ICOM Ethnographic Conservation Newsletter
Edited by Anthropology Conservation Laboratory, Smithsonian Institution 

Newsletter Index 

Number 13 March 1996


Table of Contents

From the Coordinator

Note from Your Editors

Technical Exchange
Plexiglas® Clips
Some Useful Tips


Material Culture
Protection, Power and Display: Shields of Island Southeast Asia and Melanesia
Nick Burningham on Southeast Asian Watercraft

Museum and Native Peoples Issues
Care of First Nations Sacred Material - Glenbow Museum

Laboratory Highlights
Conservation Laboratory Overview at the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution

Articles
Conservation of a Feast of Sugars
A Totem Pole Goes Home


Newsletter inquiries and contacts


FROM THE COORDINATOR

Greetings!

I would like to join the new editors in expressing thanks to our Australian colleagues for producing our most recent newsletters.

The next Triennial Meeting will take place in Edinburgh, Scotland, from September 1 - 6, 1996, following the IIC Congress that will be held in Copenhagen, Denmark, at the end of August.

If you are planning to submit a paper, please fax or write to me to receive a copy of the instructions for manuscript preparation. Your completed manuscript must be sent to me as the Working Group Coordinator, for a first review and editing. Revised manuscripts are then sent to the Preprints Committee for final review. Authors are then informed of the decision by the Preprints Committee, and final manuscripts are prepared for publication in the Preprints. The schedule of procedures is:

The Board of the ICOM Committee for Conservation urges all members of the Working Group on Ethnographic Materials to join the ICOM organization. This can be done through the national committees in each country. Should there not be a national committee in your country or should you have any problem joining in your country, please write to the ICOM office in Paris at the address listed at the end of this newsletter.

Please bear in mind that in the future only ICOM members will be accepted as authors in the ICOM-CC Triennial Preprints, that they will be given preference as speakers, and that their conference fees will be substantially less.

Due to previous commitments, I will be stepping down as Coordinator of the Working Group on Ethnographic Materials at the Triennial Meeting in Edinburgh. Anyone interested in being coordinator for the next triennial period, please let me know.

Please feel free to call, write, or fax me with your questions, concerns, or comments regarding the Working Group. I look forward to hearing from you.

Christine Del Re
Coordinator
Ethnographic Materials Working Group
P.O. Box 1218
Oak Park, Illinois 606304-1906
USA


NOTE FROM YOUR EDITORS

As many of you know, issue number 12 (July 1993) of the Ethnographic Conservation Newsletter was the last newsletter to be produced by our colleagues from the Australian Museum in Sydney, Australia. Special thanks should go to David Horton-James and Sue Gatenby for their efforts in maintaining a newsletter of high standard.

Subsequently the Anthropology Conservation Laboratory assumed editorship of the newsletter. Because the staff here had no previous experience with newsletter production, this task, although exciting, has been daunting in that it has required a fair amount of homework. We have investigated word processing packages for suitable formats; the possibilities of using the Internet as a means of production (i.e., an electronic newsletter); and additional funding beyond what ICOM provides to defray postage costs.

We have spent substantial time updating the mailing list which now includes 700+ subscribers! The task was accomplished by our regional coordinators and, while not yet complete, has resulted in a much more current listing of members' addresses. Volunteers here at our lab assisted in computerizing the updated addresses.

Our lab technician, Lynne Schneider, and her husband Don have provided invaluable assistance, guidance, and support in our fledgling efforts to set up our rather limited laboratory computers with proper programming to produce the Newsletter and the mailing list. Lisa Goldberg and Lynn Arden, local private ethnographic conservators, have also participated in various ways in the production of this newsletter. Many thanks, too, go to the North American regional coordinators who graciously endured our persistent badgering to solicit contributions for our first newsletter.

We would like the newsletter to continue to be a comfortable, accessible, and informal medium of information exchange by and for its readership. Its very existence, however, depends on contributions from its readership. While we have had some difficulty in obtaining contributions for our first newsletter, we are encouraged by the interest in it. Please consider contributing any and all thoughts, ideas, and matters of interest to the field of ethnographic conservation.

Below, in outline, are descriptions of column and content ideas we would like to pursue in each newsletter:

Technical Exchange

This section will present new or innovative materials, techniques, tools, adaptations, and discoveries which have been found to be useful in conservation work. Concise contributions should include manufacturers' addresses as necessary. It would also be useful to include materials and techniques that have proved problematic.

