Conservation Projects

Desert Storm Transportation Map before treatment

Front of the map before treatment

Desert Storm Transportation Map

Finding the best objects to tell a story is an integral part of the exhibit process. For "This Will Not Stand", USAHEC Curator Molly Bompane utilized not only the USAHEC Collections, but she also requested loans from several other museums in the Army Museum Enterprise system. One of the most complex items to arrive for the exhibit was a framed map on loan from the US Army Transportation Museum at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia. The map hung in the conference room of the 7th Transportation Group's Dammam Headquarters in Saudi Arabia. There it was used throughout both Operations DESERT SHIELD and STORM as a reference. The map not only shows the movement of coalition units during the ground war, but also the massive logistics effort executed to support it.

Back of the map before treatment

Back of the map before treatment

Whenever an object arrives on loan the USAHEC conservators assess the object to document condition upon arrival, but in this case to also determine the suitability for exhibit. Like many artifacts this map required a significant level of treatment before it could be safely exhibited, but uniquely it would require the joint efforts of both USAHEC Objects Conservator, Cynthia Blechl and USAHEC Paper Conservator Jordan Ferraro. After a joint assessment the conservators developed a treatment plan and got permission from the Transportation Museum to proceed (a necessary step as conservators cannot treat objects from other museums without that museum's permission).

The map was created by joining four maps together using magic tape. Two pieces of plastic were taped together to form an overlay on which roads, cities and bases were indicated using a variety of colored tapes. The maps and overlays were then mounted on a rectangle base of 2x4's with cross beams in the center and framed with door framing. During its life several attempts to stabilize the structure were made, a large tear formed down one side of the paper maps and the overlays and map had fallen out of the top frame and were being held on by duct tape.

Separating the component parts

Separating the component parts

The treatment began by separating the object into its component parts. For the paper maps, the magic tape was removed separating the map into its four original sections. Tape used to mend tears was also removed. Each section was then flattened and the tears mended using stale mending methods. The pieces were then reassembled using a conservation grade adhesive. In order to provide greater support during exhibit, the map was hinged onto a backer of archival gray board.

Cynthia Blechl mending tears

Cynthia Blechl mending tears

For the overlays, treatment began by removing the duct and packing tape that held the overlay to the frame. The next step was to remove the packing tape holding the two sections of the overlay together. Once the two sections were separated, all adhesive residue was removed. The most time consuming step followed which was to re-adhere all loose labels as well as loose or detached colored tapes which were used to indicate transportation roads and transportation routes. Additionally, all tears were patched using conservation grade adhesive and polyester patches. Once all these steps were completed and the two sections cleaned to remove dust and surface soiling, the two sections were joined using conservation grade adhesive and one continuous strip of polyester.

A break was taken during the treatment of the map and the overlay to attend to the wood frame. When the map was disassembled into its component parts, the base of the frame had sprung so that it was not as tightly held together as it was originally. This was treated by the application of conservation grade adhesive applied at the joints and the use of ratchet straps to hold the pieces in place while the adhesive set. This treatment took the least amount of time but insured a stable base for the map in the future.

Front of the map after treatment

Front of the map after treatment

Once conservation was complete on each component of the map it was reassembled. The gray board and map were placed on the support structure, the plastic overlays were aligned to the map and the frame was reattached using the original nail holes

This was a unique treatment that required USAHEC's two conservation specialties to work in tandem. This treatment was done not only for the exhibition of the map but also to provide stability for the object in the future. By conserving the transportation map, the USAHEC conservators have made a unique piece available for the exhibit and provided the stabilization needed to help ensure this piece can remain safely in the care of the US Army Transportation Museum for years to come.

