Some random images of tricks and tips for artifact storage, courtesy of the Alaska State Museum…
Images below help illustrate some artifact storage ideas. A bag is an archival plastic enclosure with or without a ziplock. Tubular bags are made with a bag sealer.
- Faster than a box, tray or pallet
- Long term dust or water protection
- Allows handling without gloves
- Prevents objects from snagging or abrading each other
- Catches loose fragments that might fall off and keeps them associated with object
- Allows density of objects if done well
- No custom support
- Does not prevent objects knocking each other
- Objects can be damaged if it is hard to get them out of the bag again
Great for small items
Include a slip of paper inside bag with object number or write it on bag
Include a sheet of blueboard the full size of bag as a support for the object
Interleaving is when you wrap or place material (like thin foam, Tyvek, or tissue) between objects to protect them from each other.
- Prevents snagging, abrading, and staining
- Some limited protection from knocking
- Allows object density, even some overlapping
- Allows stacking of thin flat items like flat textiles
- Less protection than other solutions
- Harder to see the objects
- Does not provide support for lifting
- Objects might get squished too tightly
- Does not keep detached fragments associated with object
Images below help illustrate some artifact storage ideas. A pallet is a flat sheet of stiff archival board like blueboard or Coroplast that is the foundation for securing an object. It has no sides, unlike a box or tray.
- Faster than a box or tray
- Gives each object its own space (esp. for protruding parts)
- Gives a foundation to attach bumpers
- Easy to use and access tie-downs
- Good visibility
- Allows density of objects if done well
- No protection from the sides, nearby items can slide onto the pallet, too
- Not as good as a tray or box for bracing
- Not as fast as a bag or collar
- Harder to lift/grasp than a box or tray
- Poorly chosen board may bend in a way that damages object
- No long term dust or water protection
- Does not catch possible fragments
Good for low, flat items
Good for long items
Use to support items inside a bag
Heavier items might need two layers of board with corrugation at 90 degrees
Write the number on the pallet in at least two locations
Include the outline of the object on the pallet for aid in orienting later
Use with bumpers to provide support
Cushion when needed
Easy to use with tie-downs, either make notches in sides or holes with a hole punch
Images below help illustrate some artifact storage ideas. A tray is a kind of box with low sides. If the sides are high enough to protect the full object, we often call it a box. If there are no sides at all, we call it a pallet.
- Faster than a full box
- Prevents objects from touching
- Gives each object its own space
- Side-by-side trays and boxes brace each other in the drawer
- Easier to pick up than pallets
- Better visibility than a box
- Allows density of objects if done well
- Catches possible fragments
- Does not provide full height protection of a box
- Not as fast as bag, pallet, or collar
- Harder to access and use tie-downs than a pallet
- No long term dust or water protection
Use with bumpers to provide support
Cushion when needed
Use with sub-dividers (board or paper accordion for example)
Write the number on the tray in at least two locations
Include the outline of the object on the tray for aid in orienting later
Use with items too heavy for a pallet
Chose a tray over a pallet if the consequences of touching are high
Images below help illustrate some artifact storage ideas. A box is a storage container that has sides that are usually taller than the object. Various kinds include ones with a lid, clamshell style with lid, no lid, or a drop-front.
- More protection than most other solutions
- Fast if pre-made
- Easier to lift than a pallet or tray
- Catches possible fragments
- Time consuming if custom-made
- Harder to maintain object density if box is not custom-made
- Cannot see object easily
Write number on outside of box on two adjacent sides
Use with bumpers to provide support
Cushion when needed
Use with dividers (board or paper accordion for example)
Use with layered trays inside to increase object density
Good for fragile objects like glass or coral
Below are excerpts and images from the Alaska State Museum treatment report for a doll recovered from a shipwreck, posted here to stimulate conversation about the identification of the doll and its treatment options….
Materials: Gutta Percha?
Dimensions: 22cm tall, 11cm wide, 6cm deep, 6.5cm diameter head, rubber is 2mm thick where observed in cross section.
