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Head Housekeeper Pamela Carolino Lima describes projects during the off-season at Rough Point, shares some advice for cleaning furniture and other surfaces in our homes, and reflects on her role in making NRF Museums open and accessible to the public—as well as helping to ensure the museums’ preservation for future generations to enjoy. Listen here or read the transcript below!
Could you tell us your name, and what your title is here at the museums, and a little bit about what you do?
Pamela Carolino Lima: My name is Pamela. I am the Head Housekeeper for Rough Point and Whitehorne House Museum. What we do mostly is maintain our museum spaces and take care of our collections—everything from the tapestries, to our wood furniture, to our paintings, to anything that is marble or gilded, or the chandeliers, just to help maintain these pieces so that we can have them for a very long time, for our guests and for the community to be able to see and love them as much as we do.
Rough Point has a seasonal rhythm, and we’re typically not open to the public full-time during the off season, which is over the winter. How does that change the work you do and what kind of projects do you work on in the off-season?
PCL: In the off-season or in our winter season, we have various projects that we work on, which is more deep cleaning of some of our collection pieces and some of the areas that we can’t really do during the open season. So that’s taking care of our marble surfaces, taking care of our crystal chandeliers, more in depth cleaning. And along with that, also monitoring to see if anything has changed, cracked, broken, if anything needs repair. We’re also doing an evaluation of all of our pieces at the same time.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the cleaning process of the chandelier?
PCL: Sure. Cleaning the crystal chandelier is [a process involving] a mixture of water and vinegar, cleaning piece by piece one at a time, and then using cotton gloves to kind of buff that out. And the reason we use water and vinegar is because it doesn’t streak and it doesn’t have any harsh chemicals in there and doesn’t leave behind any residue on the crystal.
And about how many crystals are we’re talking about when you say you have to remove each one? Tens, hundreds?
PCL: Hundreds and hundreds.
You’re part of this bigger collections team in that you work with the Conservator as well. So could you talk a little bit more about how it is you work with the Conservator or are there things [that happen with the collections team] particularly in the off season?
PCL: Because I have more frequent contact with our collections and I’m in those spaces so often, it’s my responsibility to just monitor— to see if anything has changed, if anything is flaking, anything is broken, if stitching is coming undone, if there are any pests in the different collection spaces that are now affecting the collection— all of that information has to be gathered. And then I relay that on to our Curator and our Conservator, and we sit and come up with a solution if anything needs to be addressed. That could be implementing new guidelines for pest management, or [adjusting] if it’s something that has to do with the climate in the collection space. If a piece is being affected by more visitor traffic where it is located, maybe moving it. And then now with the pandemic, it has been about what chemicals will be effective in what we need to disinfect, but at the same time is not going to affect the collection. So it’s really a joint effort between the housekeeping department, the curatorial department, and our conservator to always try to maintain what is best for the collection so that we can preserve it and have it around for a really long time.
What are some of the challenges of cleaning Rough Point? Considering it was a house-people used to live here actively, but now it’s a museum.
PCL: So before, a lot of commercial products were used. For example, for years, all of the silver was polished in the house. And then shifting over to a museum, all of that has to change: how we maneuver through the house, what techniques we’re using, what kind of products we’re using, because now we have to be more conscious of the chemical emissions. What do these chemicals attract onto the pieces? Because we are a museum that’s by the ocean, we’re also combating some environmental things with all the salt in the air. It’s like this constant collecting of information, and monitoring, and adjusting accordingly, now that we are a museum.
Now during the pandemic, some of us have been staying at home more. I think most of us are more conscious about cleaning and surfaces. Do you have some advice on products that are going to be safe, but also effective?
PCL: If you have more modern furniture in your house, using everything that the CDC [Center for Disease Control] has recommended is fine. You just always want to monitor how that’s affecting the coloring in your furniture piece. If you have more antique or vintage pieces in your home, that’s where you have to adjust a little bit. We don’t recommend using bleach necessarily because of course it will affect the coloring if it has a finish, a varnish, a stain. What we have been using here at Rough Point on our wood surfaces–because we have a lot of that here at the house–we’ve been using a mixture of Orvis and water, which is a less harsh soap. And then we spray it onto a little cotton cloth and we wipe our furniture once a day and then just let it air dry. But it’s the same thing in your home, you just want to be aware of that because any kind of product that you do put on your piece, be it modern, be it an antique, it’s going to affect the finish. So you just want to mindful of that.
What, for you, is the most rewarding aspect of your work, or what do you enjoy about working at Rough Point?
PCL: When I first started, I was 18. So I think through the many years that I’ve been here, my love for culture and art and history has really grown. I’ve grown very fond of the collection. One of my favorite things was having the kids’ school groups come through, and them now discovering our collection and seeing our collection and enjoying it, and just fostering this love for the house and for what is in it. I think for me, those things have been my greatest joys here because I experienced that, then you get to see the next generation experiencing that too.
What do you wish that visitors coming to Rough Point knew about the work you do that maybe they don’t notice?
PCL: Well, my desire is that this house is around for a really long time for people to enjoy, for the next generation to enjoy. And the work that I do here contributes to that. And it’s not just what would fall into a janitorial category, it’s so much more than that. We [the other housekeeper, Delma, and Pam] are way more hands-on than I think people really know. We really need to become quite intimate with all of the pieces here, so I don’t think people really realize that. And we really have grown to love the work that we do here.
Any last thing you want to say?
PCL: I hope the interest for this house grows because we are very different from the other houses down the Ave [Bellevue Avenue]. And I hope that when people walk through our doors, they not only grow to love the house, but to love Ms. Duke’s story, and that they feel that warmth that I’ve grown to feel when I walk through these doors and really get to know how much of a gem this house is in Newport.