FAIRFIELD — The L.C. Bates Museum has been awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for ongoing efforts to preserve the museum’s collection.

A Good Will-Hinckley program, the museum has a broad collection with exhibits ranging from natural history to the arts, as well as local area history and the history of Good-Will Hinckley. The museum has received a number of grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities over the years, said museum director and curator Deborah Staber, as part of the ongoing effort to better preserve its artifacts and exhibits.

“We really appreciate the grant from the (National Endowment for the Humanities), because it helps and really supports storing the collections of Good Will-Hinckley — there’s many archival materials, and other things that are really important for understanding the research and many descendants and many alumni care about it,” Staber said.

This is phase seven of the process, Staber said, and the money will be used to buy shelving and cases to showcase artifacts, as well as to train staff and volunteers on preservation practices. Staber had also been planning to hold a workshop with the public and museum professionals to discuss the best practices for safe storage — although with the state of the pandemic what exactly that will look like is still up in the air.

The latest grant is for $4,762, and while it may seem small, Staber said that it is the ideal size for the work. Any larger a dollar amount, and the museum wouldn’t have the staff or volunteers to do all the required work.

“Basically, what this project is doing is helping us preserve the artifacts better and we have wonderful volunteers that we’re better training because of the project,” Staber said. “It’s very important to get it or we would not be able to do these projects to help get (the items) all stored and taken care of.”

The NEH grant is part of $28.4 million donated to 239 projects across the country.

The grants “demonstrate the resilience and breadth of our nation’s humanities institutions and practitioners,” the organization’s acting chairman, Adam Wolfson, said in a news release. “From education programs that will enrich teaching in college and high school classrooms to multi-institutional research initiatives, these excellent projects will advance the teaching, preservation, and understanding of history and culture.”

Joshua Schmalzel inspects a butter churner Tuesday as his father, Joe, both volunteer to organize some of the antiquities at the L.C. Bates Museum at the Good Will-Hinckley campus. The Fairfield museum has received a $4,762 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for its ongoing efforts to preserve the museum’s collection. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

A local institution in the Hinckley area of Fairfield, the L.C. Bates Museum was started by George Walter Hinckley — who founded the Good Will-Hinckley Homes for Boys and Girls in 1889. Hinckley collected items throughout his life and displayed them in smaller ways over the years.

The items were first moved into the current building around 1905, when it was then used as a manual training school. Later, Lewis C. Bates provided the majority of the funds to transition the building fully into a museum — and so it was named after him.

The museum itself is not fully open to the public right now, as it shut down in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They were considering reopening in July, Staber said, but as cases in the area began to rise they decided to hold off.

Part of the difficulty is that the museum building itself is old, and the exhibit setup in the rooms are not conducive to physical distancing, Staber said.

But they have made an effort to come up with creative offerings in the meantime. The museum has put together educational kits for children, which have been incredibly popular, Staber said. She has had requests from teachers for more, and they are in the process of putting together another set.

“Last year, we made over 5,000 kids kits, which are like nature kits that were taken to schools to be individually sent out or could be picked up at the museum by families,” Staber said. “Right now, we have 500 ready for this year to go and teachers do want them, they were successful during the virus.”

Joe Schmalzel volunteers to organize some of the antiquities Tuesday at the L.C. Bates Museum at the Good Will-Hinckley campus. The Fairfield museum has received a $4,762 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for its ongoing efforts to preserve the museum’s collection. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

The trails around the museum are still open to the public along with accompanying self-guided tours, and Staber said she has seen a lot of people utilize those.

The museum offered a few outdoor programs this summer for kids — single day programs to replace their usual summer camps. While they saw steady participation there, it wasn’t as high as their regular summer programs, Staber said.

She said she suspected that some parents are still hesitant to send young children, who are not eligible for the vaccine, to group events.

Although the museum is not open to the public, volunteers have still been able to come in and work on maintaining and storing the collection, and will continue to do so under this phase of the grant project.

And while that side of the museum moves on despite the pandemic, Staber said she is looking forward to a time when they can reopen as she misses the sounds of visitors.

“I’ll have to say that it’s really terrible not to hear all the children out there yelling and excited,” Staber said. “It’s just very quiet.”

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