of the Popular American Indian Hall
THE EVENING OF JUNE 2, 1955,
When the museum decided to close the hall in 2002, a contract conservator, Michele Austin, and a project coordinator, Pat Henkel, were hired to assist the Anthropology Conservation Laboratory and Collections Management staff in the takedown of more than 600 artifacts. Charles Noble and the staff of the Department of Exhibits provided equipment, coordinated glass removal and assisted in a variety of difficult situations. As the very large sheets of glass were removed from the case fronts, the Collections Management staff identified and tagged each object. This task was at times quite problematic as some objects had no visible catalog number and objects had to be painstakingly examined.
Older techniques of gluing and nailing objects to secure them onto a backboard, and piercing through footwear to stabilize mannequins, had been used throughout the hall. Surprisingly, the glue often failed easily, shearing off from the wall with very little mechanical action and with no damage to the artifact. Nails were more difficult to remove, with the nail head often deeply buried in the hide or textile. Fading of textiles and mats — damage which cannot be reversed — was very evident. A colorimeter using the CIE L*a*b* color measurement system is being used to measure the extent of the fading. The obvious light damage is accompanied by less apparent chemical damage as the fibers have become weaker and more easily broken. Most difficult to remove were the life groupings with dressed mannequins. The clothing was in fragile condition and had to be manipulated to be removed.
A dedicated and hard working volunteer staff from the conservation lab helped to pack the objects in the exhibit hall and then unpack them for storage at the Museum Support Center in Suitland, Maryland. The artifacts were packed and shipped using a system developed by Greta Hansen for the move of the anthropology collections in the 1980's that provided a safe and efficient method of packing and transport at low cost. (see Curator: The Museum Journal, Vol. 42, No 1) Standard wooden drawers formerly used by the Anthropology department for collections storage served as our “crates”.
A tissue wrapped object was cushioned and blocked in a drawer using urethane foam and bubble wrap; a second drawer was then inverted to make a lid. In this way drawers could be stacked and strapped to a cart. The carts and the move truck had been designed for the earlier move for maximum efficiency. Objects too large for the drawers were packed in cardboard boxes that were strapped onto the carts. This method worked for all but two life sized papier mache skeletons that needed a specially designed box.
More than 600 objects were carefully tracked in a database. They are now being processed through the Anthropology Conservation Laboratory. Each object will be photographed, vacuumed, humidified for reconfiguration (as necessary), and old exhibition mounts will be removed. Each will have a report written stating its current condition. Finally, if warranted, a mount or tray will be constructed for each object, providing stable long term storage, and allowing safe access by future researchers.
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