Laboratory Highlights

The focus of this column will be an in-depth review of laboratory structure and function, rather than a "persons or places" review. Articles could include treatment of ethnographic collections within a fine arts museum context, or the benefits of a volunteer program in a conservation lab.

Material Culture

Early/native technology will be the focus of this column. Sources for this may include interviews, articles excerpted from other journals describing specific technologies, or perhaps information from workshops that teach native technologies. One could solicit authors who have previously written about a technology and may now have additional information. Anthropologists may be contributors as observers of methods and materials.

Museum and Native Peoples Issues

Included in this column will be commentary on issues such as repatriation, cultural requirements in storage, sharing collections between native groups and museums, or how museums comply with legal requirements concerning native groups.

Articles

Articles on a wide range of topics of one to two pages in length will be considered. Consideration will also be given to devoting an entire issue to a specific topic.

To assist potential contributors, we have composed a basic Guidelines for Authors which is available from your regional coordinator or from us. Please feel free to send any potential contributions to us at the address listed on the last page. We welcome (and encourage) correspondence through the Internet, but we can only accept submissions in an E-mail message in ASCII text format. (We are not able to read binary formats).

With your help we hope this newsletter will foster a sense of community in the international ethnographic conservation field.


TECHNICAL EXCHANGE

PLEXIGLAS® CLIPS
Edith Dietz, Private Conservator, and Charles Bessant

Objects that are basically flat, yet have a 3-dimensional character, have been consistently difficult to exhibit vertically. One solution which utilizes Plexiglas® clips has been used successfully for objects such as painted skins, barkcloth, and some textiles. The system developed by Edith Dietze and Charles Bessant has been employed in numerous exhibitions at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History to secure these types of artifacts to a vertically-hung, padded support.

The mounting technique requires the fabrication of an underlying rigid support board made to conform to the shape of the object and contoured to support completely the natural curvatures and undulations of the object. It is then padded with thin polyester batting. A fabric with some "tooth" is placed over the batting to aid in securing the object in place. Plexiglas® clips are then applied along the perimeter of the support board to secure the object to the board.

The clip is usually fabricated of 1/16 inch Plexiglas® stock. As illustrated below, the clip has a basic "U" shape; the exposed side of the clip is shorter than the section placed under the support. It is fire polished to form a smooth, rounded profile with the edges of the clip curving away from the artifact. The shape of the clip depends on the object and underlying support structure. The number of clips necessary to secure an object in place is dependent on the size of the object and its individual characteristics. The clips are held in place by light pressure or, if necessary, by a set screw on the underside of the support board allowing simple removal of the clips. If the object is to be exhibited for long periods of time and there is a concern that the clip pressure could cause surface distoration, periodic change of clip placement would be advisable. 

Charles Bessant
Bracketmaker
Bessant Studio
57 N Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001
USA


SOME USEFUL TIPS

Murray Lebwohl, paper conservator in private practice, has given us the following tips that have been useful to him in his work:

Very fine carborundum paper can be placed underneath a flat material, such as paper, to prevent movement when carrying out procedures, such as dry cleaning paper with an eraser.

Rhoplex N580 is an acrylic emulsion contact adhesive which remains tacky after the solvent (water) evaporates. Murray has used it successfully to remove surface mold by dipping the end of a pointed bamboo skewer into the Rhoplex, and after it is no longer wet, but still tacky, using it to lift up the mold particles. This technique can also be adapted for debris removal from crevices on a variety of artifacts. A watchmakers catalog can be very useful for finding tiny tools and small equipment, for example, bendable files and concave glass dishes (watch faces). A soldering iron or wood burning tool can be used to seal Mylar when making envelopes or encapsulating paper specimens which are irregularly shaped. A micro spatula, with working tips right angled in opposite directions, normally used for making moulds for dentures, has proved very useful for small applications of paste or manipulating small fragments. One end can be used to lift the fragment; the other used to flatten it.

