Top 10 Projects: January 2011

Can you believe I missed writing Top 10 for 2010?  Wow, time flies.  Here are the things on my to-do list for 2011:

Brass sabots are all that remain of Parrott shot from the 1868 Torrent shipwreck. They are soaking in sodium sesquicarbonate to remove harmful chlorides.

1. TORRENT SHIPWRECK ARTIFACTS  These came out of the ocean in the summer of 2008, and many are still in the treatment phase.  The bone brush is done (thanks to intern Lauren Horelick, who performed an Acrysol WS-24 treatment.  It was on exhibition last summer.)  The scale rod is also done, thanks to a successful electrolysis by State Archaeologist Dave McMahan.  It was also on display last summer.)  All the lead is dry and seems to be stabilized.  By this I am talking about our minie balls, spherical case shot, so-called “sounding lead” and a few other munitions-related things.  They had been in fresh water longer than they ought to have been, and fresh water contains dissolved gases that promote corrosion.  We knew this was happening because we saw a subtle glittery slick on top of the water and even a few crystals coming out of the lead itself on one of the artifacts.  Removal from water and drying halted that process, but there is still a slightly glittery quality to the surface of the lead that I am contemplating treating.  The brass artifacts are all currently soaking in sodium sesquicarbonate.  In addition to some small finds, there are two portholes soaking in this solution.  There are two more portholes undergoing electrolysis in the lab at TAMU.  TAMU (Jim Jobling) is also taking care of the bronze mountain howitzer by electrolysis for us.  Stay tuned for more about the ship’s toilet (!)

Bones for testing adhesive labels

2. INTERFACE WITH STATE ARCHAEOLOGISTS  The Alaska Anthropological Association Conference is March 9-11, 2011 in Fairbanks.  I am looking forward to this with great excitement.  I am still learning how the world of archaeology operates in Alaska, and I was hoping to write a posting from last year’s conference, but I was way too green and decided to keep my mouth shut and ears open.  This year I’ll bring a poster about adhesives for labeling artifacts and participate in a session about conservation of archaeological artifacts from the maritime environment.  Last year I participated in a session about conservation and curation, and heard great complaining about using B-72.  Checking with my colleagues, this is widespread among archaeologists.  They want to use other adhesives instead.  So we are doing some very qualitative testing on mock-ups of bone, ceramic, stone, metal and wood using the paper-label process.  Anna Weiss, a conservation grad student in the Queen’s Program (and my AIC mentee!) is doing the first run, Samantha Springer (objects conservator at the Cleveland Museum of Art, Winterthur/Delaware grad and a 2007 basketry intern in my lab) is running another set of tests.  And I’ll run a third set.  Then we’ll have a poster at the conference and think about how to disseminate the info.

Working on defining various air handling unit zones for a new facility.

3. NEW BUILDING PLANNING  Sounds dry, doesn’t it?  Not at all.  We are in the design phase of a new building here in Juneau, Alaska that will combine the Alaska State Library, Archive and Museum in one facility.  You can read about the project here at  My role right now is to work with the team to understand collection and conservation needs.  For example, working with lab planner Roz Estime to develop the objects lab as well as help with the paper lab.  Let me remind my gentle readers, Alaska has only a handful of conservators, and none of them do paper/books/photos with the exception of nomadic conservator Seth Irwin, who Scott Carrlee recently brought up here to do contract work at various institutions.  Right now, Seth has found an ally and fellow creative-thinker in Norm Legasse, the head of the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum in Anchorage.  Seth’s work featured prominently in the news recently about important historical watercolors from Barrow.  I’m also working with the project’s mechanical engineer, Dave Shumway, to get him the info he needs to set up the HVAC system.  ASHRAE chapter 21 should be required reading for conservation graduate students.  If you want to talk with engineers about HVAC (and c’mon, who is doing the HVAC?  So whose ear do you need to bend?  The engineer!)  you have to know this chapter.  The 2007 version is getting updated in 2011.  One thing I had never heard of before but is hugely eye opening: pressure diagrams.  Square one for designing an HVAC.  And overlooking the pressure diagram is one of the causes of problematic indoor climates.  There’s another angle that I am approaching from regarding a unified building. Working with the various worksites of libraries, archives, and museums in our division (right now that’s about 8 different locations) to unify our emergency preparedness (hooray for the Incident Command System!), our Integrated Pest Management, and our environmental monitoring.  Just last week, I sent new PEM2 dataloggers to each site.

PEM2 datalogger on the left and HOBO Pro datalogger on the right

4. PEM2 DATALOGGERS  We bought a pile of these loggers to replace our old HOBO loggers, which were 10 years old.  I think we will continue to use the HOBO loggers (which I like a lot) for spot checking and specific applications, but the PEM2 loggers have some advantages for us.  People at the 8 different sites can download the loggers using a plain ordinary thumb drive, and load them right onto a free website.  I can look at them right there, and run some of the IPI’s preservation metrics to evaluate the quality of their preservation environment.  I can also get the datafile emailed to me and run the info on the proprietary software from IPI called “Climate Notebook.”

