Tuesday, February 18, 2003
LORI ASSA — The Daily Astorian
Mark Tolonen, the new curator of the Seaside Museum & Historical
Society, works on cataloging contributed historical photos,
than safekeeping keepsakes
Seaside museum looks ahead with new curator
Tuesday, February 18, 2003
By BRAD BOLCHUNOS
The Daily Astorian, email@example.com
Submitted by the Seaside Museum & Historical
This portrait of an unidentified woman from the early 1900s is an example of
photographer William Montag's studio work, which displays a mock-up of the ocean
and the Seaside promenade.
strikes a frolicsome pose in her swimming costume, her fashion
complete with parasol, hat, stockings and shiny shoes – a
bathing beauty ready for a day at the beach.
The portrait of the unidentified woman from the early 1900s
is one of thousands of photographs taken by William Montag.
A mockup of the Prom wall with sand from the beach and a blue
sky backdrop allowed him to control conditions in his studio,
located in the same building as the indoor saltwater swimming
pool where today the Trendwest Resorts tower rises south of
Montag brought his camera outside the studio, too, capturing
everything from sand-sculpting contests to the fire of 1912.
The photographs offer glimpses into his own vision and the
atmosphere of another time.
The Seaside Museum and Historical Society, 570 Necanicum Drive, is welcoming
volunteers for consideration to assist its computer data entry registrar work.
More information is available at www.seasidemuseum.org or by contacting Curator
Mark Tolonen or (503) 738-7065.
Just as Montag captured images on glass plates, Mark Tolonen, the
new curator of the Seaside Museum and Historical Society, is capturing
them on computer.
Gradually he has been scanning the negatives, printing copies on
paper and compiling information so it can be readily searched and
retrieved. So far, he has scanned 427 images.
“Scanning the museum’s Montag collection is a fun example
of using technology to share information and promote history,” Tolonen
says. “I have some experience building interactive Web sites,
and hope to eventually have the museum’s collection online.”
The goal is no small task. With each museum item or photograph on
one sheet of paper, and each of those sheets placed in three-inch
notebook binders, the stack extends along a shelf more than seven
But the work of a registrar is important, Tolonen says. As more
records are entered in the computer, the museum staff will be able
to more efficiently keep track of the artifacts in its collection,
avoid duplication when people offer to donations, and limit how much
potentially delicate items need to be handled.
Rediscovering the past
Montag died in 1944, and for decades no one knew what happened to
many of his photographs. But in 1993, during plumbing work, 1,421
glass plate negatives were discovered in buckets and boxes under
what had been his house on Avenue A.
More than 20 museum supporters pulled together and purchased them,
bringing the total number of Montag images in the museum’s
collection to nearly 2,000.
Recording them digitally for the computer provides a variety of
bonuses, Tolonen says. The museum staff can electronically send the
images to others, and it can magnify details.
Photo courtesy of Seaside Museum and Historical Society
At the site of the current Trendwest structure, south of the Turnaround in
Seaside, once stood a building which housed both a salt water pool and
A picture of the Gilbert
block under construction in 1914 at the corner of Broadway
and Holladay Drive includes construction workers smaller than
in the original. But with the computer’s graphic system, “you
can zoom in and see the mustaches of these guys,” Tolonen
Details can be especially important when trying to determine
the date a photograph was taken. When a postcard does not include
for example, the logo of the company that made it or even the arrangement
of symbols surrounding the words “Place Stamp Here” can
provide clues about the date because the symbols changed over time.
But photographic collections represent only one facet of the museum
and historical society, based at 570 Necanicum Drive.
The museum includes exhibits highlighting local geology, Native
American culture and Seaside’s history, primarily through World
War II. Its nonprofit organization also continues to furnish the
adjacent 1912 beach cottage known as the Butterfield House with furnishings
of that time.
Tolonen, whose part-time role as curator is the only paid position
for the organization, is the first to credit more than 35 volunteers,
its board of directors and 225 members. “It’s a great
History made personal
Tolonen adds that he relishes the chance to offer ways for people
to better understand history. Previously one of the museum’s
volunteers, he took his new role this month to succeed Phyllis
Hamlin, the museum’s office manager since 1996, who retired
earlier this year.
His grandparents and great-grandparents had lived in Astoria, and
he remembers visiting the Columbia River Maritime Museum as a child,
when it was located where the Heritage Museum is now.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in history and completing
a graduate program in cultural resource management in Victoria, British
Columbia, Tolonen returned to the North Coast to work at the Maritime
“I had my degree in history, but didn’t particularly
want to be a classroom teacher,” he explained. “I enjoy
the educational aspect of sharing history, but for me it’s
rewarding to work with the artifacts and historical resources.”
Tolonen was curator of the Clatsop County Historical Society for
three years in the mid-1990s before turning his focus to the Computer
Information Center in Astoria, a grant-funded position with a limited
timeframe. He spent a year in the private sector building Web sites,
including a site for the Compleat Photographer.
“I’m hoping I can take these skills to the Seaside Museum,” he
Other projects under way that particularly excite Tolonen include
the development of kits for classrooms, as proposed by volunteer
Micki Towell. The kits contain artifacts, utensils and once everyday
appliances that help observers to envision the past.
Rather than using replica materials, “the contents are old,
the Real McCoy,” Tolonen says.
Even if the objects do not have a story unique to Seaside, in which
case they might be on display, they can still be valuable for offering
a sense of the culture of the local past, he says.
“It’s another way to make the story of history enjoyable.”
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