Mallory Fellows Bower, ’10, Helps a Museum Prepare for Takeoff

January 13, 2016

Mallory Fellows Bower stands in front of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Mallory Fellows Bower, ’10, who double majored in chemistry and history with an English minor, stands in front of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The opening of the Smithsonian’s 19th museum, complete with 33,000 artifacts, will be a 2016 cultural highlight. (Photo: Hilary Schwab)

By Jake Weber

Home to Nat Turner’s Bible, an Angola Prison guard tower, and even Oprah’s couch, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture is set to become one of the National Mall’s most popular attractions next fall. One of its inaugural exhibits will feature the iconic “Mothership” concert prop from George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic band, thanks in part to the work of Mallory Fellows Bower, ’10.

The recipient of a highly competitive Andrew W. Mellon Foundation internship in conservation, Bower spent much of this past fall in Washington, D.C., helping to restore the Mothership to its original glory. She first used a toolkit of brushes to remove residue from surfaces, gathering it with a specialized vacuum as she went.

More challenging work came as Bower and the crew prepared the Mothership for restoration. During its years on the road, most damage had been repaired with tape, leaving residue that couldn’t simply be vacuumed up.

“Chemical solvents can do really good things and really bad things and you can’t undo it. That added a level of complexity that made me really nervous,” says Bower, whose Albion degree in chemistry was a critical requirement for the internship.

Bower, who received her master’s degree in historic preservation last spring from Eastern Michigan University, is thrilled to play a small part in an important national project while gaining experience for a challenging and competitive career.

“You can feel the sense of anticipation,” she says, noting that while the building won’t open for almost another year, the museum is already serving the public. “We recently had a program celebrating the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War and the passage of the 13th Amendment and the 50-year anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. There were speakers and music and a video projected on the side of the museum.

“It was very emotional and a reaffirming moment in the life of this museum,” she adds. “I was excited and humbled to be part of such a huge endeavor to conserve and interpret and display this cultural heritage that too frequently has been left out.”

This story originally appeared in the Fall-Winter 2015-16 edition of Io Triumphe! magazine.