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Diamonds in the Rough: Get out those Gloves!

By Laina Malm-Levine

Jimmy's Oriental Gardens, photographed in 2007.

When I first heard about a project to catalog the collections related to Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens from Anne Petersen, I couldn’t wait to open the front door of the bar, located on Canon Perdido Street next to Three Pickles, to see what treasures awaited me. And there are treasures, believe me. After taking a quick tour through  Jimmy’s, a Chinese restaurant operated by the Chung family from 1947-2006, and the storage areas that currently house objects related to the business, I could tell I had an exciting and dusty road ahead of me.

The author at her work station in the former restaurant kitchen at Jimmy's Oriental Gardens. Photo by Anne Petersen.

I’m currently three-quarters of the way through cataloging the contents of the storage shed. Having received my masters in Museum Studies, with a focus on collections management, I wanted to take the time to properly and meticulously document the Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens collection. The first step is identification, which includes noting the object’s function and usage. After which I perform a quick dusting, using safe chemicals and gloves. After an object is relatively free of dust I’ll make sure to take a photograph, which will be used for identification purposes. When SBTHP decides what objects they’d eventually like to accession into their museum collection, a more professional photograph will be taken, which will also be used for identification and research. After a photograph is taken, I take measurements of the objects and do a basic condition evaluation. Again, for now, this is a basic assessment; when an object is formally accessioned into the collection a proper condition report will be made. All objects are currently housed in cardboard boxes. Once all objects are cataloged, they’ll be moved into archival boxes, organized by number.

There have been more than a few objects that have caught my attention. The first day of cataloging, I found an old fly swatter with a leather swatter face. There is a gold fly embossed on the brown leather. I can only imagine that this hung behind the bar, ready for those hot summer days.

About a week ago I opened a box to find several hand-painted ceramic teapots. Each white vessel is painted with a bucolic landscape with two sitting figures. The hand painting is delicate and colorful. This definitely counts as a diamond in the rough! Once these objects have been properly documented, they’ll be ready for rehousing. With each visit, there are new surprises, which makes this project very exciting indeed.

Laina Malm-Levine is working with SBTHP to evaluate and catalog the objects associated with the Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens property, which SBTHP acquired in 2007. As a result of this project, a core collection will be developed that will aid future researchers and help SBTHP interpret this important local business. At the time of its closing in 2006, Jimmy’s was the last Chinese-run business in Santa Barbara’s “new” Chinatown.

2 comments on “Diamonds in the Rough: Get out those Gloves!

  1. Hi Laina,
    Thanks for sharing your progress on the Jimmy’s project. It must be thrilling to be on the front lines of a museum-in-the-making! Does the SBTHP have a (rough) idea of when it will be open to the public?
    Stephanie

  2. [...] are moving right along with the collections inventory project at Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens. So far, over one thousand objects have been photographed, cataloged [...]

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