Background Info: Doll recovered from a gold rush era shipwreck in Alaska in the summer of 2012. Ship sank in 1901, making the doll over 113 years old. At least five children were known to have been passengers on the ship, and some of them drowned. The doll seems to be made of gutta percha or another natural rubber product. Since these materials tend to deteriorate with time, exposure to oxygen and exposure to light, could this be one of the best preserved dolls of its type, given its protection from agents of deterioration between the years 1901 and 2012?
Description: Hollow doll with jointed arms and head. The doll’s garments are molded into the material: a vented jacket with a wide collar, a long buttoned shirt (or perhaps a peplum) and short pants that end above the knee. The brocade rope- like detail suggests a military-style jacket and therefore perhaps a male doll. Textured socks and shoes with a strap over the top and a flower-like element are molded to the feet. A small peanut-shaped maker’s mark on the front proper left of the doll’s jacket measures 1.0 x 0.5cm and is difficult to read. There are at least four, perhaps five letters. The second letter is most likely a Y or an X but perhaps a K. The third letter may be an R. The whites of the eyes of the doll appear to be white paint, and the eyebrows also appear to be painted on. Other areas of possible paint may be the lips and the hair, but deterioration makes certainty difficult. The doll has a large hole at the center of the back, much like a squeaky toy (although those were not popular until the mid-20th century) as well as smaller holes at the back of the head near the neck and a small hole in each arm.
Technology: The doll seems to be made of gutta percha, a plant-derived natural polymer similar to latex or rubber. It was popular for use in insulating undersea cables, as the properties of gutta percha prevented biological growth in addition to being a good insulator. This was the case from roughly the 1870’s until the 1930’s when the supply of gutta percha began to dwindle and other polymers rose to take its place. Another popular use for gutta percha was golf balls or “gutties” starting in the mid-nineteenth century. Golf balls were formerly made of a hand-stitched leather skin stuffed with feathers known as a “featheris”. Gutties were cheaper and more durable, as featheries proved useless when wet. Gutties were observed to fly farther and with more accuracy when they were chipped, nicked and dinged, leading to the invention of the dimpled golf ball. Today the major commercial use of gutta percha is for the slim peachy-colored “gutta purcha points” used as a fill material for the emptied root canal in dentistry. Once the root canals are filed smooth, the empty voids are packed with this inert, natural substance and the tooth is filled or crowned.
The manufacture of this doll is described in the 1883 book, “A Practical Treatise on Caoutchouc and Gutta Percha” by Raimund Hoffer.
“Among the many articles manufactured from rubber, the production of dolls and toys has become an important branch of the rubber industry, as, on account of their indestructibility and softness, they are especially adapted for children’s toys. These articles have of late been improved so much that, as far as beauty of form is concerned, they may be called small works of art, and, in fact, such figures are at present frequently used for ornaments in rooms.
Small articles of this kind for instance, human figures are pressed from vulcanized caoutchouc in forms of metal, so that the figure is obtained in two halves each a few millimetres thick. These are joined together by a solution of caoutchouc, so that they form a hollow body, and are then burned. But the air inclosed in the figure would expand it so much during the burning process that it would burst. To prevent this a small hole is made in some part of it through which the air can escape, and this, after the burning, is closed by a small cork of caoutchouc dough.
Such figures are also prepared from sheets of vulcanized caoutchouc-mass and by using moulds of type metal. The sheets are cut with a pair of scissors into suitable shapes and lightly pressed into the mould ; this is then closed so that both sheets join together. But before the mould is pressed together tight, a few drops of water are poured into the interior of the article. When the mould prepared in this manner is exposed to the heat of the burning apparatus, the water inclosed in the caoutchouc-mass is changed into steam which forces the sheets apart, so that all cavities of the mould are filled up. When the articles are taken from the mould, which must be done while they are still hot, a small hole is made in them to allow the air to pass into the interior and to prevent them from collapsing while they are cooling off.” (pp 214-216).
