- Associated Press - Monday, May 26, 2014

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - Con Foster traveled North America nearly a century ago to collect interesting artifacts for display in a Traverse City museum that one day would bear his name.

Foster’s wide-ranging collection method was the stock approach in those days, but many of the items he found no longer fit with a modern-day museum designed to represent the Grand Traverse region’s history, museum officials told the Traverse City Record-Eagle ( http://bit.ly/1jZGe2N ).

The remnants of Foster’s efforts fill numerous boxes at the museum site in Traverse City. Much of the collection isn’t of use to current museum leaders, but disposing of the items, or “deaccession”, isn’t as simple as holding a big yard sale.

“Deaccession of artifacts has all types of legal ramifications,” said Steve Harold, board chairman for the History Center of Traverse City, which maintains the eclectic, city-owned Con Foster collection.

Foster’s findings are stacked high on shelves in the basement of the History Center. Items range from Aztec artifacts from Mexico and petrified wood from Arizona to a section of wooden Traverse City sewer pipe.

There’s also a box of rocks, a wooden water pump from Michigan’s Thumb area, and a felt hat that belonged to Perry Hannah, one of Traverse City’s founding fathers.

“Collecting items from all over was pretty standard practice back in the 1930s,” said Peg Siciliano, archivist for the History Center. “If it was interesting, you tried to get it.”

Foster loved to collect Native American artifacts, Siciliano said. Back then, the practice was to collect different artifacts from all over North America. Most of those items are now gone, repatriated to the tribes over the last two decades. The extensive Aztec collection remains stored in the basement, saved until last because those items are among the most complicated to repatriate, Siciliano said.

The city didn’t hire a professional curator for its museum until the 1980s, so for a half-century donations of items were accepted without restrictions, other than they had to be old. Now, about two-thirds of the collection has no connection to the Grand Traverse region and not every item is well-documented.

Some items have no documentation, Siciliano said.

“What makes an item interesting is the story you can tell about it,” Siciliano said. “But when you don’t have any background information … unraveling those mysteries takes time.”

The lack of knowledge also makes it difficult to dispose of an item. Officials have to determine who donated the artifact and with what restrictions. They must contact heirs to discern if the item should be returned, or whether the items could be a fit for another museum. If officials can’t find heirs, state law requires they run a newspaper advertisement for 10 days in an effort to to find them.

Harold estimates deaccession would cost $50 to $100 per item.

Harold recently invited city commissioners to tour the History Center and some were surprised by what they found in the collection.

“There needs to be some serious discussions about what is valuable to Traverse City and what is not,” said Mayor Michael Estes. “There are some great treasurers, but there are also boxes of rocks and every day nick-knacks never cataloged. It needs to be addressed and I know it will cost some money.”

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