The Conservation Staff at USAHEC would like to express our gratitude for the assistance provided by USAHEC Conservation Volunteers Danielle Settlemeyer and Leah Humenuck, USAHEC Curator Molly Bompane and the approval of the US Army Transportation Museum. This piece will hang in the Desert Storm exhibit for the next three years before it returns to its home at the US Army Transportation Museum


Carved in Stone, Cast in Bronze

For the last several months USAHEC Conservators have been preparing artifacts for the upcoming exhibit "Carved in Stone, Cast in Bronze". This exhibit features stone, plaster and bronze statuary from the Civil War Era. There are 8 sculptures in the exhibit and, after assessing the condition of each piece, every piece required some level of treatment.

The plaster pieces required no more than a gentle vacuuming to remove dust that is inevitable even when stored in a clean museum environment. Light vacuuming was also all that was required for the large sculpture of Lincoln. The eagle sculpture was in need of vacuuming, to remove loose surface dust, as well as a gentle yet thorough cleaning with solvent to remove surface soiling that was not removed by vacuuming alone. The marble busts, on the other hand, required a complete cleaning that was not necessarily intense but it was very time consuming. Click HERE to read about alternate cleaning methods for bronze statues.


Marble is a soft, porous stone and over time everyday dirt, grime and pollution settle into the pores of the stone. This soiling is not usually problematic for a marble piece housed in a museum but it definitely changes the appearance of the piece and how it is appreciated by the viewer. In this instance, cleaning the marble required a treatment that would be able to penetrate the porous marble and remove the accumulated grime. After testing different methods and substances, it was decided that the best approach would be to employ Laponite for cleaning.


Laponite is a synthetic clay that, when mixed with water, forms a clear gel. The gel is spread on the statue, covered with plastic wrap and allowed to dry for 48 hours. As the gel dries the dirt and grime are pulled out of the pores and suspended in the gel. The conservator then removes the plastic wrapping, gently scrapes the gel from the surface, and cleans the surface with a damp sponge. This is to insure that any soiling that has come to the surface is removed before another application of gel is applied. Since marble is a soft stone, scraping and washing must be done with soft sponges and standard tap water. The de-ionized water commonly used in conservation treatments is too corrosive and has the potential to etch the marble.


Thorough cleaning of the marble requires several applications since Laponite gel is a gentle treatment that removes the imbedded soiling slowly, layer by layer. During the process, it is not unusual for the marble to temporarily appear darker as imbedded dirt is brought to the surface. The process of treatment - application, 48 hours, removal, cleaning, reapplication - continues until the marble not only looks clean but the gel that is removed is completely clear.


Once the conservator has determined that the Laponite gel treatment is complete, the marble will be given one final gentle washing to insure no product remains on the surface. Click HERE to visit the full online Carved in Stone, Cast in Bronze virtual exhibit.


MayDay 2020


Image courtesy of the Foundation for Advancement in Conservation


MayDay has many different meanings. For some it evokes images of spring, maypoles, dancing, and the celebration of spring. For others, MayDay means distress, typically of a ship or plane. In the cultural heritage world it means both. MayDay is an annual reminder of the responsibility of cultural heritage organizations to protect the world's heritage from disaster. It is a time when museum, library, and archives staff renew emergency plans, check on supplies, recertify or retrain staff on emergency procedures, or foster relationships with emergency responders.

Most people think emergency response is the sole responsibility of emergency responders or facilities and operations staff. While these groups are instrumental in emergency response, when it comes to historic collections a different approach is necessary; an approach lead by conservators and collection care staff. Conservators at the USAHEC have experienced a myriad of emergency events and have developed a series of MayDay events designed to help build relationships, strengthen response, and train staff and volunteers.

USAHEC was planning its first MayDay event in 2020, inviting emergency responders (fire, police, emergency managers, and safety personnel) for a tour and open discussion. This event would help build a solid relationship between the different organizations and lead to improved collection care and increased safety for responders. The teams would review past events and identify areas were communication or response could be improved, highlight areas that may pose greater risk to responders, and highlight measures taken on both sides to better protect collections during an emergency response. Ironically, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of USAHEC to the public and the postponement of this event.

