By DON CAVNESS
Los Alamos Historical Society Curator
All museums have a characteristic and somewhat capricious weakness when it comes to managing their collections. We all have orphan artifacts that have absolutely no paper trail. In many cases, institutional memories that at one time would have provided important clues to ownership and use have long since vanished.
These orphan artifacts, old loans, and abandoned property without clear ownership and documentation are designated as “Found in Collections” or FIC. This situation is troubling for us on many levels. The Historical Society must provide housing and care for artifacts for which we cannot document our ownership. We are unable to interpret artifacts without provenance.
There may be time-consuming and expensive legal issues that arise over questions of ownership, possibly involving the New Mexico Cultural Properties Act, Uniform Unclaimed Property Act, Archaeological Resources Protection Act, or Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
In addition, there is the question of whether an orphan artifact is relevant to our museum’s mission. Here at the Society, we work diligently within museum best practices to be certain that we have proper documentation for all our artifacts.
However, we have a few mysterious strays. Can you help us identify our “Mysteries of the Vault”?
Our first mysterious orphan is an ornately carved door that is often referred to as the Norris Bradbury door because we believe he was the carver. I was surprised to discover that we have no record of, nor provenance for, this handsome door. I queried all associates with our museum who might recall the door and corresponded with Norris Bradbury’s sons, but there were no definite answers.
However, my questions produced some leads for further research. Jim Bradbury believes the door was carved for Louis and Mary Rosen, longtime family friends.
One of our donors vaguely remembers the door having been with a companion door at Trinity on the Hill Episcopal Church, where Norris Bradbury was an active member. Another person thought the door might have been at the United Church, and yet another offered Bethlehem Lutheran Church as a potential site.
Our second “mysterious orphan” is a pair of leather chaps accompanied by a box of horse tack: a bridle with an ornate bit, hackamore, horse shoes, English riding stirrups, riding gloves, and assorted grooming equipment.
These are high quality items obviously used by a serious horse enthusiast. There is also a much-used Coke bottle that I suspect may have served in bottle-feeding a colt.
Do you have any information about these interesting yet mysterious artifacts? If so, please contact Don Cavness by e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.
These articles are written by the Los Alamos Historical Society Staff. Many of these articles were originally published by the