Murray Lebwohl
1212 I Street
Alexandria, Virginia
22307-1454
USA


MATERIAL CULTURE

PROTECTION, POWER AND DISPLAY: SHIELDS OF ISLAND SOUTHEAST ASIA AND MELANESIA

Boston College Museum of Art has published a catalog of a recent exhibition, entitled Protection, Power and Display: Shields of Island Southeast Asia and Melanesia. The catalog includes five essays with accompanying photographs of the nineteenth and early twentieth century shields. Andrew Tavarelli, the editor, summarizes the contributions in his foreword and that summary is partially reprinted here. Steven Alpert of Dallas, Texas, addresses the protective function of shields and also provides a historiography of shield collecting. The anthropologist, Susan Rodgers of the College of the Holy Cross, views shields from a comparative perspective that places them in relation to non-military forms of protection. Florina I. Capistrano-Baker of Columbia University, classifies Philippine shields according to type and region. Anthropologist Michael O'Hanlon of the British Museum, combines insights from his field research among the Wahgi of New Guinea with a discussion of anthropological literature to examine Melanesian shields. Andrew Tavarelli of Boston College gives a general introduction to the exhibition; explores the concepts of protection, power and display; and addresses the relationship of shields to the body. Cost of the catalog is $12.95 and can be purchased from:

Boston College Book Store McElroy Commons
Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts 02167
USA
Phone:800-978-0978


NICK BURNINGHAM ON SOUTHEAST ASIAN WATERCRAFT

Nicholas Burningham has a long history of working with Southeast Asian Watercraft. He has been involved in boat-building and restoration for many years and, in addition, constructs and restores boat/ship models including those for museums in Australia and Indonesia. Nick has also made fourteen sailing voyages to Indonesia and published in The Beagle:Records of the Northern Territory Museum of Arts and Sciences and other periodicals.

Nick considers the study of Southeast Asian watercraft both his job and his avocation. He feels that knowledge of material culture has been an essential component of his work. He notes that conservators need this information to properly treat boats and boat models in their collections. Lack of such information can lead to errors in treatment. He has seen sails inverted, rigging incorrectly displayed and parts of different models mixed together. He also believes that trying to sort out models that have been mixed together should be done only by an expert in order to avoid false associations.

In his work on 20th century full-sized craft, Nick attempts to restore the vessels to "full use..to the point that the people who made it would like to see it displayed." The restoration involves written and photodocumentation with an additional emphasis on drawings as documentation.

A major problem caring for full-sized craft is size. Nick notes that many are stored outdoors, often exposed to severe weather. When housed, the boats are not usually in climate controlled spaces.

Please contact Nick Burningham at the following address with any questions:

Nicholas Burningham
Western Australian Maritime Museum
Cliff Street
Fremantle, Western Australia 6160


MUSEUM AND NATIVE PEOPLES ISSUES

CARE OF FIRST NATIONS SACRED MATERIAL - GLENBOW MUSEUM

The Glenbow Museum in western Canada has a large ethnographic collection with an emphasis on material from the First Nations cultures of northwestern North America. While museum conservation has long been a part of the Glenbow Museum's care for these collections, more recently we have been working to develop care and handling procedures which recognize traditional knowledge and understanding of this material. Of particular concern is the sacred material in the collection. This article looks at some of the ways in which the museum has been caring for the Blackfoot (Siksika, Blood and Peigan) and Cree and Ojibwa sacred items.

Much debate surrounds the curation of sacred material in museums. First Nations often wish the return of items that they understand to be sacred and that may have been confiscated under laws that have now been repealed. Museums, for their part, believe they are preserving objects for future generations. While none of the sacred objects at the Glenbow Museum were confiscated from First Nations, we have not escaped petitions for repatriation. In addressing these requests, we have begun to work closely with First Nations and to care for these collections in ways that they find respectful. Through discussions and participation in ceremonies, the staff has been able to gain a better understanding of some of the requirements for the care of sacred collections beyond that of the usual museum conservation standards. Some of these requirements may occasionally seem to contradict standard museum practice, but knowledge of the traditional ways of caring for these objects can lead to a greater appreciation of the collections and a better relationship with the people with whom the artifacts originated.

The sacred artifacts are stored in a secured room on the eighth floor of the museum along with most of the ethnology collections. The artifacts are kept in plywood storage cupboards with interchangeable sliding drawers. While it is recognized that the wooden cupboards are not ideal for storage due to off-gassing of volatile compounds, it is economically unfeasible at present to change to another system. No damage from storage in these cupboards has been noted so far. The collection areas of the museum are humidity and temperature controlled at 45% ± 5% RH and 20º C.

