HAGERSTOWN — Wendi Perry is new to Hagerstown, but she is learning much about its history as curator/collections manager for the Doleman Black Heritage Museum.
The museum contains the lifelong collection of Marguerite Doleman, who died in 2000.
“What Miss Doleman was doing was unintentional museum director. She was trying to preserve her culture, her history. Once people knew, they started giving her things,” Perry said.
Perry, 43, commutes from District Heights, Md., about two weeks each month and hopes to get the community involved. The rest of the time she works from her home.
Perry began work on the 4,500-piece collection in November.
Her work is paid for by a grant from the Institute of Museums and Library Services, sponsored by U.S. Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Benjamin Cardin, and U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, and administered by the City of Hagerstown.
Perry, who grew up mostly in New York state, earned her bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York at Albany and a master’s of public administration — museum studies/nonprofit management from Southern Illinois University.
She worked as museum director of the Banneker-Douglass Museum in Annapolis for 10 years, then as senior curator/collections manager before her work with the Doleman collection.
The Doleman Black Heritage Museum collection is housed at the Locust Street home of the late Charles A. and Marguerite Doleman. Their son, Sonny Doleman, and his family have been patient as Perry works on the collection, which fills the basement and has overtaken most of the first floor, leaving the second floor as living space for the family.
The museum board is looking for a permanent site close to the family home, Perry said.
She said the Locust Street home has some historic significance, with the dining room decorated in the original wallpaper, which shows scenes from a southern plantation, complete with slaves picking cotton and working other jobs.
The Doleman collection includes items such as newspapers, hair-care products, baby shoes, sports memorabilia, clothing, political buttons, books and musical instruments.
“She was sharp. She knew what she was doing,” Perry said of Marguerite Doleman.
The work has been completed in phases, with a previous employee doing the bulk of identification and tagging. Perry has been photographing the individual items, prioritizing what can be used in specific exhibits and thinking about the scripts that would go with each.
She has been computerizing the inventory list, then preparing each item for museum-quality storage.
“I’m trying to find the voice that we want for this collection,” Perry said.
Initially, the Doleman family wanted to donate the collection to a museum. Perry said that wasn’t possible because no museum would be willing to take such a large collection in its entirety.
Not wanting to divide up the historical items, the family decided to keep the collection and find a way to preserve it locally.
“Local politicians rallied to keep the collection here,” Perry said.
Perry said her role as curator is conservation and preservation of the collection, which includes a large number of textiles, dresses and clothing. She is sending pieces to a conservator to help stabilize and preserve them.
She will develop traveling exhibits and arrange for local exhibitions.
“It’s an incredible collection. As far as documenting art, everyday life, unusual and precious memories of a whole culture of African-American history, she covered it,” Perry said.
Black History Month celebration
Friends of the Doleman Black Heritage Museum are holding the second annual celebration of Black History Month at The Maryland Theatre on Saturday, Feb. 26, at 4 p.m. Tickets cost $13 and are available at the Maryland Theatre box office.