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UP CLOSE: Bastian hired as historical society’s new director

August 25, 2017
By ANTONIO OLIVERO - Staff Writer ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - Just weeks into her tenure as administrative director and collection manager, it was a busy Tuesday, Aug. 22, for Courtney Bastian at the Lake Placid-North Elba Historical Society office.

As Bastian sat at her desk at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts Annex, and while she overlooked Saranac Avenue to her right, the 2016 Wells College graduate spoke in front of a detailed calendar neatly organized with pink and yellow highlighted notes and reminders. It's just one of three planners and calendars she wields to manage all she juggles in this busy solo role centered around managing the relics of Lake Placid's past.

"I just like to make sure everything lines up," she said.

Article Photos

Courtney Bastian poses outside her office at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts Annex on Tuesday, Aug. 22.
(News photo — Antonio Olivero)

With a bachelor's degree in history, Bastian brings with her this focus on organization to her first job out of college after interning with various historical institutions. The skills required to be a disciplined collections manager are what Bastian feels she brings to this job, despite her young age. And the lessons learned come from her time as registrar at the Oneida Community Mansion House to her time at the Herkimer Home State Historic Site to her experience working in collections management for the Wells Fargo banking company in San Francisco.

"You are pretty self sufficient in every job you go into," she said. "And I've always been very organized. It's probably why I like working in this field."

Bastian enters the field working full-time in Lake Placid while also taking concurrent online classes in museum management through a Harvard University four-course program.

She also enters the field during an interesting time in the nation's recent history of analyzing what to do with items reflecting its own history.

In the wake of the "Unite the Right" Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, an event organized by white nationalists to oppose the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park, the question of what to do with similar statues has become a hot-button topic while other Civil War era statues across the country have been ripped down.

As Bastian begins her time managing Lake Placid's collection, and as she continues to take courses such as introduction to museum studies, museum informatics and caring for historic houses, she said what to do with these controversial statues has been a topic of conversation within a couple of her museum groups. As keepers of history, their critical thinking has touched on the symbolization behind the statues, why they were originally erected, and whether they need to stay in their original locations in order to properly interpret the moments that comprise the history they are meant to reflect.

Within her history groups, Bastian said potential solutions kicked around included creating a museum in the South dedicated to these types of monuments. This, to perhaps interpret their history in a different way and educate the public on the history they are meant to represent, rather than highlight something controversial in a prominent public location.

If anything, for a keeper of history like Bastian, this all right now is just something to behold as the backlash to these relics has kindled in a short amount of time.

"It's interesting that it's happened all at once, suddenly," she said.

Such is history and such is the potentially ever-changing variable that is how public opinion evolves on the lives led by ancestors. Here in the Adirondacks, Bastian may not have to deal with an issue nearly as sensitive as tearing down or relocating statues of Confederate leaders of the Civil War, but that doesn't mean she hasn't approached her self-education of Lake Placid's past in her own humble and curious manner, open-minded to find out about a place she's foreign to, having only visited here once before.

To Bastian, every time she begins work at a new museum, it's all about learning about the historical background of the place in order to successfully do the job. In Lake Placid, that means the slow and deliberate process of reading and researching about our roots as a mining town and about 19th and 20th century settlers.

"To learn and see the old photos of what Main Street looked like 100 years ago," she said.

While diving into the village's history step by step, in her role, she is also tasked with answering website-submitted research questions, some of which she can't answer yet because it's too early on her learning curve.

To answer them, she may delve into the society's physical archives at the Lake Placid train station.

Questions have ranged from a woman emailing about the old "Chick-n-Coop" restaurant on Main Street to a more difficult request about the history of Onchiota, something that has taken several weeks of self-education and digging.

After beginning her tenure on July 31, Bastian has mostly worked on the administrative side of her role, peeking into the jam-packed storage space at the train station just a few times. More and more of that in-person discovery will come soon; she is excited about her job in a place like Lake Placid where she felt it was ideal to live and work due to its location and her love of camping and hiking in the Adirondacks. She's already halfway done with her pursuit of summiting the Saranac Lake 6er mountains, and she plans to begin the Adirondack 46 High Peaks soon.

Back at the historical society, her goals are to increase membership and grant funding and to further organize the collection at the train station in order to more efficiently dig into the collection and find potential museum objects that may have never been displayed or researched deeply before.

"This is all definitely new," Bastian said. "It's a different kind of history, like resort towns and a short period of mining. But I think there is a lot to work with, with regards to the history, and the different lenses to look at the history with."



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