Conservation on the Move
The move conservation staff works to ensure that objects make it through the relocation process safely, and that move-related activities align with the goal of long-term preservation of the collections. Since moving 1.7 million (!) objects requires a coordinated team approach, the conservators work very closely with our colleagues, including collections managers, registrars, preparators, the photographer, professional art handlers, work study assistants, and volunteers. The conservators provide advice regarding object condition, mounting, and packing, and perform stabilization treatments on objects too fragile to travel in their current state.
We spend a lot of time looking at objects, assessing their treatment, mounting, packing and long-term storage needs.
These objects from New Guinea have been removed from crowded shelves and placed on a nearby counter where a conservator can assess them. For ethnographic objects, conservators record recommendations on spreadsheets and/or on physical paper “passports” seen here with the objects’ bar code labels.
Some objects require a closer look, like this stone tool with white efflorescence on its surface.
This stone tool excavated in Nevada, PAHMA 2-26554, is covered with fluffy white crystals. Examination with a binocular microscope and solubility testing indicate that the white particles are soluble salts.
We use a binocular microscope to examine objects with such hazy or powdery surfaces in order to determine if the surface deposits are fungal growth, soluble salt efflorescence, fatty bloom (fatty acid crystals resulting from the presence of oil or fat-based residues from use or past surface treatments) or something else. We may conduct additional solubility and microchemical spot tests to better characterize the material in question. Once we know what the material is, objects can be treated appropriately.
Objects that have flaking surfaces, loose elements in danger of detaching, signs of biological deterioration, or other urgent condition issues get treatment before they are photographed, mounted, packed and transported.Some objects previously stored on open shelving get a light surface cleaning to reduce dust and grime accumulated during museum storage. Because of the time constraints of the move project, conservation treatments entail light surface cleaning and basic stabilization measures only. For both treated and untreated objects, the upgrade to archival storage mounts and the move into new storage furniture in a climate controlled space will greatly benefit their preservation. Getting to see and document such a vast swath of the collection is also allowing us to evaluate the current condition status of large portions of the museum holdings, and plan for future conservation undertakings large and small.