What’s Hiding in Your Closet?

Donations are the lifeblood of the Turks & Caicos National Museum.

Story & Photo Collages By Lisa Turnbow-Talbot

Everyone knows that non-profit organizations rely on monetary donations, but for the Turks & Caicos National Museum that is not the only donation that matters. Gifts-in-kind of photographs, videotapes, books, pamphlets, manuscripts, maps, historical objects, business records, organization records, government records and oral histories are all important in documenting history and culture through the years.

Photographs are perhaps the most common and currently, the easiest way of documenting history. While photos of prominent places and famous people are commonplace, it is often those photos of everyday people in their element that truly capture our cultural history. The lifestyles of people working, socializing, celebrating and spending time with their families are all part of a country’s culture.

When you look at a photo, it brings that particular time in history to life. Wall carvings and paintings throughout the world are the photographs of their time. A great deal of what we know about many ancient cultures is derived from those etchings.  

What’s hiding in your closet that may be of historical value? Many of us may remember sorting through boxes of photographs left by family members after they passed or when cleaning out closets. Photos are now more likely to be stored on a phone or online, but you may still find older items stashed away in Grandma’s shoe box.  

The culture and how people lived even between the Islands in the Turks & Caicos varied widely. This article focuses on photos from some of our collections and the people who donated them. As there are too many to list them all, this is just a small sample of those who have contributed to recording the history of the Turks & Caicos in photographs.

This collage is a small sampling of the photos donated to the Turks & Caicos National Museum by Barbara Currie Dailey.

Barbara Currie Dailey donated a large collection (over 1,000 photographs) taken in the late 1970s. Her photos represent festivals, events and the general lifestyle on Grand Turk, South Caicos and Providenciales. It was difficult to choose which of her photos to highlight as there are so many valuable images.  

Ted Philippona photographed these “true life” images when he was stationed on Grand Turk from 1954 to 1968.

Moira and Alan Bishop spent time on Grand Turk, South Caicos and Salt Cay during the 1960s and 1970s. In addition to over 300 photos, they also donated a collection of postcards.

We often have military persons who were based on Grand Turk or South Caicos in the past return for visits and donate various items from their time spent on the island. One of our largest collections of photographs was donated by Ted Philippona. He was stationed on Grand Turk from 1954 to 1968. His collection contains over 600 photos and several videos of Grand Turk, Salt Cay and South Caicos. He captures “true life” from the mid-1950s to the late 1960s—the faces of children playing and people working and living everyday life. His collection provided us with some of the only photographs from John Glenn’s landing in 1964 and the Mercury Friendship 7 being loaded from the dock and taken to the airport on Grand Turk.

Art St. John served as the commanding officer of “Waldo II,” the temporary US Coast Guard LORAN station set up in the old Navy Base at the north end of Grand Turk. He lived in Guinep House, which is now the Turks & Caicos National Museum. He donated 150 digital copies of photos he took from 1957 to 1958.

There are many others who have provided us with photos over the years, including Peter Bleackley, Charles Bliley, Bengt Soderqvist, JR McCollum and Kim Ludington. 

We encourage you to look through your own photos taken in past visits to the Islands and share them with the museum. Yet photographs are not the only items that have been donated over the years. In our archives we have pottery sherds, Lucayan stones and beads, newsletters from the Navy bases, legislative records, church records, postcards, paintings and more.

What special item from history do you have stored away in a drawer or storage container? The museum has interest in photos and objects that reflect any part or era of our history. It does not matter if you have one or 1,000 items of interest—sometimes that one photo can reflect an immeasurable part of history.

We are a small museum and we make it fairly simple to donate. The biggest challenge is usually getting the items here if they are not already in the Islands. This is another advantage of photographs, as they can easily be scanned or downloaded and submitted to us digitally.

There are a few things to know regarding your donations: 

• Not all items are included in an exhibit or put on display. Items that are not on display are kept in our secure and climate-controlled archives located in the Science Building on Grand Turk. If not used right away, your donation could be used in future exhibits, publication articles, educational materials or by researchers.

  We are not able to appraise items.

  Once the donation is made, the items become the property of the museum. You will receive a Deed of Gift that legally transfers the ownership to the museum.

  If you request recognition, we can acknowledge you for the donation if used in any way.

  The more information you can provide about the item helps us to evaluate how we can use and document it. Information such as “who, what, when and where” are essential for the educational and research value of your donation.

If you have items that you wish to donate, please email us at

All photos in this article are the property of the Turks & Caicos National Museum and any duplication or reproduction without the expressed written permission of the Turks & Caicos National Museum is prohibited.

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South Caicos was once a major exporter of salt harvested from its extensive salinas. Award-winning Master and Craftsman Photographer James Roy of Paradise Photography ( created this vertical composition by assembling a series of six images captured by a high-definition drone which was a half a mile away from his position.

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