Condition: The face of the doll is sunken in, with the head no longer completely round. There is a 2 cm horizontal tear through the doll at the bottom of the shirt/peplum to the PR of center. If the holes had ever been plugged, the plugs are now gone. Minor overall abrasions and scratches that might be from wear during use or may be from deterioration post-wreck. PR check is slightly blackened. Doll is a pale warm gray color, also may be described as taupe, a grey-tan color. Small overall pattern of cracks.
Photography: jpegs before and during treatment, TIFF images after treatment
Treatment: The doll was found waterlogged, and kept wet from summer 2012 until March of 2013 with occasional changes of fresh water and two changes of distilled water for purposes of desalination. Loose dirt was brushed from the surface with a small artist paintbrush while still underwater. In March 2013, the doll was removed from water, photographed, and allowed to slowly air-dry. Doll was observed for three months, and then packaged in an anoxic environment using a transparent Escal Bag with 8 sachets of RP 3K. The bag was then enclosed in an outer bag of Escal with an additional 8 sachets of PR 3K. Hand held heat sealer was used. Double bagging was done to maximize the integrity of the oxygen-free environment. Enough excess was incorporated on the outer bag to permit opening and re-sealing if the doll was exhibited in the inner bag. Anoxic environment was chosen to slow the deterioration of the material from exposure to oxygen. Artifact will be kept in a box to slow deterioration from exposure to light.
Escal Transparent ceramic barrier film used in combination with oxygen absorbers to create an anoxic storage environment. 5m x 1m sheet $95 in 2013.
Available from Keepsafe Microclimate Systems (Jerry Shiner) A division of Object & Textile Conservation Systems Ltd. 9 Oneida Ave, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5J 2E2. www.keepsafe.ca 1-800-683-4696.
PR 3K Oxygen absorbers (RP system) with moisture neutral properties (Type K).manufactured by Mitsubishi, used with barrier film to creat an anoxic environment. Advertised to reduce the oxygen to extremely low levels within hours. 25 sachets $85 in 2013.
Available from Keepsafe Microclimate Systems (Jerry Shiner) A division of Object & Textile Conservation
Systems Ltd. 9 Oneida Ave, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5J 2E2. www.keepsafe.ca 1-800-683-4696.
Treatment by: Ellen Carrlee Date: June 12, 2013
Update: September 2013, this posting was commented on by someone who got a similar doll from an estate auction. She has generously allowed me to post some images in the gallery…
Egads! This list gets later every year! And I have not posted on the blog in a full year. Time flies indeed. Here’s what’s up with me and my conservation world here in Juneau, Alaska…
1. COLLECTIONS MOVE
Construction has begun on our new storage vault for the new Alaska State Library Archives and Museum building (SLAM). They are making the storage vault first (walls are going up right now!) and we are getting ready to move all 30,000+items in the collection and on exhibit out of the building beginning March of next year. And we have only SIX WEEKS to move everything out. This is because they need to tear down our building to make way for the rest of the new structure. Our museum has a staff of only eleven people, so it is going to be an interesting operation to move everything to the new storage vault safely. To help visualize the logistics, I used my son’s Legos to create a model…
2. LAB MOVE
Did I mention they are going to bust a hole in the basement wall of the museum and create a tunnel to the new storage vault? Guess whose conservation lab is in the way? So I will be moving my lab into temporary quarters in the next few months. This lab has been here since 1976 and I have a LOT of accumulated goodness to move. Not to mention getting set up in a new temporary space for the next two or three years. The new exhibits are supposed to open in May of 2016, and of course new exhibits have lots of conservation needs. Here’s hoping the temporary lab can handle the workflow.
Mining is an important part of the history of Alaska, and we were lucky to receive a donation of an original locomotive from the heyday of Juneau hard rock gold operations. It was donated by the California State Railroad Museum a few years ago. It had been significantly altered during its time with the Santa Cruz Cement Company and needs significant restoration, but will be an important part of the new exhibit galleries.
