretty harrowing in the winter. We worked on the house here. She likes to recollect that she had virtually no say in whether to buy the house or not.
[END OF TRACK 2 30:00]
[START OF TRACK 3 0:00]

She came over weekends before we were married and we were tearing down the ceilings and tearing out plaster, trying to make the place livable. At one point there wasn’t an operating bathroom because we had torn out what was here to redo it. She worked very hard with that and married me in spite of it, I think. The first year back I lived in the White House, the Butterfield house in Hartwick. I was renting that from Roger and Margaret Butterfield. That is a very historic old house around here. I enjoyed that, it was a good setting.

RL:
How did you find teaching when you were an adjunct?

CRJ:
I started doing something about exhibits. I had a lot of experience in Concord with small exhibits and period rooms. So I was assigned the job of teaching about exhibit work: evaluation, how to plan things, borrowing. Collections care became an area where I taught because I had some knowledge there after I was a conservator. It was mainly a technology course after Miner Wine left. That evolved into Conservation for Curators and the Collection Care component I continued to teach for Doug [Kendall] individual courses and different materials. It evolved and I like to think that it was never exactly the same twice. I didn’t go in with a set [plan], well I didn’t even have PowerPoint. We tried to usually talk from the slides and to have handouts. It was better to have handouts with the pertinent information than have everybody scrambling trying to write everything down. I enjoyed it. It made you think about what you were doing and think about your subject. Try to make it better every time. Showing people objects was important to me, how to look at things.

RL:

You enjoyed all the classes that you were involved in?

CRJ:

Yes, except for the fact that they were three hours long. I seldom took the whole three hours. It can be absolutely physically exhausting to talk that long. Even an hour and a half got to be too much. Of course with the myasthenia I would give a totally unintelligible lecture at this point because as I talk it gets worse and worse. Then it was exhausting to give a class. I put myself into it too much perhaps. I should have just recorded everything and let it go at that but I didn’t. I hope it was helpful to people.
RL:

How did you find retirement? Was that something you wanted to do or something you had to do?

CRJ:

I decided it was time to retire for reasons I won’t go into. I was over the retirement age and already started my social security because nowadays financially it’s to your advantage to start the Social Security a little bit early. You’ll never recover that money if you don’t take it then. By the time you’re ready to retire there may not be Social Security so I’m spending it now. Looking toward retirement I talked to a number of people who had retired. The idea that you’re going to retire and travel more, yes we did, although that’s getting so expensive now not as much as we’d like to. Your time is more unstructured but the number of things that need doing, I used to joke about that I hadn’t had a chance to sit and rock. For a while it was because that rocking chair over there, the only rocking chair we owned was broken but even after we got it fixed I never had time to sit and rock. I was involved in all these other organizations and just your personal life somehow occupies you. I have in terms of my own stuff almost everything is broken or dirty or needs conservation work. I have yet to frame up and fix most of the stuff that I saved to do that with. I don’t know if I’ll ever get it done, probably won’t. It’s been busier in retirement really in many ways. Better to wear out than rust out is a term that some people use toward retirement. That’s a better way to go. I believe that to a degree but sometimes it would be nice to be able to just sit and read something or enjoy the scenery. It’s up to the character of the person and circumstances. I don’t regret it, yet everyday I have this feeling of slight anxiety because there are certain things that need doing, should be done, some things that I put off too long. Will I ever get it all done? Well, I’m not sure.
We had a neighbor up the road here who had a great goal. After his wife died he threw himself into writing a book, a history of Poland. He finished it and he didn’t have anything else really to do. One day he went up in the back field and shot himself. I don’t plan on doing that and I don’t plan on running out of things to do.

RL:

Speaking of that, you wrote a number of books, would you ever consider writing another? Or do you have any more ideas for things that need to be written?