During the closure, USAHEC experienced a minor leak in the library stacks. A leak during an unexpected closure due to a global pandemic brought up several, unconsidered topics for discussion, both with the responders and with the USAHEC staff: How do you handle an emergency while many staff members are under stay-at-home orders? How can you maintain the safety of staff still on-site during the closure as well as those responding to the event? What steps are needed to ensure the buildings and exhibits are clean and safe when the USAHEC once again welcomes the public to the exhibits and research facility? And finally, how can USAHEC continue to provide support to its patrons during the closure?

Over the course of the next year, USAHEC will be re-developing its collection emergency response plan. This plan, while working in conjunction with emergency response plans to protect the building and people, will focus on the safety of the collections. From preventive measures like clearing downspouts and maintaining infrastructure, to response procedures for collection evacuation this plan will be a collaborative effort across multiple organizations. The USAHEC will also be looking at pandemic response measures, to ensure continuity of operations with plans and measures to protect the staff and the public from future health and safety issues.

Next year for MayDay the USAHEC will welcome emergency responders for the planned tour and discussion. The emergencies that occurred during the pandemic and the new, improved collection emergency response plan will help lead the discussion. This event will form a solid base to allow staff to protect the collections during any situation and paves the way for additional opportunities for discussion between responders and collection care professionals. Future MayDay events will provide staff and volunteers training on emergency response and recovery and perhaps even community training on protecting heirlooms in the event of an emergency.

Out of This World Opportunity


We got a call last year that led to some of the most exciting work we have undertaken here at the Conservation Facility of the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center (USAHEC). We have only recently been given permission to share the details due to the high level of secrecy surrounding the project. The Conservation Department of USAHEC was asked to play an important role in the identification of materials from the 1947 Roswell incident!!

You cannot imagine our excitement at being included in this project since the conservators at USAHEC are pretty geeky when it comes to space stuff. Once we realized this was actually happening, we settled down to hammer out the details: What were they sending? What information were they looking to obtain? Would we be in danger? What was the purpose in conserving these items? These were just some of the questions that needed to be answered before beginning the project.


As with most super-secret missions, we were not able to get all of our questions answered before the work started but, none the less we set a date to receive the shipment and then prepared to get to work as soon as the items arrived. When the objects arrived, we were in complete shock at an item that was sent along with those we knew were coming. We fully expected a piece of a (space) ship's outer hull, a section of a (space) suit, a container of (space) food, and various small pieces of unknown usage. What we did not expect was what appeared to be a desiccated life form (LF)!

Those in charge of the collection had heard about our state-of-the-art conservation facility, as well as our array of analytical equipment. Because of our knowledge and technical capabilities, they felt we would be able to not only identify the various material types present in these objects but would also be able to humidify the desiccated LF and conserve it for future study.


The hull, suit, container, and its contents were first analyzed using X-ray fluorescence (XRF) to determine the inorganic elements present. This non-destructive test uses a focused beam of X-ray waves to excite the atoms of an object. Since atoms of each element react to X-rays at certain speeds, we are able to identify individual elements in the sample. Unfortunately, this analysis yielded no results. Next we used Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) analysis to look for any organic elements that might be present. This test determines the elemental composition of a sample by shooting it with infrared light and measuring the absorption rate of each element. This, too, yielded no results. Our conclusion was that the materials used in the manufacture of these items were not from known earthly sources.


The treatment of the desiccated LF was successful and yielded a substantial amount of information. The full results of the investigation are classified and therefore cannot be discussed here, but we have been given permission to address the conservation aspects of the treatments of LF. The first step in the conservation treatment of LF was to place it in a humidification chamber so as to reduce brittleness by returning some of its suppleness. Once this phase of the treatment was complete, we determined that the best course of action would be to provide appropriate housing for LF. The placement of LF in an appropriately-sized container with proper padding would ensure safe handling and storage for the future. Additional housing options were discussed but since we were unable and unqualified to determine if LF was actually alive, it was hoped that a conservation-grade housing and storage option would provide the most protection with the least amount of damage.