4. LIGHTHOUSE LENS
Our 3rd order Fresnel lighthouse lens is not in bad shape, but it wil be a delicate operation to move it. Formerly located within Cape Spencer Light Station in S.E. Alaska from 1925-1974, it was made and constructed by Barbier, Bernard and Turrenne of Paris.
5. GUTSKIN PhD
I continue to chug along on work for a PhD in anthropology, with a focus on the cultural meanings of internal organs of marine mammals. Those would include organs like stomach, intestine, bladder, and esophagus from animals like seals, walruses, and sea lions. Yup’ik, Siberian Yup’ik, Inupiaq, Alutiiq (Sugpiaq), and Aleut (Unangan) cultures all have traditions of making items like rain parkas, sails, windows, containers and drums out of these materials, but they are rarely used today and poorly understood in musuems. I am hoping to work with Native people to understand the meanings of these materials better.
Just last week (March 21-25) I went to Bethel with my 5-year-old son, Carson, to see the Cama-i dance festival and meet the new director of the Yupiit Piciryarait Museum, Eva Malvich. I had never been to that part of the state before, and was eager to see if there might be possibilities for collaboration between our two museums as I work on the gutskin project. It was the most amazing experience to be there…the people were just wonderful and I really look forward to going back. I am heartened that people do seem interested in this kind of project, and it seems that I might have something I can give back with my knowledge of conservation and museum practices.
7. MATERIAL CULTURE
In order to begin the gutskin project, I need to write three synthesizing papers for my PhD program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. These papers will give me some background helpful to the dissertation, and are meant to be a survey and analysis of what the anthropological literature says about certain topics I ought to develop some expertise in. The first of them for me will be about material culture. The next one will be about Alaska Native relationships with marine mammals, and the third will be about practice theory
8. BASKETRY AT WOAM
After quite a long haul, I will be presenting a paper at the WOAM conference on the final results of PEG treatments on ancient baskets at the Alaska State Museum. Dana Senge and I have been working on this topic for quite some time, and will be co-authoring the paper. WOAM is the acronym for the Internation Council on Museums Conservation Committee working group on Wet Organic Archaeological Materials, and the triennial meeting is in Istanbul, Turkey this year. My husband Scott Carrlee (also a conservator) and I both had terrific experiences doing conservation fieldwork in Turkey in the 1990′s and are really looking forward to showing our son the joys and pleasures of Turkey.
9. SHIPWRECK TREATMENTS
Hoo boy, all the above would be plenty if it were not for the twenty-odd big totes of wet shipwreck materials awaiting treatment in off site storage. They froze solid last fall while I was in Fairbanks (leave of absence to take coursework for the PhD) and are just now beginning to thaw. I have thawed out the five most troublesome ones, I think, and the materials are in an amazing state of preservation. The wreck was a gold rush era luxury steamship, and we have leather, textiles, ceramic, glass, rubber, tools, jewelry and more. I’ve dried out two full suits (jacket/ vest/pants) and numerous other garments, very similar to the ones in the 1902 Sears catalog. My favorite item so far is an amazing doll about 9″ tall that I believe is made of gutta percha. The doll is over 110 years old, and in remarkably good condition. I will be putting it in anoxic storage to slow the deterioration of this material.
10. EDENSHAW ARGILLITE LOAN
Stay tuned on this one…the Alaska State Museum and its branch in Sitka, the Sheldon Jackson Museum, have loaned several important masterpieces to the Vancouver Art Gallery for a major retrospective exhibition of the argillite masterworks of Haida artist Charles Edenshaw. The descendants of the artists are involved in the exhibition and catalog, and the artworks will be accessible to many more Haida people than ever before. However, argillite is a strange material, a carbonaceous shale from a single quarry in Haida Gwaii, the homeland islands of the Haida people. The quarry no longer produces large pieces, so the number of large artifacts made from argillite are limited. Argillite is barely stone, and still retains some properties of clay, including being humidity sensitive. The ability to exapand and contract with changes in humidity is different in different directions due to the bedding plane layers of the material. When it breaks, the break edges are often crumbly. One artifact in particular, a large compote, has a diagonal fault line of quartz through its load-bearing pedestal. After a long and careful decision-making process, musuem staff decided the value of sending the artifacts to be seen by Haida people was worth the substantial risks to the artifact. I think it was the right decision, but really nerve-wracking for a conservator!
