AIC 2009 in LA: OSG Tips Session

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The Faculte “Broadcast”: A New Multimedia Tool for Conservators

By Candis Griggs Hakim

Candice Griggs Hakim of Griggs conservation presented about the Faculte Broadcast, a free online multimedia presentation tool that was originally developed to be a kind of online Ebay for learning, so people could make classes to teach and students could pay for them online.  But it has found more of a market as a business communication and marketing tool.  It is in beta testing, but free for users like us (as opposed to corporations.)  You can upload files, videos, audio, powerpoints etc to make a seamless presentation they call a “broadcast.”  Someone else can then watch it on their computer via the web.  You can change it at any time.  Good for things like narrating treatment proposals to clients or presenting portfolios.  In her examples, I especially liked the way the presentation had her drawing red lines on the before and after photos with red lines during her narration, kind of John Madden style.  This cannot be downloaded or printed out, so it can’t be part of your documentation.  It all happens online.  It is user friendly and it’s quick to build short presentations, and they can be password protected.  No museums are using this yet, but Candice uses it in her private conservation business and loves it.  There’s an online tutorial.  Since you really can’t keep it or print it out, it seems like who cares if the technology sticks around or not?  Of course we would wish Mather Hakim success in this endeavor…I’m just saying that if this doesn’t survive you won’t have lost much because permanence isn’t what these are about anyway.

Archaeological Metals Storage at the Science Museum of Minnesota

by Gretchen Anderson


The Science Museum of Minnesota got a new building in 1999 and needed to move 1.75 million natural history items.  Among the items to move were a small collection of archaeological metals, perhaps 100-150 items.  These had been stored in metal cabinets with oak drawers in basement storage where RH in the winter got down to 15% and in the summer as high as 80%.  Some of the metals had cotton on polyurethane foam padding.   The driving force for dealing with this group of items was development of study storage drawer for public viewing back around 1989, if I understood the speaker correctly.  Drawers were lined with Marvelseal, Ethafoam cavities were cut for the artifacts, and packets of silica gel made from cotton stockinette were pinned into the drawers.  A humidity card was placed inside and a plexi top was screwed to the wood of the drawer.  After 5-6 years, the environment within stayed remarkably stable, with the silica gel only changed once.  However, it was a pain to get the artifacts in and out.  Also, the Marvelseal wasn’t the magic bullet, potassium permanganate monitoring indicated they still had offgassing.  Addition of activated charcoal might have helped, too.


Another version involved a commercial plastic tote box with a layer of silica gel in the bottom, isolated from the objects by a raised platform made by a plastic grid (fluorescent light baffle) made of polystyrene.  (Ellen’s tangent: Cathy Hawks told me once that polystyrene is OK for storage as long as it isn’t scratched, but that the scratches can offgas peroxides?  Do I remember that right?  Another dilemma with blogging is to what degree do I follow up on these kinds of useful factoids before I put the posting out there??)  She put gasketing in the top and sealed the edge with 3M packing tape.  Again, fairly stable, but with the problem that you can’t see it or get to it easily.  


A third version involved modifying drawers in Delta Design cabinets.  Silicone caulk (ammonia-free) was used to seal all cracks and crevices, a silicone gasket was put on the top with acrylic adhesive, and a series of clever clamps held the plexi top to the drawer.  THOSE are the drawings that I hope Gretchen posts somewhere, since the refinement of those clamps apparently took some time and ingenuity and are key to the system being easy to get in and out of.  Clamps were only needed on the front and back and the drawer could still move easily on its runners.  This kind of drawer has also been used to contain study skins of birds that are contaminated with arsenic.  


Gretchen Anderson now is the new conservator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.


“Cleaning Feather Bonnets”

by Nancy Fonicello



Nancy has a private practice in ethnographic objects conservation called Ancient Artways Studio LLC in Montana, and let me say right off the bat I heard her speak twice today and declare MORE NANCY!  YEAH!  Willing to share, full of great info, exudes a confident no-nonsense appeal… this tip session of hers was the best thing at the conference thusfar.  


The project involved some 18 feather bonnets that had been in storage, mostly in private collections from what I understood, and  the white feathers were very dirty.  Some of the bonnets had been handed down in families where wood burning stoves and coal furnaces were used, and the town had a coal smelter nearby for many years.  Vacuuming did not help at all and was very violent on the feathers.  Display in the Charles M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, Montana was the goal.  Nancy showed a diagram from “Indian Crafts and Lore” by Ben Hunt, 1954, who in addition to some good material info, described various dubious methods such as cleaning feathers with gasoline.  His diagram showed the large contour feathers and the small semiplume feathers that are the focus of the talk.  The semiplume feathers are called “fluffs” by the people who make and use the bonnets.   Another interesting bit: sometimes used in the structure of the older bonnets is a thin piece of membrane around the wrapping at the quill end that is pericardium, or heart tissue.  I’d never heard that before, but doesn’t it smack of something serious and meaningful that requires special caution?  Wow.  Heart tissue.  I will need to look that one up…too bad we don’t have bonnets like this in the collection at the Alaska State Museum…what a thrill to work on them!  But I digress…


Nancy has developed a method for cleaning the delicate semi-plume feathers in situ using gentle solvents and cotton compresses.  This method not only effectively removed the black sooty residue entirely, but returned the feather to its natural fluffy shape without damage or without affecting any dyes or coloring.  Posting treatment methods online in a public forum is a delicate issue, and one that will be coming up more and more in our profession with the new web 2.0 world.  Nancy and I spoke about this in person as well as in several emails.  I pondered over it for days.  It spurred me to chat with several colleagues at the conference, and I continue to think about all the ramifications.  Nancy is more than happy to share detailed information and methodology with conservation professionals if they contact her by email:  


This method apparently did not work so well with the larger contour feathers.  The mechanical action of the compress damages the structure of those feathers, and they are thicker.  Also, the sooty material did not seem to be attracted to the contour feathers as much as the fluffs.


