India Album Blog Post August 14, 2018
by Leah Humenuck
This summer I am interning at the United States Army Heritage and Education Center (USAHEC). The main item I am working on is an album from the late 19th century. It was a gift from the Quartermaster of India to the Quartermaster of the US Army and it is filled with albumen photographs. Unfortunately, this album has seen better days. When I was first introduced to this project, the album had been unbound by my supervisor Jordan Ferraro, conservator at USAHEC, in order to be digitized. Yet, prior to that chapter in its life, the original leather spine deteriorated and was replaced with a paper-based covering (I cannot seem to identify the exact type of material, invoking further research), the book block had warped and the leather covering the boards was badly deteriorated with red rot. Additionally, many of the pages are brittle and have cracked to the point of detaching from their hinge binding structures. There are numerous other damages to it, but the afore listed are the most striking and problematic. The goal of this treatment is to conserve the album so that it may safely be accessed and, if time allows, for the album to be reassembled.
Currently in the treatment process, I have removed the remaining hinge materials from the pages using a methylcellulose poultice and spatula. For a 96-page album, this process averaged 45 to 60 minutes per page. During the removal process, I had two main concerns.
- 1. The dryness of the paper was a risk of tidelines forming. Ensuring the methylcellulose poultice was dry enough and that it didn't sit too long on the adhesive was necessary for this process.
- 2. The inherent vice of the acidic, layered paper lent itself to peeling. The amount of pressure used when lifting the adhesive with the spatula was a large concern since the uppermost layer could be easily skimmed. I began with using a cotton tipped swab, but it did not provide the needed pressure to lift the adhesive before a tideline would begin to show due to the poultice. Thus, the spatula was decided upon with a careful touch.
On Monday, I began page repairs using Talas' Wheat Starch Aytex-P, prepared with a microwave method.
1:4 ratio of wheat starch to DI water
700 Watt Microwave: 30 seconds (6x) then 10 seconds (6x) with stirring between each period.
Since being at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation, I have become accustomed to PEL's wheat starch powder and my own hot plate method of creating it. Using the microwave will be an adjustment, but I look forwarding to perfecting a recipe using this method as well.
Soviet TASS Window Poster Assessment
During World War II, the Soviet Union conducted a home front propaganda campaign in the form of window posters. These posters were meant to rally support and boost the morale of the Soviet people. Beginning in 1941, a new propaganda studio, TASS, gathered together well known Russian artists and poets, and created over 1500 window posters from 1941-1945. Each artist created a painting, and these paintings were then divided into sections and a stencil was made for each color of every section. The stencils were distributed to volunteers who recreated each section, color by color, up to 600 times. After stenciling, the sections were glued together and caption strips (written by poets or gathered from newspapers or speeches) were added to create the completed poster. Posters hung in windows of shops, administrative buildings, workplaces, and even outside. Some posters were shipped to cultural centers in allied nations to boost support for the Soviet war effort.
The USAHEC has a collection of 105 Soviet TASS window posters that were donated to the museum in the 1970's, and the conservators recently conducted a condition assessment of this collection. The assessment began with measuring and photographing each poster, after which the assessment team analyzes the construction of each poster and evaluates the condition looking for damage, staining and previous repairs; these are all noted and photographed. Each poster is then given an overall condition rating of excellent, good, fair or poor. Posters in need of rehousing are rehoused before being returned to storage. This condition assessment helps the USAHEC gain further understanding of this valuable collection, while also determining the conservation needs and informing decisions regarding future exhibitions of these posters.
USAHEC's Integrated Pest Management Program's Anoxia Chamber
The exterior of the anoxia chamber.
Museum objects and archival materials are usually rare and valuable specimens, making pest management in a repository challenging. Without careful consideration, the treatment of infested objects and materials can cause more damage than the pests themselves. The materials are often delicate and fragile and subject to staining, warping, and deterioration if treatment procedures are too aggressive or harsh.
The interior of the chamber, with items ready for treatment.
There are several methods available for dealing with pest-infested materials and objects, such as vacuuming, freezing or fumigating. It is the policy of the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center to perform non-chemical (no insecticide) treatment of infested materials. Unless otherwise directed by conservation staff, all accessioned archival, library, and museum materials are processed through the nitrogen anoxia fumigation chamber (anoxia chamber).
USAHEC's Assistant Registrar David Kennaly prepares a collection for anoxia.
Fumigation with nitrogen has been found to be the most effective, non-toxic method in destroying the life cycle of a large variety of museum and repository insect pests. The anoxia chamber operates with fluctuating atmospheric pressure, exchanging nitrogen for oxygen, while maintaining temperature and humidity. Treating materials in the chamber is a three to four week process. As the oxygen concentration of the surrounding atmosphere is lowered, the insect is forced to open its spiracles (respirational opening) wider than normal. The lack of oxygen leads to an increase of the carbon dioxide concentration in the organism. To reduce this, the spiracle opens even more. This also leads to a lethal moisture loss of the insect, larvae or egg - in effect, giving a one-two killing punch of suffocation and dehydration. Not all objects are appropriate for the procedure, however, and alternate methods are selected for objects too large for the chamber or that contain materials sensitive to atmospheric pressure.
The USAHEC has several statues in its collection. One is a bronze bust of Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States. This particular bust has been in the collection since the 1960's and has had many homes around Carlisle Barracks. Its current home is in the conservation laboratory, where it is undergoing extensive treatment.
