McMillan Conservator Nora Lockshin prepares the artwork for travel and exhibition. The artwork is adhered to the lower mat board with small paper hinges, which will be hidden by the window mat, seen in the foreground. Photo by D.E. Hurlbert.
Drawing by Guy Kakarook. National anthropological Archives. Ms 316.702
Drawing by Guy Kakarook. National anthropological Archives. Ms 316.702
Sarah Stauderman (SI Archives), Jake Homiak (Anthropology) and Nora Lockshin discuss matting of artwork. Recently applied hinges are drying under weight on the left. Photo by D.E. Hurlbert.
Infrared spectroscopy helped the staff of the Anthropology Conservation Lab determine that the moldy-looking deposit on this wooden figure from Mali was actually a fatty acid or wax.
According to Harry Alden, microscopist at SCMRE, a fatty acid found on wood most likely would be from material added to the wood surface. Some woods do have fatty acids in their organic components, but as a very small percentage. Since these crystalline formations could be considered either inherent or historical to the object, and also causing no apparent harm, they were not removed. They were, however, noted in the treatment database for reference information on each object. If these objects were to be exhibited the crystals would be removed, as they visually disrupt the integrity of the object.
Anthropology Conservation Laboratory
Conservators Prepare Native Alaskan Artwork for Pathbreaking Exhibit
On May 8, 2003, the Anchorage Museum opened Eskimo Drawings, a pathbreaking exhibit featuring original drawings by native Alaskan artists. The exhibition is the first of its kind in Alaska, enabling native Alaskans and the general public to view these works in their original form. This is all the more significant since many previously unpublished drawings are being exhibited for the first time.
Among these are thirty-six drawings on loan from the National Anthropological Archives which form an integral part of the history of Eskimo graphics. These drawings include the works of Guy Kakarook and various students of the first schools established in rural Alaska, the latter being collected by Stephen Ivanoff. The drawings of Kakarook are a remarkable chronicle of summer and winter views of villages along the Yukon and Tanana Rivers featuring traditional subsistence activities and depictions of Alaska’s birds and animals. Only a few of Kararook’s works have been previously published and he is one of six artists receiving special attention in the exhibition. The Ivanoff Collection, consisting of drawings done by students in the 1890s, provides unique and highly detailed views of hunting, fishing and gathering activities in addition to fascinating sequences of drawings of the Messenger Feast and Wolf Dance from the turn of the century.
While the loan continues a tradition of outreach to native peoples by the National Anthropological Archives, it also represents a first for the Smithsonian in the conservation field. The loan was made possible through the collaboration of the Smithsonian Institution Archives Preservation Division and the Anthropology Conservation Lab. This is the first project undertaken by the Smithsonian Institution Archives McMillan Paper Conservator, Nora Lockshin, in cooperation with the ACL staff and Sarah Stauderman, the SI Archives Preservation Manager. Grace Igot, an intern with the Research, Libraries, and Archives Collections Conservation Task Force, also assisted with this project.
To safely exhibit and transport these drawings, paper hinges were attached to the back of the artwork with a removable starch adhesive, and only the hinges were pasted to the mat’s back board (Artcare Alpharag Museum mat board); the mat’s front window board creates a spacer so the artwork does not touch the glazing, and hides the hinges. The glazing of UV absorbing acrylic was placed over the window mat and all the side edges were sealed with J-lar tape. This provided a passe-partout (“goes everywhere”) package. This sealed package can then be simply placed into a frame when it arrives for the exhibit. For travel these sealed packages were wrapped in Marvelseal 360 (an aluminized polyethylene and nylon barrier film) with Artsorb silica buffering sheets inside to maintain a steady humidity.
The Anchorage loan represents what promises to be the first of many collaborations between the SI Archives preservation team and archives around the Institution. These will not only serve our many publics but will ensure the best conservation practices and care of our unique and priceless collections.
After several years of storage in well-gasketed steel storage cabinets at the Museum Support Center, the ACL staff began to notice a number of objects with variations of bloom, white powder and spidery-looking crystal formations on their surfaces. At first glance it often looked like mold. Even under magnification, some of the material exhibited hyphae-like formations. Mold, however, seemed unlikely because of the relatively stable 45–50% RH in the storage area, coupled with the desiccated condition of objects that exhibited these surface deposits. Since we were uncertain about the nature of these effloresences, we had a number of pieces analyzed by Walter Hopwood, analytical chemist in the Smithsonian Center for Materials Research and Education facility. More often than not what was discovered was a fatty or waxy deposit rather than mold. This phenomenon was particularly prevalent on wooden and leather objects from our African collection.
The analytical method used to identify the material was infrared spectroscopy. The deposits were observed to have the spectra of either fatty acids (palmitic or stearic), or wax. The fatty acid may be hydrolysed oil from the wood itself and the wax could originate from a surface treatment during its use. Crystals were found predominantly in carved recesses, which might indicate an area of greater pooling of wax or oil.
Under magnification, these fatty acid crystals appeared long and web-like. They gathered easily in clumps when brushed together, almost as if static electricity drew them together. And they were so light they almost floated off the surface when touched. Occasionally, these crystals appeared slightly iridescent. Other fatty acid crystals deposited as a fluffy white material and when lightly scraped off, would collapse into tiny rolls. By contrast, the waxy deposits appeared as a heavy white bloom, and tended to be homogeneous in appearance, forming a flat coating. These crystals formed layers. When scraped off, the surface underneath would appear shiny. When scraped together the crystals formed a cohesive mass.
Oversize Anthropology Collections Rest Easily at the Smithsonian's Museum Support Center
Forty-foot totem poles from the Northwest Coast, stone carvings from Easter Island, unwieldly plaster sculptures, canoes, and rickshaws are some of more than 600 oversized objects that have been safely moved from outmoded storage in the National Museum of Natural History to safe, environmentally controlled and palletized storage at the Museum Support Center in Suitland, MD, thanks to an innovative collaboration between the Department of Anthropology and the museum's Move Office. Learn more »
History of the Anthropology Conservation Laboratory
A search through 125 years of records in the Smithsonian's archives discloses shifting priorities for collections preservation and uncovers a few unsung heroes of this remarkable collection. Learn more »