All in all, our chance to work with these highly unusual objects and to actually conserve an apparent alien life form was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the USAHEC conservators. It also provided a chance for the USAHEC Conservation Facility to really step into the national spotlight.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone, earthling and non-earthling, that helped in making this exciting project such a success. We should never forget that, "We are not alone" even on April Fools!

Tape is Evil!

Tape is Evil!

Ask any paper conservator how they feel about tape and you will probably get the same answer... "Tape Is Evil!!" Unfortunately tape is found throughout the USAHEC Collections and it is the job of the conservator to remove it. Removing tape requires knowledge of many factors. There are many types of tape: cellophane, magic, masking, medical (yes medical tape on paper), duct (yup, it has happened) and paper tape... the list goes on. Each type of tape requires a different removal method. The treatment is further complicated by the type of paper (or photograph) the tape was used on, the media (pencil, ink, marker) on the item and even how the tape was applied.

One horrible example of the misuse of tape recently came into the lab. It was a twenty-six page document on 1950's office paper, typewritten with a variety of colored stamps. Some well-intentioned person who wanted to keep all the pages together, felt the best approach was to attach each page to the next with cellophane tape. Layer upon layer, they added a new piece of tape for each page, using enough tape to keep tape manufacturers in business for the rest of that year. Over time the adhesive was absorbed through the paper and leached out from under the tape. The adhesive hardened and the cellophane carrier became brittle, eventually forming a solid block at the top of the document.


In order to remove the tape and make the document available for digitization, conservators had to figure out the best way to separate the cellophane carrier from each page and remove the adhesive. Since the tape was layered on each page and had begun to adhere to itself, there was no way to soften the adhesive enough to allow for the removal of the carrier. Instead the document was approached from the back where no carrier was present. Paper pulp soaked in solvent was placed along the tape line, glass plates were placed on top and weighted to ensure the solvent would penetrate the paper rather than evaporating. After about 20 minutes, the weights, plates and pulp were removed. The adhesive had softened enough to allow the document to be separated from the stack. The adhesive was removed from the document with solvent soaked cotton swabs. The cellophane carrier, which remained on the back of the page still on the stack, was removed using a solder pencil. Adhesive was removed from the new "last" page using solvent and cotton swabs and the process was repeated. After twenty-six turns through the process, each document was separated and the document was placed in the humidification chamber to flatten before being returned to the digitization process.

So the next time you need to "repair" a document, please consider the potential of the document to end up in an archive before you reach for the tape. Future conservators will thank you.

Hate Belts


Soldiers collect. The mementos of soldiers are some of the most interesting parts of the USAHEC collection. One unique category of mementos in the collection are referred to as "hate belts". It is uncertain where the term "hate belt" came from or when it was first used, but there are several theories. The most quoted is that "hate belts" are one form of souvenir belt first created by German soldiers in World War 1. The soldier would take a standard leather belt and affix insignia and buttons from captured or killed enemy soldiers. Another type of these belts is the "gravedigger belt". These belts were created by gravediggers who removed insignia and buttons from the bodies of fallen enemies while on grave digging detail. The third set of belts are "souvenir belts". These belts will have insignia and buttons from soldiers of both sides of the conflict. The items on these belts were usually traded or found rather than captured or stolen. Without firsthand accounts it is impossible to determine the true history of each belt in the collection. Most likely the belts in the USAHEC collection are a combination of types with a varied history. One thing they all have in common is some level of deterioration and that is where conservation comes in


These belts suffer from a variety of problems. The most significant problem is the presence of metal corrosion products. A large number of the metal insignia and buttons during World War I contained some amount of copper. Over time, the copper will begin to corrode forming copper stearates, the gooey green stuff you see on your eyeglasses. This process is exacerbated in the presence of leather. The condition of the belts was discovered during a monthly inventory of the museum collections and they were brought into the conservation lab for treatment.


