The Friday Five: Chris Bensch

Chris Bensch is Chief Curator at The Strong in Rochester, New York. In this interview, he provides insight into the acquisition, conservation, and archival process, as well as sharing his advice for storing collectibles at home.

How does The Strong acquire new items for its collection?

It’s a mix of gifts to the Museum and purchased objects. We’ve acquired 8,000 new items this year so far, and we once took possession of a private collection of over 35,000 items. We’re always looking for opportunities to add to our collections. I love the personal stories that come with the objects. We often ask donors to complete a brief history of the piece as it applied to their lives and how play occurred with the piece. It’s one of the most interesting parts about acquiring new objects.

The Friday Five

How are items owned by the Museum but not on display archived and stored?

Objects are on display for a only short duration of their lifespan. We currently have 6,000 items on display of the 300,000 three-dimensional objects in our collections, so proper storage is important.

Our Director of Conservation oversees the storage environment to ensure that humidity and temperatures are kept low. For the items that are prone to fading, light exposure is limited. The Museum’s expansion in 2006 provided us with the opportunity to relocate our entire archives to the Museum. The climate controls were also upgraded at that time. Previously, it was like an attic – out of sight, out of mind. Having our entire collection under one roof now means we can exert greater control over stored items to ensure they are always kept in optimal conditions.

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How are pieces in need of restoration handled?

Our curators catalog items as they come into our possession. We record basic details, such as the name of the manufacturer, size, and condition. We take digital images and write a significance statement that justifies the acquisition. A conservator makes any necessary repairs and we have a dedicated electro-mechanical specialist to ensure our video game collection is playable. The games we put on display are there to be used, so we want to ensure all the pieces work properly.

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What special exhibits are in the planning stages at this time?

I am working on a display – not an exhibit – called Peanuts at Play. The feature showcases prominent Peanuts characters created by Charles Schulz and the role those characters play in society. The feature will be located in the main lobby.

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The Strong recently announced an expansion. What pieces can we look forward to seeing once the expansion is completed?

We are expanding our video game collection. I’m working on the World Video Game Hall of Fame, and in the Fall we will launch Women in Games to highlight the integral role woman play in the industry, from game creators to the performers and marketers. It’s part of an effort to inspire new generations of girls to explore STEM careers.

The expansion also includes an outdoor space that encourages outdoor play and the discovery of texture, scent, and sound in play.

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What advice do you have for collectors on how to preserve their collections?

Avoid storing items in a basement or attic, where the humidity and air temperatures are unpredictable. Also, limit light exposure on paper and fabrics. A sunny window is not a good place for most collectibles.

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Visit The Strong’s website to learn more about the Museum, its online collections, special exhibits, and educational programs.

Five questions, one fascinating person (or team!) – look into the minds of movers and shakers in the nostalgia, game, play, or toy industry.