A collection of blogs and musings from the people that work at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum - Florida's Finest Lightstation.

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What Do You Think of Taking Out Fresnel Lenses?

Posted by: Kathy Fleming in Speaking Directly

What do you think about taking out lighthouse lenses and putting them in a gallery setting? The St. Augustine lighthouse keeps her lens on and working in the tower. We think that this is fabulous, and it is more and more rare. Sometimes we work with other groups to teach them how to be Private Aids to Navigation.

So are lenses safer in or out of the tower? Why or why not? Yes, I have an opinion, but I'm interested in what others think.

Cheers and Happy Weekend.

Comments (3)

To me, the most fabulous part of lighthousing is studying lenses. Just the idea that a guy that was probably an ADHD school dropout could dream up a lens system that works so perfectly 150 or so years before computers could do it is awe inspiring in itself. I will lean way out to look up and study a lens considering the job of the keeper as he polished and maintained it and can do that for a long time. That said, there is something also magical about being up close and personal with every pit in the brass and glass of an ancient lens. Should a lens be preseved in place? Absolutely. Should a lens be placed in a museum? Absolutely. So, it all depends. I love that the St. Augustine lens is in place in all it's glory. I love standing there at night and studying the sweep as it rakes the horizon. I love the Cape Canaveral lens which would probably be in pieces had it been left in place instead of living in an air conditioned building. So, I guess, it all depends. One last thought, though, is that I love the replicas that are starting to appear like the one at Anclote Key. It is an awesome lens (although much more expensive than a plastic mass produced lens). So, is the compromise to preserve in place what we can and maybe seek faithful replicas for those that need to be preserved? It is expensive either way.

Thanks for the comment. I think I probably agree that it is, in the best possible world, a case by case basis.

There has been some talk in the museum world from conservators about caring for objects with "machine characteristics" and that keeping them moving is a good thing. That makes sense for old autos for example and maybe for lens works too.

As you know I'm a museum nut myself, and really enjoy lenses too. I am also a preservationist. I'd be tempted to say that I think that when they can be kept in place they should be left in situ. I know that this may be controversial. But I think that the costs and maintenance issues can be worked out with a little dialog most of the time.

We run our lens as a Private Aid and that's great fun for Rick who talks about it on his blog. The transition was not difficult for us, so if anyone want's help talking about this at their lighthouse we are Happy Happy to help. I talked to a group in Michigan about it this year and hope I helped them!

Did you know that Fresnel lens technology shows up in lots of other places like aircraft carrier decks and in physicians' offices. Modern Eye care depends heavily on it. I wonder if anyone has developed a list of where Fresnel technology is at work today? Aren't those curved mirrors that we use to see around corners a response to this? It is interesting to me to think about where lighthouses and the work that keeper's did still impacts us now.

Cullen Chambers has an interesting commentary on this topic in the Keeper's Log of the United States Lighthouse Society, winter edition.

One of his concerns seems to be that we are remvoing lenses that don't need it for fear of hurricane or other act of God. I will tell you that statistically, more artifacts are broken in handling and moving by gallery or museum staff than any other method. Covering the artifact with a clear casing helps damage from things like visitor bumping and handling, which is also pretty common.

I too am not sure that it really makes practical sense to move a lens to a museum setting, in order to save it, unless it is already authentically endangered in an actue fashion.

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