The Glenbow Museum's First Nations policy restricts the use and access to the sacred collections. The collections of Blackfoot and Cree/Ojibwa sacred artifacts are located together at one end of the storage room; this material is no longer used in exhibitions but is loaned for ceremonial purposes. Access is given only to those individuals who have the traditional cultural rights to the objects. The curatorial staff who care for this collection have participated in appropriate ceremonies and have been given the blessings of ceremonialists. According to traditional belief, these ceremonies bring them into a spiritual balance and harmony while handling the objects.

Many First Nation people believe that it is important to smudge oneself when entering the collection area. This involves the burning of sweetgrass. While there is concern over burning sweetgrass in the storage area, this is one example where flexibility in museum procedures was felt to be necessary to more fully accommodate an important part of our community. The sweetgrass only burns for a minute or two before it goes out and does not produce much smoke, although there is a characteristic odour. The air exchange is quite high in the storage area and the odour dissipates rapidly.

Recently, the Glenbow Museum has been involved with a large project to upgrade our air handling system. This work entails a certain amount of construction activity in the storage areas, including the area holding the sacred artifacts. Traditional care for the sacred collections requires the avoidance of loud noises in their immediate vicinity. Since it would be impossible to conduct the construction work quietly around these collections, it was decided to move the artifacts to another floor of the museum for the duration of the project. While this did mean more work for the staff, it was necessary to properly protect the collections and show respect for them.

Advice was sought from several First Nation consultants on how to carry out this process to insure appropriate respect. For the Blackfoot material, a Siksika couple was invited to come to the museum to advise on the move of their collections and perform appropriate ceremonies. These included prayers, and smudging and painting the staff who participated in the move. They also gave advice on how to handle the objects and how to store them once moved. For the Cree collections, a Cree ceremonialist was invited to the museum. The ceremony included the traditional pipe ceremony as well as smudging.

Only a few of the issues surrounding the care of First Nations sacred artifacts have been discussed here. It should be emphasized that different First Nation groups and even individuals within these groups often have a broad spectrum of understanding about how these artifacts should be cared for. It can be a long but rewarding process when museum staff undertake to more fully understand the artifacts and the culture from which they come. One of the elders who assisted with the recent move was a little surprised, but pleased, that the Glenbow Museum initiated this act of honoring and caring for the collections by removing them from a construction zone and storing them in a quieter location.

Gerald Conaty, Senior Curator of Ethnology
Heather Dumka, Conservator - Artifacts
Glenbow Museum
130 9th Avenue SE
Calgary AB T2G OP3 Canada


LABORATORY HIGHLIGHTS

CONSERVATION LABORATORY OVERVIEW AT THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN ART, SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION

The museum of African art was founded in 1964 as a private institution and located in a series of nine interconnected townhouses on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. As an active participant in the political milieu of the 1960s, the institution was called the Center for Cross Cultural Communication. At its inception, the organization's mission was primarily educational and reflected the changing social environment of the times. As a privately funded institution, the museum was dependent on the generosity of its patrons. Donated acquisitions resulted in a highly idiosyncratic collection with some outstanding pieces.

In 1979 the museum, by Federal legislation, became part of the Smithsonian Institution, and in 1981 it was officially renamed the National Museum of African Art. At this important juncture, the museum's mission was refocused to reflect that of the Smithsonian Institution-- "the increase and diffusion of knowledge"-- and the museum's mandate and collection plan was refined. The collecting rationale is to further develop a collection of visual and intellectual material that documents and interprets the visual richness and history of the arts of the African continent. This plan is predicated on the conviction that understanding indigenous aesthetics can serve as the basis for understanding the diverse peoples, cultures, and history of Africa.

The museum's mandate is sustained by an active acquisitions program. Usually individual works of art, rather than systematic collections of material culture or typological collections are acquired. Each work, carrying a variety of cultural attributes, reflects the indigenous aesthetics of its culture of origin. For example, an object of great prestige such as a finely woven Kuba wrapper, an object indicating political authority such as a Yoruba beaded crown, or an object that imparts significant social control such as a Kongo Nkisi figure, are clearly objects of great cultural importance.

This active acquisitions program, associated exhibition schedule and, of course, care of the entire NMAfA collection of approximately 10,000 objects sets the direction for the NMAfA conservation department. Until the mid 1980s, the conservation space was located in a basement of one of the Capitol Hill townhouses. Equipment consisted of a sink, table, small bench-top fume extractor, a sewing machine and several Sears brand dehumidifiers. The supply cabinets were stocked with an array of commercially available, hardware store and home-care products--from Jubilee, a product for maintaining porcelain-enamel kitchen appliances, to an autobody polishing compound. In 1987, the museum opened its new underground facility on the National Mall adjacent to the original Smithsonian Castle building. This facility contains a 1600 square foot conservation laboratory and employs three full-time conservators, complemented by volunteers, interns, and contract specialists.