"Teddy" came in to the lab in late June of 2014 for a quick cleaning. During the initial conservation assessment, conservators noticed black "gunk" on his nose. Conservators used acetone soaked cotton swabs to remove the gunk, but noticed that the swabs were coming away black even after the visible gunk was removed.
As conservators continued to clean, Teddy's true coloring was revealed. The dark bronze coloring he had upon arrival in the lab, was actually caused by a thick layer of dust, dirt, smoke and soot accumulated over years of sitting in smoky rooms. His location in front of a window and on top of heating ducts caused the metal to heat and the layers of soiling to become tacky. Finding the best way to remove this layer proved difficult. Acetone and cotton swabs brought out a much lighter bronze, but its effectiveness was not uniform across the bust. Some sections would clean to a bright orange bronze, while others retained a blotchy black appearance. Several solvents were tested with varying degrees of success, but acetone remained the most effective. Since heat played a role in solidifying the deposits, conservators decided to try applying heat to remove them. It was determined that the best way to safely apply localized heat was by using a garment steamer. A small section would be steamed, excess water would be blotted off the surface and then the surface would be cleaned with acetone and cotton swabs. The effects of the heat were only temporary, so the treatment had to be repeated several times in order to achieve maximum success. Large areas of the true coloring were revealed through this process, but some areas remain stubbornly blotchy.
Once the cleaning regime was determined, it was decided to clean one half of the bust in order document the degree of cleaning that was completed. One year, and a lot of elbow grease, acetone, steam, and cotton swabs later, the conservators are almost half way done with Teddy's "facial."
During cleaning, two holes were discovered in Teddy's nose. It is believed that our Teddy wore glasses. Curatorial staff is attempting to locate photographs of the statue wearing glasses which will allow us to recreate these glasses, thus giving the public the opportunity to view Teddy as the artist originally intended.
Ever walk in to a museum exhibit and wonder why it is "so dark"? Well, you can blame a conservator.
The biggest job faced by a conservator is to prevent damage to the historical material in their care. We do this through ensuring objects are stored and exhibited in the best environment using the best materials.
When exhibiting museum objects and archival material, the most important aspect of the environment to control is light. In conservation, we look at both UV light and visible light. Visible light causes fading of inks and dyes, while UV light can cause fading, yellowing, cracking, and embrittlement of papers.
Since UV light is not visible, we are able to completely block it without impacting the visitor experience. This is achieved through using lights that produce no UV and blocking windows either completely or with UV filters.
Controlling visible light is much more difficult. A certain amount of visible light is needed to view the exhibit, but any visible light will, over time, fade most archival, textile and dyed objects. In order to exhibit objects without fading, conservators and exhibit designers must work together to create an environment where the works are viewable with the lowest possible light level.
The first step in controlling visible light is to determine the type of material going on exhibit. Certain materials such as watercolors, silks, and ball point ink are very sensitive to visible light and will fade quickly. Other materials like pencil, oil paint, and photographs are more lightfast and will maintain their color longer.
Once the material is identified, the conservation team places each item into one of eight fade categories established by the International Organization Standard (ISO) Blue Wool Standard. Each of these 8 categories are associated with a time to visible fade. This gives us the object's lifetime light allowance. Since light damage is cumulative, it is the goal of every exhibit to expose an object to no more than half of its light allowance.
During exhibit installation, the conservation team will take light readings to determine how much visible light is hitting each object. If levels are too high, the conservation team works with the exhibit staff to adjust these levels. This can be done by dimming levels, adding light blocking filters to fixtures or adjusting light angles. In larger galleries, light levels can be gradually decreased as visitors enter. This gives the eyes time to adjust to the lower levels and allows for viewing at lower light levels.
When adjusting light levels and angles is not possible or doesn't achieve low enough light levels, the exhibit timeframe must be shortened. This can be achieved by changing out light sensitive material with additional objects from the collections or by replacing original works with reproductions.
Limiting light exposure is just one way conservators and museum professionals maintain historic materials for future generations. So the next time you wonder why a museum exhibit is "so dark" remember, the darker the exhibit, the longer the objects will last.
Typological Artifact Storage Project
After moving from the temporary storage facility, to the purpose built Conservation Facility it was determined that the artifacts should be stored by type rather than collection. This decision was to facilitate storage of like type materials for better preservation of the items and maximize the use of available storage spaces. To do this, around seventy thousand artifacts had to be re-housed and a new storage plan developed. This project began in the spring of 2013 and has continued at varying speeds to date. As of July 2015, we have re-housed and stored approximately 50% of the collection.
The project began with the ordnance collection and progressed to the flags, then uniform items. During this phase of the project, we were able to determine the full extent of our uniform collection and note where the collection was strongest, as well as where our collection efforts needed to focus. We also identified environmental issues within the facility. These issues were corrected by adjusting the humidity and temperature for the betterment of the entire collection. Currently, we are working on re-housing and relocating the personal equipment in the collection.
As an unexpected benefit of this process, we have cut the time necessary to conduct the monthly inventory of the collection in half. This time savings has allowed us to not only inventory the material but also inspect the material for any conservation or cataloging discrepancies. This has greatly improved the preservation of the collection by allowing an early detection of any issues.
In some instances, having the material stored by type has allowed the curators to quickly determine which item would be better for exhibit, whereas before this was a very time consuming proposition as other items of a like type were not co-located and took quite a bit of time to find other material of the same type.
Overall, this project has increased the preservation of the material by improving the housing of the artifacts, as well as allowing for better accountability and intellectual control of the collection.