Common raven, Alaska State Museum collection I-B-359, tested positive for arsenic

5. SURVEYS CONTINUED  I began surveys of the basketry and natural history collections back in 2007 and something always pulls me away from those two projects (or physically blocks the space!)  Each is about one-third complete.  The natural history survey, in particular, has some pressing needs regarding protection of taxidermy, arsenic testing, and sorting out some registration issues ahead of some exhibition needs we may have involving that collection in the future.  There may be some research and access activities going on with our herbarium in the near future as well.  With both surveys, interesting patterns are emerging that will be interesting to review once the surveys are complete, and of course priorities for treatment will become obvious as well.

Typical interior of a very old kayak

6. KAYAKS ARE COMING!  Several traditional skin boats are on their way to Juneau.  Some will become part of the Alaska State Museum collection, and others will be sent on to other museum collections in Alaska.  Because there are so few conservators in Alaska, and our institution performs a lot of outreach and support, I am hoping to perform basic condition reports on the outgoing kayaks as a courtesy to the institutions who receive them, since they may someday ask our advice in how to care for them.  I am especially interested in kayaks and large organic artifacts post-conservation-treatment, as they seem to have a period of convalescence in which stresses seem to be re-distributed over time, sometimes going through several seasons or even a couple of years.  I am eager to track that kind of thing for the next kayak treatment that comes my way.

Jacket made from a ringed seal in the Alaska State Museum collection, in need of treatment for large tears

7. FUR PARKAS WITH ACCESS ISSUES  We’ve got two fur parkas in the collection that are lined, but also have tears in the skins.  The repair of those tears will be tricky.  One seems to be made of muskrat skin, and the other is ringed seal.  One of them has fur cuffs that are crumbing because the skin is in such poor condition.

Example of an annotated image from the Alaska Fur ID Project. This is a guard hair from a Stellar Sea Lion, magnified 200X

8. ALASKA FUR ID PROJECT  I began this project in 2009 with intern Lauren Horelick, and we will be presenting a paper about it at the 2011 AIC conference in Philadelphia at the beginning of June.  The project is a free online resource with approximately 50 Alaskan mammals and includes various tools, references, and images (including under the microscope) to serve as a virtual reference set for conservators and allied professionals attempting to identify furs.   Lauren and I would like to turn our analysis of the possibilities and limitations of this kind of fur ID into an article for peer review, perhaps as an AIC article.  I am passionate about the idea of regional material identification resources on the internet, and if this works I want to be doing more of it with other materials.  For example….

Native-processed sea lion esophagus, Alaska State Museum II-A-3069

9. GUTSKIN PROJECT  For the past couple of years there has been a buzz in the world of ethnographic objects conservation about the need to better understand the internal organs of marine mammals and how they are utilized in ethnographic artifacts.  Recently there has been research on several fronts (I think we’ll hear more in the next ICOM-CC Newsletter?  I’m talkin’ to you, Amy Tjiong!) and there is talk about the need for collaboration and good communication.  I’m well placed in Alaska to help in this effort, but I don’t want to jump the gun yet (hoping for a conference call on this soon)  so stay tuned.

Low molecular weight polyethylene glycol for stabilization of waterlogged wood

10. ARCHAEOLOGICAL WOOD AND BASKETRY  I’ve got quite a few waterlogged wooden artifacts as well as an ancient waterlogged spruce root basket that are undergoing PEG treatment.  The wood is undergoing the old standard PEG CON method, but the basket I am treating according to the results of my experiments last year that were presented at the ICOM Triennial for Wet Organic Archaeological Materials.    My co-author Dana Senge continues to sleuth out the issues around waterlogged archaeological basketry as well.  This round of treatment ought to tell us whether these very degraded old baskets do better with a higher percentage of high molecular weight PEG than they did with some low molecular weight PEG and just a little bit of high molecular weight PEG.  I also will find out if Butvar B-98 works as well on consolidating a basket under-treated with PEG as it did on our test fragments.


2 Responses to Top 10 Projects: January 2011

  1. dancull says:

    Hi Ellen,

    Are you able to say what alternative adhesives to B72 you are going to test? And did the suggestions come from archaeologists?

    Cheers, Dan

  2. ellencarrlee says:

    Hi Dan!
    We’re following up on a list of suggestions from archaeological conservators on the OSG list about a year back, as well as what archaeologists and museum registrars in Alaska have reported using. Among the adhesives we’re looking at: B-72 with Soluvar topcoat, Golden Acrylic Medium, Golden Self Leveling Gel, Liquitex Gloss Medium, Liquitex Matte Medium, Aquazol, Acrysol WS-24, Rhoplex/Primal, PVA Marking Varnish from MuseuM Services Corporation (15% AYAF in alcohol). Would love to hear your thoughts and feedback on this!

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