Spring already and I haven’t updated what I’m up to this year!
1. NMAI IS COMING!
Conservators and staff from the National Museum of the American Indian are collaborating with Tlingit weaver Teri Rofkar to link source communities with the conservation of indigenous materials. The goal is to help change the paradigm for collections care. With basketry as the focus, they seek to incorporate cumulative history, geography, climate, material harvesting/ processing, indigenous technologies, Native science and living culture into the way museums are caring for and thinking about baskets. Here at the ASM, staff hope to examine historical and archaeological baskets here with the NMAI visitors and local weavers. I have so many questions for them!
2. PEG HOME STRETCH
After years of pondering, experimenting, and collaborating with conservator Dana Senge, the last of our waterlogged baskets are finally undergoing PEG treatment. These very deteriorated spruce root baskets (thousands of years old) can be successfully treated but it seems that one must choose between a basket that is rather spongy/delicate or brittle/delicate. Once I get this group finished and can compare the range of efforts, you’ll see a posting on it.
3. TORRENT HOME STRETCH
More than 80 artifacts that were recovered from the 1868 wreck of the Torrent a few years ago, and only a few of them are still in treatment. I was most thrilled that the slooooow old-school sodium sesquicarbonate treatment I used on the copper alloys appears to have worked. I compared the wash waters I saved using the silver nitrate test for chlorides, and it does indeed look like we had a peak in chloride removal during the middle of the treatment. A bronze mountain howitzer has come back from the Texas A&M lab and the loving attention of Jim Jobling and his crew. They are undertaking electrolysis for two of the portholes, while I did the sodium sesquicarbonate on the other two. Hoping to give y’all a posting on the comparisons and pros/cons of the two methods.
During Crista Pack’s 2011 summer project, we found mold on a few artifacts. It was a weird mystery that is described on the “What’s That White Stuff?” weblog, as well as a link to her research paper the subsequent semester explaining what is likely happening.
The museum’s Robert Murray sculpture Nimbus needs its springtime washing. And Nimbus now has its own Facebook page some clever citizen began recently:
There is a plan afoot to work with the artist (Murray) and fabricator (Lippencott) to give Nimbus some TLC. It could use better positioning on its site, repairs to areas that have a tendency to catch water and rust, a badly needed new paint job, and maybe even reattach the dimensions lost when the sculpture was unceremoniously chopped down with a blowtorch. Nimbus has a long and chequered history in Juneau, and it’s been a while since the public art/ what is art for/ what does this sculpture mean discussion has taken place. It is sure to be lively, and the possibility of the artist and fabricator being involved is beyond thrilling.
6. LEATHER DRESSING POSTING
There are still folks in Alaska who put leather dressing on their collections. Stay tuned for a posting aimed at the Alaskan museum collections care audience about WHY we don’t recommend this anymore.
7. THEATER ORGAN PLANNING
One of the more unusual objects in our collection is a 1928 Theater Pipe Organ made by Kimball. Theater organs were intended to accompany silent films, and allow a single musician to control an amazing array of instruments from the console: not only the pipe organ, but an upright piano, a percussion section, woodwinds, and “all the bells and whistles.” You can read more about the organ here: http://www.pstos.org/instruments/ak/juneau/20thcentury.htm
After various adventures, it was saved and restored by a committee of engaged citizens. The organ and a custom-built chamber are now in the public atrium of the State Office Building, where organ concerts are performed every Friday over the noon hour. The organ became part of the Alaska State Museum collection in 1975 in order to protect and preserve it. The time has come to develop a long range plan for its regular maintenance and tuning, which has happened on an irregular basis for decades.
