An interview with müllrose museum of local history
In a long-term project funded by the Lost Art Foundation, Müllrose museum of local history has examined its holdings for Nazi-confiscated property. It has communicated the findings of the project very clearly to both the general public and an expert audience through presentations, media reports and guided tours, thus providing a comprehensive insight into the research work. The museum also plans to include the subject of provenance research in an exhibition scheduled for the future. This exemplary research project prompted the Foundation to talk to the museum about its work in greater detail.
1. Why did you decide to carry out provenance research?
The initial check conducted by the Museumsverband des Landes Brandenburg provided the impetus for the project. In a pilot project in 2012, a provenance researcher examined our holdings for possible indications of Nazi-confiscated property. Without this support in terms of personnel and, above all, expertise, we would not have been able to carry out this kind of research as a small museum. Because a connection to objects from Wilhelm Friedrich Graf zu Lynar was established relatively quickly, it was evident there was a need for clarification that we needed to pursue. Lynar participated in the assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler on July 20, 1944. His property was expropriated by the National Socialists and he was executed.
2. Were there any suprises in the coourse of the project or did anything strike you in particular?
An undoubted characteristic of small museums like ours is that there are few sources and you need to go and look in order to reconstruct the receipt of objects, especially from the early days of the museum. Surprising, and particularly accidental, was the discovery of key sources, such as nondescript copies of correspondence, that were tracked down in various archives.
3. What advice or guidance can you give to institutions that have little experience with provenance research to date?
Provenance research is worth doing because it helps to shed light on the history of objects and the fate of their original owners, and ensures their stories are retold. This is especially relevant for small museums if very little information about objects has been passed on. It is also important to think carefully beforehand about how the findings will be made available and clearly communicated for work in the future. Valuable information, such as traced sources or new information on objects, can be included in existing databases, for example, or something fundamentally new can be created.
4. What particular challenges have you had to cope with during the project and when undertaking provenance research?
The availability of sources was a major challenge. The first move was to explore sources in the institution’s own archive, including inventories, stock lists and other types of documents, and to trace correspondence. That enabled us to get to grips with the system, which could sometimes be unclear, so we could then take a targeted approach towards searching for further archive sources.
5. What documents, archive records and inventories were particularly helpful?
In our investigations on the reconstruction of the museum’s acquisitions between 1933 and 1945, the entries made in a pocket diary by collection founder Hermann Trebbin and contemporary articles in the Müllroser Anzeiger newspaper were especially helpful to us. As no inventories were kept in those days, we compared notes about donated objects and names of the original owners from the pocket diary with the newspaper articles and found some things out that way. A photograph taken in 1934 also provided a clear overview of the collection holdings.