W.Va. firm building its place in museum history

December 02, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Sanders Museum Services is on a gravel road outside Shepherdstown in a quiet, out-of-the way spot, and that's how Bradley Sanders likes it.

Operated out of a two-story frame house, the scene is in contrast to the high-profile work in which the company has been involved through the years.

Started in 1981, the firm specializes in the assembly of museums and through the years has worked on dozens of projects, including the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame, the Oregon History Museum and the International Spy Museum in Washington.


The latest feather in the firm's cap was helping to display artifacts in the William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Ark.

The center opened Nov. 18 during a gala that included appearances by Clinton, President Bush and former Presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush.

Sanders Museum Services was selected to help display about 650 artifacts relating to Clinton.

About a dozen workers from the firm traveled to Little Rock in late September and stayed there about eight weeks to help set up the museum, said Sanders and his daughter, Tara Sanders Lowe, who is president of the firm.

Sanders Museum Services workers were responsible for mounting the artifacts at the center. The items ran the gamut, from Clinton's baby bracelet to an estimated 250 to 300 documents such as letters from movie stars and papers related to environmental policies and laws, Sanders Lowe said.

Sanders Museum Services workers had to use a variety of materials to display the artifacts, Sanders Lowe said. To display a heavy mosaic from a church, workers had to craft a steel mount for it, Sanders Lowe said.

Another item belonging to the Clintons was a glass Christmas ornament emblazoned with an image of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. The ornament was fragile because it had a crack in it, and the team from Sanders Museum Services crafted a brass mount to cradle the artifact, Sanders Lowe said.

The local team of exhibit experts crafted mounts for five saxophones belonging to Clinton and created a mount for Hillary Clinton's 1997 inaugural ball gown and cape.

The workers used a special material to make the shape of a human figure and fitted the gown over the object after adding padding to it, Sanders Lowe said.

All the artifacts were placed in display cases and construction of those is a science in itself, Bradley Sanders said. Display cases to exhibit such items have to be specially crafted, Bradley Sanders said. For example, polyurethane cannot be used in the construction of the cases, Bradley Sanders said.

If silver is put in a display case that has polyurethane, it will turn black, said Bradley Sanders, explaining that the cases have to be "pristine chemically."

Bill and Hillary Clinton and their daughter, Chelsea, visited the museum periodically while it was being assembled, and they took time to talk with Sanders, his daughter and other members of the Sanders Museum Services team.

"They were lovely people," Bradley Sanders said.

Sanders Lowe said the firm's recent experiences have been ones for the memory books.

"We've been on a little bit of a roller coaster," Sanders Lowe said.

Members of the local firm worked with other professionals, such as conservators, exhibit contractors and curators to assemble the center, Sanders Lowe and her father said. The presidential center included space where experts working on the exhibit could set up a shop to do some of the work, Sanders Lowe and her father said.

Sanders Museum Services is along Big Oak Drive, which turns off Flowing Springs Road south of Shepherdstown. Although the firm has shops in barns on the property where some of the company's work is done, much of the tasks are completed at the sites where the firm works, Sanders Lowe said.

Sanders Museum Services has been at its current location since 1986. Bradley Sanders and his wife, Carol, initially operated the business in Washington, but moved it to Jefferson County because business space was getting too expensive in Washington, Bradley Sanders said.

Sanders, who is a metalsmith and founder, has a wealth of experiences in the business over the years. He once was in charge of mounting the third page of the U.S. Constitution for an exhibit on conservation technology and once handled an elk-skin journal that belonged to American explorer William Clark.

The unexpected is what keeps Sanders excited about his work.

"That's the fun of it because it's consistently changing," Sanders said.

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