Written by Museum Services Manager, Emily Wolverton
No Problem Too Big or Too Small: Behind the Scenes with our Museum Facility Manager, Jesse Wiley
Being the Facility Manager of any museum would be a daunting task, but here at The Mini Time Machine Museum the role is something unlike anywhere else. Aside from overseeing the maintenance of our building and museum grounds, our Facility Manager handles the upkeep of many aspects of the collection, itself: most of our contemporary miniature rooms and houses have repair issues similar to their full size equivalent, from the occasional loose shingle to the never-ending need of light bulb replacement. While museum conservators handle the restorative work for our historic pieces, our Facility Manager is the on-call handyman for virtually an entire city of contemporary electrified artifacts. In addition to troubleshooting the electrical aspects of complex exhibits down to the nuts and bolts of the building itself, our Facility Manager is able to take on a wide range of repair and maintenance challenges – on all scales. Jesse Wiley took over the position of Facility Manager in August of 2013, and now two years later, I sat down with him to find out more about how his role here has kept him on his toes.
EW: You’ve been our Facility Manager for two years, now. Do you feel as though you knew two years ago what you were really getting into?
JW: [laughter] Yes, I had a pretty good idea. I knew what to expect from the electrical aspect, but the miniature side of it, not as much – at least in respect to the repairing of the miniatures, themselves. I understood what to expect as far as the museum was concerned. My specialty is in electronics, but my background in model-making has definitely been very useful.
EW: You manage such an impressive range of maintenance issues, from floor to ceiling. What are some examples of the things you might have to fix in a given day?
JW: [laughs, again] You name it. Re-wiring a miniature room, fix a projector, replace a leaky faucet, repair a circuit board… Any kind of repair, really. If I can’t resolve it, I find the person who can.
EW: What has been your most challenging issue, so far?
JW: All of the exhibit lighting shorted out recently due to the monsoon storms. We discovered that the dimmer engine was blown and needed to be replaced. But even after it was replaced, the lighting still wasn’t right. I had to troubleshoot the entire system, starting the exhibit show lights manually every day. I went through everything. It turned out that there was a loose wire in the lighting paradigm processor, which had been jostled out of place by an electrician, an outside contractor, who’d been here a week before. When he put everything back together, he left that one wire loose. It was very frustrating.
EW: I know that your job can be physically demanding, too. Is there a particular maintenance task that stands out as being more physically demanding than the rest?
JW: The Kewpies!1 [laughs] That was a hard one! I had to change some lights that went out behind the stained glass in the Kewpie display. The way the glass was set into the wall made it impossible to get to the bulbs. I ended up having to climb into the ceiling through the Magic Theater, crawling across the ceiling into the Enchanted Realm, then climbing down behind the wall of the exhibit. But I couldn’t just climb down, I had to maneuver a ladder down into the opening, so I could get back out again. We decided to just leave the ladder there, permanently. [laughs, again] All that to change a few lightbulbs.
EW: So, the exhibit designers never created an easy access route to get back there?
JW: No, they didn’t. They failed to consider that the lights would eventually need to be replaced.
EW: You come across that same lack of foresight when you are maintaining the dollhouses and roomboxes in our collection, don’t you?
JW: Yes, the very same thing. [laughs, again] So many miniaturists seal all of the wires behind walls or bookshelves, or they glue their light fixtures in place. They think about the aesthetic but not the practicality. I have to take entire walls apart to change a light or replace a transformer.
EW: In fairness, these artisans didn’t anticipate that their little lights would be on all day, six or seven days a week! What advice would you like to give to a miniaturist when designing their lighting?
JW: Think like an electrician! Plan ahead. Develop a way to access all of your components that will eventually wear out. I also wish that miniature LED lighting was readily available, but it isn’t. Right now, I have to adapt the lights to make them LED compatible. If you can do it, LED is best. They are better economically, because they last so much longer, but they also put out less heat, which is better for the piece – the wires don’t melt, the glue won’t dry out so quickly, that sort of thing.
EW: What is one part of your job that you like the most? What is one of your least favorite things to do?
JW: I don’t like constantly finding our admission stickers all over the floor. Or the fingerprints and nose prints on the glass! [laughs] But the best part is troubleshooting, in general. I like solving problems, it’s rewarding.
EW: You are part of the “behind-the-scenes side” of the museum world that so many people don’t ever get to see. Has going to museums changed for you since having become a part of this other museum perspective?
JW: Yes, absolutely. I see the exhibits in a whole new light, I think about the work that went into building them and appreciate all the time it must take to maintain them. So many people don’t think about the technical aspects of the display, it may as well be magic to them. They don’t realize that it might take an entire team of people to make an exhibit work.
EW: Ok, last but not least, what is your favorite piece in the collection and why?
JW: Load of Mischief Pub. There is so much going on, so many characters and stories - everyone sharing a drink and laughing. There are so many details in every room, some are so funny. And Walter’s plaque2, that makes it very special. It really reminds me of all the time I spent in Europe.
EW: I have to laugh a little Jesse, because I know that Load of Mischief is also one of the hardest cases to get into when you need to do maintenance…
JW: [laughs] Yes, it is very hard to get into! But it’s worth it.
- The Mini Time Machine Museum has a large display of Rose O’Neill’s Kewpies and memorabilia, including Kewpie flannels (ca. 1914), vintage Kewpie postcards, Kewpie tea cups and plates (ca. 1915), and bisque figures in a variety of poses and sizes.
- There is a plaque above the entrance to Load of Mischief Pub which indicates that our late Founder, Walter Arnell, is the owner of the pub. Arnell’s father had been a “licensed victualler” who ran a small country pub outside of London, and this miniature pub was commissioned by Walter out of nostalgia for his homeland and childhood.