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Anchorage Loan Conservation Project

Clarifying use through consultation and collaboration




The passage of each object through the conservation lab marks an important opportunity to gather cultural and physical information to inform conservation documentation and treatment decisions. Pictured above is a wooden yoke and grass bag. The yoke is carved from a single piece of drift wood and features a stylized face with rows of small teeth, decorated with red and blue pigment. The twine woven bag is made from rye grass, and has a rounded base and a patterned edging around the opening.

Yup’ik consultant Chuna McIntyre (above) and Vernon Chimalegrea provided physical and cultural information related to the grass bag and yoke, which clarified the relationship between the two objects. They also suggested that the grass bag would probably be more open, as opposed to its current flattened appearance.

Chuna McIntyre and Vernon Chimalegrea (above) demonstrated how these objects were oriented when worn; the yoke was laid across the upper chest with the grass bag at the back. Ties threaded through holes in the top of the bag attached to either end of the yoke, which helps to distribute the weight.

E032971_drawing_pg1 E032971_drawing_pg2 E032971_grass_bag_BT

An important aspect of the conservator’s work is the creation of detailed written and visual records. These will serve as surrogates for the objects while they are on loan in Anchorage. As pictured above, drawings illustrate details of weave and pattern and pinpoint areas where damage appears most evident, such as in the longitudinal ‘warp’ bundles.

Drawings also indicate unique features of overall construction, such as repeating or non-repeating details in the weave pattern and the placement of extra warp bundles.

Evaluating the condition of the grass bag in light of information gained from consultation prompted the decision to repair broken warp fibers. Treatment to stabilize these fibers would facilitate opening the bag in the manner described by the consultants and allow the bag to be exhibited “more open” in an “as used” configuration.


Before treatment proceeded a white, crystalline substance noted on the surface of the bag was analyzed to determine whether it was part of the original fiber, a residue of use, a sign of deterioration, or a museum applied coating. In collaboration with Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute scientist, Dr. Lynn Brostoff (pictured above), a sample of the material was removed. Analysis identified the substance as beeswax from a prior, undocumented treatment. The analytical report is maintained as part of the permanent conservation record for the object.

As with all objects subject to treatment, extensive written and photographic documentation highlights any changes made to the object. Project conservators annotate after treatment photographs indicating areas where conservation treatment is undertaken, or where alterations are made to the overall form or structure, to ensure that these changes are not interpreted as original to the object.

Information relating to materials, manufacture, culture, iconography and use, offered by Native advisors during consultation, provided invaluable context for each of these objects. In addition, before, during and after treatment reports, illustrations, and images document each object’s passage through the conservation laboratory and record any changes that may have occurred to each object as a result of these investigations.

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National Museum of Natural History | Department of Anthropology | Collections and Archives Program