Making the Perkins House come to life

Brittany W.
Brittany W. Verge
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Hats and coats hanging in the hall, baking started on the kitchen table, letters littering the desk, a child’s toy sits on a bed.  These are the trappings of a home lived in and now they are a part of the Perkins House.

It’s all a part of an interpretive renewal plan says Linda Rafuse, manager of the Queens County Museum and Perkins House.

“What it really means is that for a few of the sites that are static like the heritage homes that are just there.  If we can plan and research interpretive renewal and put some life into those sites that are static then we’re doing the best thing we can for the site,” says Rafuse.

The Perkins House has remained mostly unchanged in its set up since becoming a museum in the 1950s.  The holographic “ghosts” installed a few years ago were one of the first changes to how the house was interpreted. 

The goal now, of Rafuse and museum staff is to give the house a more lived in feel and give a truer representation of life in the 1700s.

To make the house look lived in however, the museum needed artifacts and replicas.  As luck would have it, Gail Hamlin, local seamstress and re-enactor, had just acquired many of the costumes that were made for the CBC miniseries “The Book of Negroes.”

“That couldn’t have happened at a more perfect time,” says Rafuse.

Although many of the costumes were machine sewn, they would do the trick.  Hamlin gave enough of the costumes to the Perkins House to fill closets, hang on racks, and place on beds. 

Atlantic Superstore gave the museum realistic looking fake plums.  Simeon Perkins had many fruit trees and staff at the museum wanted to represent that in the house.  They also have preserved bread, baking supplies, and a desk full of letters and period books. 

“When you walk in, there’s a family that’s living there, a husband, a wife, children, servants and so each room is having things added to it that shows day to day family life,” says Rafuse.

Hamlin also gave the museum more clothing to help the interpreters enhance their costumes.  All of the interpreters wear 1780s costuming.  

Rafuse says the plan is ongoing and staff have many more ideas they’d like to bring up to the Nova Scotia Museum.  One idea is to have camp fire cooking like what local re-enactors do at encampments and learning to make a few basic 1700s recipes.

“That’s something that may come with time because it will take a lot more research,” says Rafuse.

Another idea is to have a garden growing some of the vegetables, herbs, and fruit that Perkins grew himself.  His diary contains very detailed descriptions on what he grew and how much of it was grown.

For now the new interpreters are learning to spin by being sent down to the Barrington Woolen Mill.  They are also researching authentic needlework and have acquired a table loom.  If they can learn period patterns for it, they’ll use that as well.

The museum will continue to use the ghosts as a tool for interpretation but having a house that looks lived in offers the interpreters a new way of looking at the history.

Organizations: Perkins House, Queens County Museum, CBC Nova Scotia Museum

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