In order to conserve the belts, each button or insignia needed to be removed from the belt, cleaned and then reattached. In examples where the button or insignia is attached individually this is a simple procedure. The pieces are removed one at a time, solvent cleaned and reattached to the belt before the next piece is removed. This ensures that the original order of the belt is maintained. Unfortunately, not all the belts proved this easy to clean. There are examples where it was not possible to individually remove the insignia. One such belt has the buttons and insignia attached by punching the eye through the belt and stringing a lace through the eyes. This continuous attachment makes removal one at a time impossible. In these cases it is necessary to remove all the pieces at once, carefully documenting not only the original order, but the original lacing pattern as well. Each piece was numbered and placed in a small bag. Once each piece was cleaned, the pieces were re-laced according to the original lacing pattern. Due to the age of the lacing it was necessary to replace the original lacing with a modern equivalent. After consultation with the curators it was determined the laces were most likely boot or tent lacing. A suitable replacement was found by searching reenactment vendors. Even though it was deteriorated beyond use, the original lacing was retained and stored as a part of the collection.


The separated buttons and insignia are cleaned using a mild solvent which removes the copper stearates without damaging the metal. The belt is cleaned using a natural enzymatic cleaner followed by deionized water. Each button and insignia is coated with a thin layer of microcrystalline wax which acts as a barrier to protect the metal and leather from each other. The close proximity of the metal to the leather makes further corrosion likely. After treatment the belts are returned to storage where the condition of all their components will be monitored as part of the monthly inventory process. If any additional corrosion is noted it will be brought to the attention of conservation..


Artifacts VS Zombies


An important part of museum collection care is having an emergency response plan. This process involves identifying potential threats and devising responses to them. When identifying potential threats, it is best to follow the example of other experts, so USAHEC conservators looked to FEMA and CDC. Since both agencies have issued guidance on a zombie apocalypse response, it was only fitting that USAHEC follow suit.

Artifacts VS Zombies

Our first step involved researching zombies. Common understanding indicates that a zombie is a person who has been infected by a virus, causing reanimation after death. It is believed that the virus is transmitted through a bite from another zombie. Zombies are carnivorous and their sole objective is to eat. Models suggest zombie-ism spreads quickly through attacks despite research showing zombies are bad strategists with limited motor skills. The only way to kill a zombie is to damage the brain. There are researchers who believe a zombie can be killed by beheading. However, this has been dismissed by some experts as only a mode of incapacitating the zombie in order to easily damage the brain.

During planning, the initial concern was how to provide for the visitors and staff who may be trapped at the USAHEC. It was proposed that an underground tunnel be constructed to connect the food, located in the gift shop, with the weapons, stored in the Conservation Facility. This undertaking was quickly vetoed by command as an unnecessary expenditure of federal funds. While this project is still being negotiated, the discussion on how to provide both food and weapons led to the ultimate question: Is it ethical to use the artifacts against zombies? If so, what precautions must be taken in order to ensure the artifacts' continued preservation?


Next we studied which artifacts could be used in this type of fight. While initial thoughts always go to firearms as the best defense against zombies, none of the firearms in the USAHEC collections are operational. When a firearm comes into the collection it receives a safety inspection. Some firearms have had caps or ignition holes soldered or sealed prior to the inclusion in the USAHEC collections. This is usually done so the weapon can be used in training. Firearms that are operational upon arrival at USAHEC are rendered nonoperational in a reversible manner. This is done usually by removing a firing pin, removing a bolt, or by replacing a flint with an inert material. While USAHEC does retain the removed parts as part of the collections, these weapons would need significant maintenance in order to be safely fired. Additionally USAHEC doesn't have any live ammunition in the collection. Next we considered the collection of edged weapons for defense. USAHEC has over 500 swords, knives, bayonets, spears and other sharp-edge weapons in the collection, some of which maintain a cutting edge. All of these artifacts have drawbacks as weapons against zombies. A spear, while long range, is a single use weapon, while swords, knives, and bayonets are primarily for hand-to-hand combat, so with a zombie they really are weapons of last resort.