The earlier, idiosyncratic collection materials provide the NMAfA conservation staff with greater mechanical challenges. These pieces are often poorly provenanced and heavily restored. Fill materials are sometimes tenacious, the surfaces surrounding joins heavily abraded to compensate for poor mends, and the overpainting promiscuous. Panacean surface preservatives, such as Western oils and waxes, are not uncommon. Ironically, these conditions reflect a common approach to the treatment of African materials, which were viewed as cultural curiosities and subjected to heavy-handed Western "improvements."

The recently acquired objects provide the conservation staff with their more intellectual and technically sophisticated challenges. These items are often acquired from collections that originated in countries with histories of colonial collecting. There is usually documentation associated with these pieces, which were often gifts of state, war booty, or acquired during specific exploratory campaigns. Curatorial research refines provenance and reconstructs postcollection histories.

The conservation department routinely addresses traditional issues common to treatments of ethnographic art, such as structural instability or the consolidation of powdery paint. However, developing treatment protocol that preserves and respects the cultural information implicit in African objects often requires characterizing the nature of indigenous materials, techniques, use patterns, and changes in function for individual objects in specific cultures.

Some examples include the following:

The general stability of earthenware ceramics would allow the NMAfA to exhibit them in the above-ground pavilion, where light levels can periodically exceed 150 footcandles. However, the Kongo peoples from Central Zaire often decorate their pots with a post-fire application of "vegetable stew," which produces a light- and solvent-sensitive surface.

Because Tuareg (nomadic people from the Western Sudan) silverwork is particularly susceptible to tarnishing in ambient environments, storing these pieces in individual polyethylene bags might appear to be an appropriate preventative measure. However, thin wood-like layers in the laminated structure of dagger and knife handles were identified as urea-formaldehyde plastic. This plastic produces formaldehyde and ammonia as it degrades and, therefore, makes such storage microenvironments inadvisable.

Just as it would be inappropriate to reconstruct missing areas on a Dogon crocodile mask, which had been relegated to a trash heap before entering a Western collection, it would be inappropriate not to reconstruct the veil on a Yoruba beaded crown. The veil was meant to hide the face of the king-deity and would never have been seen incomplete in context.

An unusual and aesthetically challenging Mangbetu figurative sculpture from northeastern Zaire, resplendent with mends that contain a variety of adhesives and nails, might suggest that the piece had a violent cultural history. But its postcollection history reveals that it was the favorite plaything of the daughter of the Belgian officer who obtained the piece in the 1880s; in this use, it was habitually broken and mended. In light of this information, improving these mends would be a reasonable treatment.

During the relatively short evolution of the National Museum of African Art, conservation has become an integral part of the institution's mandate. These examples show how the NMAfA conservation department has worked synergistically with the curatorial department to read the cultural information and address complex issues presented by African art.

Stephen P. Mellor
Chief Conservator
National Museum of African Art
MRC 708
Smithsonian Institution
Washington, D.C. 20560
USA


ARTICLES

CONSERVATION OF A FEAST OF SUGARS

1.  Introduction

The Day of the Dead, or Todos Santos, is the most important festival of the year in Mexico and celebrates the return of the souls of the dead to earth. This was the subject of an exhibition at the Museum of Mankind, London, England, entitled "Skeleton at the Feast" which opened in 1991 and closed in October 1992. The festivities centre around All Saints Day (1 November) which is normally a Christian Festival. In Mexico, however, it is celebrated as nowhere else in the Catholic world, due to the influences of pre-Hispanic religious belief and practice. The extraordinary and colourful exhibition reflected the vibrant and lively nature of the festivities through displays that include flowers, candles, pottery vessels, papier mache figures, toys, and also several hundred sugar sculptures, which are the subject of this short article. Examples of such material have entered the British Museum collections since the 1960s, with comparable pieces in other collections, dating back to the late 19th century. The more recent acquisitions are in good condition, but the potential for deterioration can be seen from the condition of the earlier material, which has significantly discoloured and become more friable.