CRJ:
Not really, maybe some small things. I’d like to assemble a book or booklet, probably some of it on Lakewood cemetery. They need it and there are a lot of really wonderful stories up there. Most of the stuff I have in mind is quite small at this point. I find writing, I wouldn’t say it’s terribly difficult its just very time consuming for me. I can’t just sit down and whack it out. I have to agonize over it. In the conservation field I don’t feel that I have really blazed any particular trails or come up with any tremendous innovations. I just kind of did conservation and relied on the research of others. So that’s not necessarily the direction I would head at all.

RL:
We talked about how the institution changed over time. Do you think there was a change in students over time?

CRJ:

I think there was. I haven’t been involved in admissions for quite a few years but there was a change. We got more and more students who were more focused, who had museum experience, knew more about what they wanted to do and where they wanted to go. I think in the early years it was kind just a “hey this interesting let’s try this” sort of approach. Now, as you know, you start out in high school by the time you’re a junior you’ve got to know exactly which college you want to apply to and what you want to take. It’s crazy. You have to decide so early and then focus in on it and work on it and work on the financials for it. It has to be a little more organized. I rather enjoyed things just sort of happening, the serendipity and how things played out. My undergraduate degree was in botany and yet I already knew I wanted to get into the museum field. It was too late to change to anything else and Iowa State didn’t have what I wanted. I just had to do it and it all worked out.
RL:

Do you think there was a distinct advantage to having an older class with more experience compared to younger classes later or that’s just part of the changes that happen?
CRJ:

I don’t know that it was an advantage; it’s just what happened. It think it was almost crucial in that first year to have people with quite a bit of museum experience to share because we did a lot of sharing. It probably is a little more compartmentalized now. Certain courses you have to take, some in a sequence and all that. But that’s just the nature of the way things are now and the maturity of the program. I think that’s an advantage and it still changes a little bit every year. The curriculum and the courses used to get mixed up. Every so often something would be dropped or incorporated into something else. When we would have the CGP faculty meetings I used to call it curriculum by mix master. Every year there would be changes and you have to try to figure out what was going to be taught where. I think being able to react to necessary changes is important now. Having more people who are fresh out of a four-year degree is probably helpful with larger classes in getting everybody through. They have similar backgrounds maybe with slightly different subject matter but similar background and bents and way of approaching graduate work. It probably makes the program more functional, more possible, and more successful. I don’t know much about educational theory.

RL:

Do you have any hopes about how NYSHA or CGP should progress in the future?

CRJ:
Oh of course I have ideas about what it should be and what it isn’t. Directions it should be going and isn’t. Not the program so much because that’s more of an academic and educational issue. But I think NYSHA has fallen down in many ways to providing what people want for various reasons. Some of them financial, some of them administrative. I was not the one in charge and there isn’t any real way that I can do much about that. We still get people who do criticize the place, having known that I worked there. A few casual friends still are very nebulous about what my position was. They think I was the director, at one time there were even people who thought that I was Lou Jones now retired. He was so much older and I never had a beard. It’s the way things go. I’m not out to reform anything. But if I do get suggestions from people and I think I can pass it along, I do.

RL:

Is there a particular thing that NYSHA’s done while you were there that you’re most proud of or think was most important?

CRJ:
Having been the conservator, taking conservation as an important part of CGP and the museum and bringing it up within the museum as a department and so on at a practical level. In other words, we didn’t try to be a regional conservation lab, although we started doing outside work for people. We didn’t try to have the ultimate research lab like some of the big institutions have, and most of them are cutting back now because of budgetary problems. We tried to make things practical for individuals for local historical societies and advise them or go survey their collections. I think that did the most good at the time for a lot of people.
RL:

Is there something we haven’t hit on that you would like to discuss?

CRJ:

Probably not. I have all sorts of juicy stories I could tell about individuals and files of comings and goings.

RL:

Any favorite stories?


CRJ:

But no I don’t think that we should get into that necessarily. That can be Wendell [Tripp] who will write that history.

RL:

If there’s nothing else, thank you very much.
[END OF TRACK 3 17:36]

Duration

30:00- Part 1
30:00 Part 2
17:36- Part 3

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbps

Files

Citation

Ryan Leichenauer, “C.R. Jones, November 30, 2011,” CGP Community Stories, accessed December 16, 2017, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/116.