Obama-bilia Is Job 1 for Museum Curator

By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The far-in-the-future National Museum of African American History and Culture has rushed into the hot collectibles market of President-elect Barack Obama by salvaging items from his Northern Virginia field office.

Lonnie G. Bunch, the museum's founding director, decided that whether or not the strategy charts or the yard signs make their way into the museum, scheduled to open in 2015, they need to be saved.

"Often as historians we don't have materials that allow us to talk about how did this happen," Bunch said yesterday. "From my years at American History, I knew I would go into a collection and wonder why we didn't have certain things."

Last Wednesday, after Obama was elected the first African American president, the staff met to develop a strategy for telling this historic story.

"We thought we really needed to go and clean out an office," said chief curator Jacquelyn Serwer. The Northern Virginia campaign headquarters in Falls Church, the nerve center in a battleground state, was targeted.

Among the items they received from campaign officials were boxes of Obama biographies, banners, maps, phone notebooks, scripts, photographs and campaign literature in numerous languages. They even took some furniture, including a recliner, a table and chairs from the children's center, and a barber's chair, since the location had been a barber and beauty shop. "There are also funny signs. One said, 'Obama's not your mama -- you have to clean up after yourself,' " Serwer said.

Bunch wanted the items to tell about the personalities, as well as the mechanics of a campaign. "While we wanted the material that was about visible parts of the campaign, we wanted the things that showed it was a brilliantly organized campaign," Bunch said. "We collected the strategy charts that would show neighborhoods and what percentage of votes they were trying to get in each neighborhood. We collected the notes the staff wrote to themselves to stay motivated. The lounge chair was interesting because it shows their exhaustion and the fact is that you do create a home away from home."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company