2. Deterioration

The sugar objects represent a variety of forms ranging from skulls, sheep, deer, coffins, skeletons, and birds, to flowers. They are made from a basic mixture of icing sugar, egg whites, and sometimes lemon juice to whiten the mixture. They are cast in moulds and additional features and decorations are applied afterwards, sometimes incorporating colourings.

The exact nature of sugar deterioration is not fully understood and is made more difficult to investigate by the variable composition of the sugar artifacts. The sugar used in the creation of the objects is sucrose (domestic sugar) with varying additions and quantities of the above ingredients. Discolouration (i.e. browning) of sucrose is a commonly observed consequence of deterioration. Basically, the sucrose deteriorates in the presence of moisture and heat by converting into reducing sugars such as glucose and fructose, which in turn react with proteins (e.g. egg whites) causing browning².

3. Conservation, Storage and Display
3.1 Condition
The condition of the material was generally quite good, insofar as there were no detectable signs of browning in the majority of the recently acquired collection. However, many of the fragile pieces had been broken in transit. Thus, remedial work was required and extreme care was necessary when handling the objects. Other problems included objects covered with a powdery sugar decoration that was vulnerable to loss. Another group of objects were glazed with a sugary solution which remained tacky and liable to attract dust and adhere to adjacent materials such as storage materials and packing supplies. No treatment was possible for this problem. Wearing gloves was important in handling these objects because moisture and heat from bare hands literally caused a 'sticky situation'.

3.2 Conservation
All conservation work was carried out in a purpose-built storeroom with an air-conditioning unit to maintain an environment of low relative humidity (below 30%) and low temperature (10-15ºF); these conditions are believed to minimise the rate of discolouration.²

Joining broken fragments and consolidation were the major treatment requirements. A variety of adhesives were considered - the criteria being good ageing properties, suitable strength, low polarity solvent, good working properties at low RH, and reversibility. The combination of materials finally selected for use were: 1% Klucel G (hydroxypropyl cellulose) in IMS to consolidate broken edges and friable surfaces, and 30% Paraloid B72 (ethyl methacrylate copolymer) in isopropanol as the adhesive. These were found to be the most satisfactory in fulfilling all the above criteria.

Glass microballoons in 3% Paraloid B72 in isopropanol, which closely matched the appearance of the white sugar, were used to fill in missing areas. The complex and often imbalanced forms of the sculptures often made support during setting of the adhesive difficult to achieve.

3.3. Display
The sugar sculptures were scheduled to remain on exhibition for two years (until 1993) in cases which achieved and maintained a low relative humidity and temperature by means of an air conditioning unit. At the time of the writing of this article, the conservation procedures appeared to have been successful and there was no apparent change or discolouration in any of the sugar objects on exhibit.

References
Carmichael, E. and Sayer, C., The Skeleton at the Feast : The Day of the Dead in Mexico, British Museum Press, London, (1991).
Daniels, V., Discolouration of Sugar SugarArtifacats -- Interim Report, British Museum Department of Conservation, Conservation Research Section Internal Report, v. 18 (1988).

Acknowledgements
I would like to thank Dean Sully and David John Lee of the Organic Artefacts Section, Department of Conservation, British Museum, for their considerable help and assistance with this work, and Vincent Daniels of the Conservation Research Group, for his research on the discolouration of sugar.

Thanks are also due to colleagues in the Ethnography Department, British Museum, and in particular to Elizabeth Carmichael, Helen Wolfe, and Mike Cobb.

Man-Yee Liu


A TOTEM POLE GOES HOME

Our task was to dismantle an exhibit comprised of five sections of one totem pole and crate and ship them to the original owners so that a copy could be made. The pole had been erected at its original site sometime between 1865 and 1885 and had remained exposed to the external environment until the late 1950s. For the last 18 years the sections had been in a stable indoor environment at the museum. Due to age and long outdoor exposure the surfaces were friable, punky and susceptible to shredding easily during movement. The five sections varied between 9 and 14 feet in height. Within the exhibit some were freestanding, others were attached to a wall; all were exhibited in a very narrow space and were fastened to mounts bolted to the building fabric. The confined space made it necessary to move each section out of the building into a larger area for crating.

We were uncertain of both the conditions under which the pole would be stored and the length of time it would be away from the museum. A crating system needed to be designed to accommodate ease of handling and examination as well as provide a measure of environmental protection. The process of crating is described below.