ELLEN’S ASIDE: this treatment seems easy enough for anyone!  Doesn’t it?


1) Nancy brought a wealth of specialized expertise to the project that others on staff might not have and she has the ability to discuss materials identification and other factors from a perspective that can really enhance the informational value of an item

2) If the object is on loan from a private owner, they are likely to want treatment done by a professional

3) Treatments like this are great when all goes well.  It is when things go unexpectedly wrong that the expertise of a conservator really comes into play.  How about the adhesive on those little tassels at the top coming off with solvent?  Or if a dye did run and stained/ disfigured the contour feathers?  What if there were plastic elements (like certain kinds of beads) or repairs added later that were soluble in alcohol and began to dissolve or haze over?  It is terrifying to get in over your head when things go wrong.

4) Building a relationship with a local conservator is a beautiful thing.  If you develop a two-way street of trust that you grasp the standards and ethics of conservation and why things are done a certain way in the conservation profession, and the conservator in turn understands where your expertise rests as well as your constraints of time, budget, and resources…this can be really fruitful.  In these kinds of mutually beneficial professional relationships, conservators can call museum experts and ask questions about objects and resources you have at your fingertips, and you can call the conservator and chat things over, most significantly, “can I do this myself??”

5) Nancy knew to test the bonnets for pesticides, and some of the bonnets were contaminated with lead and arsenic.  Knowing how to deal with toxic issues is an important expertise…sometimes it is not only the object that needs to be protected from us, it is we who need to be protected from the object. For this project, and XRF was rented and half of the bonnets had alarmingly high levels of mercury.  Many were built on felt hat blanks, which is one possible source of the mercury.  Mercury was of course also widely used as a pesticide.  Nancy wore a Tyvek suit during treatment.


Q & A SESSION wow this was good!!!


Nancy hasn’t come up with a treatment for the contour feathers that she really likes.  However, both the contour feathers and white porcupine quills tend to naturally yellow with age, and often the contour feathers are not very white-looking when they are collected for constructing the bonnet in the first place.  While there was a visual discrepancy between the whiteness of the fluff and the relative dirtiness of other elements, this was considered visually acceptable by the people whose opinion really mattered…and it was obvious that no one from the culture would consider wearing a bonnet with filthy fluffs.  Having those remain dirty was not acceptable.  


Such an outpouring of opinions from the OSG about how to clean the contour feathers!  Oh it was lovely…how easily they can be cleaned probably varies a lot, but some folks have had success with:

* blotter behind the contour feather and putting ethanol on the feather with a dropper, then brushing along the barbs with repeated changes of blotter and reapplication of ethanol

* microfiber dust cloths

* blotter paper behind and thin wedges of soot sponge drawn along the barbs

* polyurethane cosmetic sponges

* polyvinyl alcohol sponges (those are the ones that are hard when dry and soft when wet and can be used with various solvents.  (Some brand names include BlitzFix and Kenebo?)

* Groom/ stick, (a poly isoprene natural rubber product) which is known to leave residues but those can be reduced greatly by using fresh Groom/stick and using it cold.  Look up the paper that Sara Moy did on these residues in the OSG postprints from a few years back if you want to know more about potential residues.  So sad not to see Sara at the conference this year…I interned with her at the Peabody Museum at Harvard with T. Rose Holdcraft year ago…

* The CCI mini vacuum was used to clean really fragile taxidermy eagle chicks at another institution.  CCI notes 18/2 tells how to make one, but Helen Alten may have more recent specs since the device has been tweaked since.  



Arlen Higenbotham would love to hear from anyone who has seen or worked with large panels of asian lacquered leather.


Shelley Reisman Paine would like to hear from people who are working with the issue of salts in limestone.


A list of books and journals about conservation is posted at the conference and YOU are asked to please help out if you have titles to donate to the new library at the NEW conservation training program in IRAQ.  Yes, Iraq.  I only have tidbits of the story, but apparently Terry Drayman Weisser and others at the Walters Gallery brought over a couple of Iraqi students a couple of years ago to work with them, and this has had incredibly fruitful results including the establishment of a school in Iraq…Jessie Johnson is the new director of that program.  If you can send your books to an address in Delaware, a bookplate with your name will be added and then it will be shipped over to Iraq.  How cool is that?  I don’t know if the list is online anywhere, I will amend this post after I find out more…I’m sure there will be calls out on discussion lists about it, so keep your eyes peeled.


2 Responses to AIC 2009 in LA: OSG Tips Session

  1. […] the gut skin talk worth checking out (I wont spoil the surprise) and also posting a summary of the ‘OSG Tips Session’. Ellen’s other posts were more generally about the conference such as: ‘AIC 2009 in LA: […]

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