Smithsonian Institution NMNHbl_bordergy_border

Anchorage Loan Conservation Project

Integrated approach to conservation


Cultural Consultations

Cultural Consultations

Ethnographic Literature and Museum Documentation

The initial examination of objects in the conservation laboratory was greatly informed by a review of museum documents such as accession records, 19th century catalog ledger book entries, drawings, early photos, conservation records and exhibit history. Ethnographic literature, including reports by early museum collectors, shed light on the materials, technology, cultural use and meanings of individual objects. In addition, an understanding of the circumstances of collection, whether the objects were made for use, as models, or for sale, were among the factors that affected the conservator's assessment of condition and appropriate conservation protocols.

Native Consultations

Alaska Native advisors were central to the conservation treatment decision-making and documentation process. Consultations, like the one above with Landis Smith, Chuna McIntyre, and Vernon Chimalegrea, were carefully planned and designed to allow for Native-led discussion and focus. Consultations offered great insight into aesthetic and cultural preferences for the presentation of objects, as well as information about materials, technology and use. Besides preservation of the physical objects, Native consultants helped ensure the preservation of the cultural meaning of the objects.

Curatorial Consultations

Curatorial consultations, most noteably with NMNH curator, Dr. Igor Krupnik, (above right) were an important component of the conservation process; background information, references and contextualization of the objects as cultural items within a museum setting offered conservators important information. Proposed treatments, informed by background research and information gleaned from Native consultations were reviewed with curators, and options were discussed before a final decision regarding treatment was made for any object.

Smithsonian Interdepartmental Consultations Conservation Research and Technical Studies Conservation Documentation

Smithsonian Interdepartmental Consultations

Specialists from the NMNH Divisions of Mammals and Birds and the Department of Botany assisted with the identification of fur, hair, skin, feather, and plant materials used in the manufacture of objects selected for the exhibit. Studying these holdings helped answer questions related to repair material choices, construction and mechanisms of deterioration. For example, a comparison of a Dall sheep parka, selected for the exhibit, with a complete Dall sheep study skin (pictured above) in the Division of Mammalís holdings answered questions about the parka related to physical variations in the hide, which were used to advantage by the parka maker.

Conservation Research and Technical Studies

In the conservation lab materials testing included polarized light microscopy for hair identification, heat shrinkage tests for hide, chemical spot tests, and adhesive tests. These analyses helped assess both the condition of the objects and appropriate materials for conservation treatments. In addition, the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute (MCI) provided analytical support for materials analysis: investigating various deposits and residues on objects to determine if they might be part of the original object, a residue of use, a sign of deterioration, or a museum applied coating; radiographing objects for insight into construction techniques, as well as cracking that is not apparent to the naked eye to determine their stability for travel and display; and state of the art research on fading, and on stretched skin objects, to help project conservators assess appropriate light levels, exhibition duration and environmental conditions necessary for safe travel.

Conservation Documentation

For each object the entire conservation process, including research and consultations, was documented in written reports and images. These reports are a resource for scholars, Alaska Native peoples, and for future conservators working with these objects. This work was recorded in conservation reports and in condition and treatment images. Conservation documentation forms the benchmark against which any changes in condition can be identified and addressed during the period of the loan.

| back to Conservation Case Studies |
National Museum of Natural History | Department of Anthropology | Collections and Archives Program