The collection does provide some longer range weapons, most notably crossbows and bows. The use of these weapons would require the manufacture of projectiles capable of penetrating the skull of the zombie. The Conservation Facility provides several good options to be used, from scalpel blades to breaking down metal cabinets. Another concern with bows is the ability of the bow string to be pulled taut. Many of the bows are old and may be beyond their usable life.


Despite USAHEC being well equipped to defend against a zombie horde, some staff had concerns about using artifacts as weapons against zombies. The first concern was that defenders would not stop to put on nitrile gloves before handling the artifacts. Conservators hope that this risk could be mitigated through proper training, but the potential for people to grab a weapon without gloves during the heat of battle can never be completely eliminated. The next concern was maintaining the provenance (artifact history and records) for the artifacts. At USAHEC the documentation for objects is recorded electronically and in hard copy. This documentation is associated with the physical item by the assigned object number displayed on a tag tied to each artifact. The concern that tags would become separated from objects during combat is a valid one. To reduce the potential loss of information it was recommended that only catalogued artifacts with complete descriptions and photographs be used. Since our artifact cataloging team is nearing the end of their cataloging backlog (a feat uncommon in museums) the stipulation is not an absurd one. The third concern was about the damage artifacts would suffer. While this includes the nicks and dings created by repeated contact with the zombie skull, there are other factors to consider. Undoubtedly weapons will be removed from museum storage as defenders scout for food and supplies. This will subject the weapons to a variety of environmental conditions which may have adverse effects on the objects. There are also unknown factors, such as the effects zombie blood will have on the materials.

Counterarguments to use the artifacts were pretty simple - All the potential damage and loss will not matter if civilization falls to the zombie horde. If civilization does win out, the survivors will be able to repatriate artifacts and conservators can clean off the zombie blood and repair any artifacts damaged during the fight.

With valid arguments on both sides USAHEC staff has been unable to reach a consensus so we are asking for your opinion. Should the treatment of museum objects continue unchanged even in the face of approaching zombie hordes or should the proverbial dust (there is no dust in museum storage) be wiped off and the artifact used, beginning a new chapter in its life?

Please share your input by tweeting @USAHEC with #ArtifactsVSZombies or head over to our Facebook page and comment on the #ArtifactsVSZombies post.


Roosevelt's Facial Part II


Earlier on our page you read about Teddy Roosevelt's facial. You may recall that we decided to only clean half the statue in order to get a true sense of the extent of the treatment. Much time has passed and Teddy has been sitting in the lab, a line down his face, his "facial" on hold while conservators acquired and trained on a new piece of equipment: a conservation laser.

The conservation laser gives conservators the ability to "blast" away the surface soiling covering Teddy in a fraction of the time. Nd:Yag lasers use 1064nm wavelength light to cut through the dirt coating. The laser beam uses light energy to excite the carbon in the surface soiling. The excited carbon atoms break up the surface soiling, turning it to dust, which is carried away by a fume extractor. The laser USAHEC purchased has the added bonus of a rotating circular beam. This beam not only cleans without creating over cleaned areas at the end of the beam path, called "hot spots", but also adjusts itself to the shape of the object being cleaned. This allows us to easily clean areas such as Teddy's bushy mustache and ears without stopping to change angles.

Like all conservation treatments, laser cleaning is not foolproof. Before starting on Teddy, testing was done to determine the energy level which would break up the surface soiling but not damage the underlying bronze. When cleaning bronze with a laser we clean to the cuprite layer. Cuprite is the layer of corrosion just above the bare bronze. Removing the cuprite layer would expose the bare metal to the environment causing further corrosion. By keeping the existing cuprite layer we reduce further metal loss through corrosion.

After laser cleaning, Teddy looks a little bit purple. This purple iridescence is a result of the angle of light refraction off the cuprite. We are able to eliminate this effect by applying a thin barrier of micro-crystalline wax. This wax not only changes the incidence of refraction, eliminating the purple look, but it also serves as a protective layer against the ravages of the environment.

