Saturday, July 30, 2011

UNESCO Collections Storage

Ran across a UNESCO survey and it reminded me that I wanted to post a link to one of their documents that was informative while making me laugh. It is titled Handling of Collections in Storage and it is a great little document. The illustrations are very basic and look like cartoons. I'm not sure if this is because they were going for a very basic approach (an x over what not to do, illustrations of museum staff thinking-complete with thought bubbles) or if it was because they've had problems with more complicated illustrations/documents. Regardless, the illustrations and the bullet points are informative about handling artifact collections.

© UNESCO, 2010. Cultural Heritage Protection Handbook N°5. Handling of Collections in Storage, UNESCO, Paris.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Conservation at the Country Doctor Museum

I had the opportunity to work at the Country Doctor Museum as a Graduate Assistant from May 2010 through December 2010. It is a beautiful site, with two historic buildings and two auxiliary buildings. One of these buildings is a storage building for some wonderfully weird artifacts and some unopened treasures. This is where I spent the majority of my time sorting, stabilizing and storing artifacts in archival material as well as conserving artifacts.

Some of the artifacts I treated include a broken apothecary jar lid, an otoscope, an anatomical human skull (educational), and a doctor's case. In addition, several artifacts required cleaning and adhesive removal. It was great to put into practice what I had learned in my conservation classes from my professor, Susanne Grieve. It was also great to have some flexibility for trial and error-as a graduate assistant, this position was designed to give me some hands-on experience. 

Some artifacts were easily recognized while others are relics of a bygone medical era. Some of these antiquated medicines include arsenic, mercury, phenol, boric acid, belladonna and quite a few unknown patent medicines. While I wouldn't say that dealing with these poisons was a great experience, it was interesting to learn about environmental safety and to assist with recording and removing these hazardous materials.

Before and after images-

In addition to my conservation duties, I assisted the Curatorial Director, Jennie Schindler Graham, and the Curator, Anne Anderson, with a variety of tasks. As is often the case with small museums, these tasks covered a wide range of activities from building maintenance to public education. However, there are a number of projects that stand out in my mind-compiling an apothecary guide with medicinal and historical uses of medicines, preparing an emergency preparedness plan, and leading school group activities (herbal bags and "Frightful Artifacts"). It was a lot of fun. Not only was it fun, but I had the opportunity to be tutored in small museum management by two incredible, intelligent, professional women.  

Storage Building

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Oh poop!

I went to visit some off-site storage this last week. I had been out once before and was prepared for the stifling heat but was NOT prepared for the swooping figure in the dark. I only saw a single swoop before the door closed behind me and I was in darkness. With IT. Whatever IT was. I tried to find the lightswitch. Failed. I opened the door and finally managed to hit the switch. SWOOP. A bird flew by. A quick glance around reveled a bird nest, two birds, along with copious amounts of bird droppings.

Ah crap. I spent a few minutes regrouping. What should I do? I used a spare sheet to sweep dropping off the large pieces of furniture that we store in this building. I covered the few exposed artifacts with sheets. I found the owner and informed of the bird. I was hoping for a look of dismay, or possible embarassment. All he said was that there is no way of keeping birds out of these big metal buildings. WHAT?!?! The lack of appropriate temperature controls was one thing, but the owners just allows birds to roam free with no attempt to use grates or any protective material whatsoever? This isn't just bad for the artifacts, the hospital also stores instruments and furniture with this storage company. Isn't that stuff supposed to be sterile? I was shocked. I think he saw it in my face. He quickly said that he would send a man out to remove the nest. Ok, but what about the next little birdie? Or the one after that . . .

The problem with birds is that they are considered pests when it comes to curation and collections storage. Not only do the droppings have a high amount of uric acid (which willl deteriorate just about anything) but there are a large number of insects that come along with birds. Once you've got insects it is incredible difficult to get rid of them. You can't use insecticides because of the harm to the artifacts and there are few ideal solutions to the problem. I've been given the opporunity to write a mitigation report. I may remove specifics and add a Google Docs link later. Should be fun!!

This pic is NOT from the storage facility. It is just a picture of some bird droppings!

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Archaeology, Conservation and Curation by Whitney Rose Petrey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License