Each totem pole section in turn was scaffolded and lifted with a mechanical hoist at the top of the scaffolding. Each section was then padded, strapped, and slowly raised until it was free of the mount. The base of each section was placed on a four-wheeled furniture dolly and as the section was lowered the base was pulled away so that the pole moved from vertical to horizontal with each end resting on one dolly.

After the necessary conservation treatment to consolidate unstable surfaces was completed, construction of the crates followed. Using two pallet jacks to lift the totem pole sections, pre-cut plywood sheets were placed under each pole section and on top of the dollies. The pre-cut plywood sheets formed the bottom of the crates. The ends of the crates were also made of plywood and were hinged to the bottom sheets. For travel, the ends were drawn together using a turnbuckle and nylon webbing, which when tightened, immobilized each pole section between the ends of the crate. Ethafoam was used as padding and also as wedges to cradle the pole sections. Commercially available roof trussing, covered with chicken wire and heavy- gauge polyethylene sheeting was fabricated to form an "open cage" that surrounded each section on three sides. The polyethylene sheeting allowed for visual accessibility for shipping and storage. Should it be required, the three sided unit was easily removable so that the carvers could study the totem pole sections without having to unpack them completely.

Instructions for handling and uncrating the sections were faxed ahead, a set was attached to the crates, and the attending conservator also took a copy. Conservators participated in both the loading and unloading of the sections shipped in a single truck that travelled in a day from Vancouver Island to Gitanyow (formerly Kitwancool) in BC's interior. Environmental conditions in both locations were similar. All seven conservation staff and one volunteer participated in the project under the direction of George Field.

Tom Palfrey and George Field
Conservation Services
Royal British Columbia Museum
Victoria, BC Canada V8V 1X4


The Ethnographic Conservation Newsletter of the Working Group on Ethnographic Materials of the ICOM Committee for Conservation is available free of charge to those with a professional interest in the care and research of ethnological collections. It is published twice a year with a mailing in October and April.

Authors are asked to submit articles in English only. A Guidelines for Authors is available from the address below or from your regional coordinator. We request that contributions be provided in a typed format - typed in standard typeface, on 8 1/2 by 11 white paper, one side only, and double-spaced. Electronic contributions via Internet, ECN@nmnh.si.edu, will also be accepted, but submissions must be sent in an E-mail message in ASCII text format ONLY and not more than 80 characters wide.

PLEASE PROVIDE CHEMICAL COMPOSITION IN ADDITION TO THE BRAND NAMES OF COMMERCIAL PRODUCTS AND CONSERVATION MATERIALS, SINCE COMMON NAMES AND TRADEMARKS VARY INTERNATIONALLY.

INQUIRIES
The editors have produced an on-line version of the Ethnographic Conservation Newsletter, numbers 13 through 19. Because the nature of the Web audience is vastly different from the original audience of the ECN, the editors have taken the liberty to protect contributors from being potentially inundated with inquiries. Therefore, contributors who have private practices in their homes will have only their names published. Anyone interested in contacting these authors should direct their inquiries to the editors rather than the authors. Those contributors with practices within public institutions will have the names and street addresses of the institutions published. Should a contributor prefer not to have his or her article published on the Web, please contact the editors.

Editors
Anthropology Conservation Laboratory
National Museum of Natural History
Smithsonian Institution
MRC 112 10th and Constitution
Washington, D.C. 20560
USA
Fax : 301-238-3109

SUBMISSIONS FOR NEWSLETTER
Please forward contributions to the newsletter through your regional coordinator. All submissions must be received two months before the mailing date for inclusion - by August 1 for the October mailing and by February 1 for the April mailing.

COPYRIGHT
Permission to reprint ICOM Ethnographic Conservation Newsletter contributions may be obtained in writing from the Editors.

For information regarding the International Council of Museums (ICOM), and the ICOM Committee for Conservation, please contact:

ICOM
Maison de l'UNESCO
1, rue Miollis
75732 Paris cedex 15
FRANCE
Fax: 33(1)43-06-78-62

DISCLAIMER
The Ethnographic Conservation Newsletter provides a forum for ideas, but this does not imply an endorsement of any products or procedures; it cannot, therefore, be responsible for the recommendation or application of same. This same principle of neutrality applies to individuals and institutions; the Newsletter is not a judge in regard to either the aforementioned or of related articles published herein. This information presents brief views of issues related to ethnographic conservation, and is not intended to replace the advice of a conservator with respect to particular circumstances.


Top of Page

This page created by D. Nguyen
Updated August 31, 1999