An Unusual Museum Visitor

During one of our monthly pest inspections last summer the conservation staff came across an unusual visitor. This small corn snake was found stuck to a sticky trap by the FT-17 French Renault in the Solider Experience Gallery. While snakes are not uncommon in central PA, they rarely visit museums.

Our first task was to make sure this little snake was alone and hadn't taken up residence in the gallery with his friends and family. We checked the surrounding areas for evidence of a nest. The most likely place was inside the tank so we checked around the treads and inside all the hatches, but we found nothing. Since there wasn't a nest and we only found the one little snake we determined that the snake had probably accompanied one of our human guests on their visit to the museum and gotten lost.

After we determined the snake was a solo traveler we brought it back down to the conservation facility for surgery. Objects Conservator Cynthia Blechl and volunteer Danielle Settlemeyer donned the appropriate protective gear (nitrile gloves) and bravely began the task of releasing the snake from the trap. First the sides of the trap were cut away to allow for easier access. A solvent was used to dissolve the adhesive of the sticky trap. To avoid using too much solvent, it was applied locally with the aid of a syringe. As the snake was slowly removed from the trap it was held away from the adhesive so the struggling snake would not readhere itself to the trap. After a painstaking process the uncooperative patient was finally free of the trap, but adhesive remained on the snake causing it to adhere to itself. In an attempt to remove excess adhesive small amounts of solvent were brushed directly onto the snake. The snake was then dunked in a water bath. Once the majority of the adhesive was removed it was released back into the wild.

While this was an interesting change of pace for the conservation team, we would like to request that our visitors not bring their snakes or other creepy crawly friends with them on their museum visits.

While this was an interesting change of pace for the conservation team, we would like to request that our visitors not bring their snakes or other creepy crawly friends with them on their museum visits.


India Album Wrap-up Weeks 4-8

Conserving the Boards:

by Leah Humenuck

As can be seen from the before pictures, red rot was pervasive throughout the leather on the boards. The leather on the surface area, even in the middle, was lifting and required re-adhering to the board; this was performed using Lascaux 489. Lascaux 489 was chosen due to it being a slightly more rigid adhesive than Lascaux 300.

Areas where a step formed in the leather (rather than a gradual deterioration which had petrified itself to the board) were at risk of catching on something and flaking off. These areas were reinforced with small pieces of Japanese paper, creating more surface area where it was connected to the board and a slightly more gradual topographic area to reduce catching.

Most of the corners were in poor shape, certainly not the original shapes and required attention. Since there was either loss of material, delamination, or both of these problems, wheat starch paste was inserted between the layers along with Japanese paper, where appropriate. Additionally, where there were exposed board layers at risk of losing more material, these were covered with Japanese paper as well

Color matching is one of my favorite parts of book conservation. I chose Schminke Finest extra-soft artists' pastels and coated them with SC6000 to ensure there wasn't transfer and to provide a finish which better matched the leather.

Binding Materials:
The binding materials were cleaned using a small brush nozzle on the vacuum cleaner.

By the end of treatment, it had been a while since all the parts of the album were aligned with one another. I had quite forgotten that the entire item weighed over 80lbs (36kg)! We had originally intended to house it all together. However, due to the weight and the end of the project approaching, three different enclosures were created, two for the book block and one for the boards with the binding materials.

Book Block:
The book block was divided into quarters and each quarter was placed into a phase box with a reinforced bottom.
Two of the phase boxes filled one enclosure. The enclosures were given corner webbing with front, left, and right sides folding down. Velcro dots aligned those three sides. This was allows easy access and handling while still providing support and protection to the items.

Boards and Binding Materials:
The boards were placed into their own box with an interior lining to catch any other pieces of leather which may detach in the future. The binding materials were given their own box with an additional sub-enclosure in the lid for smaller related pieces.

Training a Volunteer:
During the majority of the page repair stage of the treatment, I learned how to train and work with a volunteer. At first, I was hesitant to do this since I have never trained someone before in this type of project, and did not know how I would do teaching conservation techniques. However, she came in with previous object handling skills, some conservation experience, and a museum/archive background. Additionally, I too was not without some teaching experience as well. I have a background in tutoring chemistry, physics, and math. Unfortunately, all of those things were tutored using boards, papers, and textbooks. Teaching someone through an action is much different. It requires talking through what I was analyzing, why I was looking at it, techniques, assessing, etc.; all the little thoughts that go through one's mind. I feel blessed to have had so many wonderful supervisors; remembering how they mentored me and the different ways things were explained, I was able to draw from these experiences. After this internship, I feel better prepared to take on the challenge of training other volunteers in the future.

Final Thoughts:
This project has been one of the best experiences. This is the biggest project I have worked on thus far in three ways.

    1) Largest and heaviest book
    2) 250 hours from the assessment and treatment proposal through the encapsulation and final report. This was much more intensive than any of my previous projects.
    3) Managing space, resources, and a volunteer. I further learned to anticipate necessary tools and resources for an entire project and manage a lab area utilizing surfaces and finding solutions in order to treat the item. As mentioned previously, this first time working with a volunteer was a definite highlight.

I would like to thank the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center for allowing me this opportunity, especially Jordan Ferraro, who was my main supervisor while performing this project, and Cynthia Blechl, who supported and advised me on various aspects.


India Album Blog Post 2

by Leah Humenuck

The fourth week of the treatment has been focused on page repairs using varying weights of Japanese paper and wheat starch paste.

There are three main types of damage affecting the pages of the India Album.

    1. Delamination
    Many of the sides and corners especially show this type of damage. I have been filling the spaces with the wheat starch paste, pushing out the excess, and placing under weights. For the areas where there was a loss of material, I placed light weight Japanese paper in the layers to bring back a rigidity into the areas.
    2. Cracks
    Perhaps these could be called tears, but considering the current brittleness and thickness of the pages, it looks and behaves like a crack similar to damage from ceramics conservation. If the piece has popped up or detached it never seems to fit perfectly back into the original area. Also considering the warping of the pages, I think it may be likely that some areas are under tension. From physics, once tension that has been in a material, and then released, it can be quite a challenge to revert it back into state of containing tension.
    3. Losses
    Due to the afore mentioned brittleness, finding a solution was a balancing act. For another album I am working on, I am building up layers of an appropriate Japanese paper to match the thickness of the original. For this one however, I decided that it was better to find something that was an appropriate strength but also a little flexible and slightly weaker than the material of the page. This was due to the now three-dimensional aspect of the page from warping and (as always) the brittleness. I settled on building up 5 layers of a heavy Japanese paper which ended up being about 3 microns thinner than the original page, flexible, slightly weaker than the original page, but still could endure being handled by a researcher.

Updating my recipe of wheat starch paste using Talas' Wheat Starch Aytex-P, prepared with a microwave:
1:3 ratio of wheat starch to DI water
700 Watt Microwave: 30 seconds (3x) then 10 seconds (6x) with stirring between each period.

I found this recipe to be a little thicker than the 1:4 ratio and slightly dryer even after sieving

A volunteer:
Additionally, I was able to go from working on 5 pages (which is the max, I could seem to handle working solo) to 11! This was all thanks to the help of a volunteer, Danielle Settlemeyer. Danielle has come as a volunteer to USAHEC's conservation department from the archives. She previously had training in item handling and some conservation experience. This was also the first time I had a chance to train a volunteer in assisting me with a project. It certainly brought back memories of when I was first being trained. Danielle will be assisting me a few more times during the page repair stage of this process.


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

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.


For more information on TASS posters please visit:
The University of Nottingham:
The Art Institute of Chicago:


USAHEC's Integrated Pest Management Program's Anoxia Chamber

The exterior of the 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

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

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.


Roosevelt's Facial

Roosevelt's Facial

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. teddy3The 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

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.