8. ICOM-CC ETHNOGRAPHIC NAME CHANGE
At the 2008 ICOM-CC Triennial Conference, keynote speaker Tharron Bloomfield (Maori) lit the fuse. I’m copying his quote: “The term ‘ethnographic’ conservator is at best old fashioned and inadequate, and at worst offensive and racist. The word ethnographic suggests it is the culture of ‘them rather than us’, it also makes a judgment that one culture is superior to another. Why are the clothing, weaponry and tools of my ancestors described as ethnographic, while the clothing, weaponry and tools of someone from a European culture not? It is time for conservators who work with the cultural material to find another, more appropriate name for the material they work with.” I’ve been a member of the Name Change Committee, and the international discussions have been hugely eye-opening to me. I think when the committee presents its work and the ICOM-CC working group votes on this name issue, we will be watched with interest by many outside the profession.
For the third year in a row, I attended the Alaska Anthropological Association conference in an attempt to better understand the field of anthropology and build bridges. It took place in Seattle, and included behind the scenes tours at the Burke Museum and NOAA’s Marine Mammal Research Collection. One of my favorite groups of people there is the Alaska Consortium of Zooarchaeologists, who as you can imagine are nuts about bones and not afraid to get their hands dirty. There are also gems like Dr. Claire Alix, a wood specialist who knows all kinds of amazing information about the kinds of wood that washes up as driftwood on the shores of Alaska, where it comes from, and how long it takes to get there. There was a whole group of talks about very early explorer/collectors in Alaska, what they were up to, and what happened to their collections. Here’s an interesting set of numbers to share. Of 160 authors described in the program, 63% were from academia, 16% were Cultural Resource Management (CRM) archaeologists (in the business of excavating in advance of development according to federal regulations), 12% worked for government, 7% worked for museums, and 2% were Native.
10. PURSUING A DOCTORATE IN ANTHROPOLOGY
In January 2012, I was accepted into the PhD program in Anthropology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF). I will be on campus full-time for the Fall of 2012, and hoping to do the rest of the coursework from Juneau. I’m taking two courses now. ANTH 606: Mythology and Folklore from an Anthropological Perspective is a UAF course offered in Juneau through videoconferencing with the class in Fairbanks. In fact, there is a small contingent of scholars taking the class here, including Anastasia Tarman Lynch, from the Alaska State Library’s Historical Collections (also pursuing a PhD in anthropology), Zachary Jones from the Sealaska Heritage Institute (pursuing an interdisciplinary PhD focused on ethnohistory) and Daniel Strong, also from the Sealaska Heritage Institute (pursuing an MA in anthropology). The other class I’m taking is on the Juneau campus, ANTH 475: Alaska Native Social Change. It is an undergrad class, and taking 6 credits while working full time is nearly killing me, but I think you’ll know why I HAD to take this class when I mention the professor, Lance Twitchell, is Alaska Native himself and is offering perspectives I have never had before in an academic setting.
The Alaska State Museum has decided to pursue funding to purchase a portable XRF machine. I’m typically skeptical of technology and reluctant to commit to learning elaborate and expensive techniques I would rarely use. But in this case, I think YES we should get one. Here’s a timeline of the decision-making process and what’s made me come around.
June 24, 2011 Handheld XRF Workshop at the Pratt Museum in Homer. Dr. Holly Cusack-McVeigh (curator) had been talking with paper conservator Seth Irwin about her concerns loaning out potentially pesticide-contaminated natural history specimens. Seth knew that some archaeologists in Fairbanks (Jeff Rasic and Josh Reuther) had been using a Bruker XRF for obsidian studies and geological questions. They helped Holly connect with the Bruker scientific rep, Bruce Kaiser. Bruce was already coming to Alaska to do a training for the Fairbanks archaeologists, and Holly sweet-talked Bruce into an extra training in Homer, with promises of scenic beauty and fish dinner. The Fairbanks archaeologists attended the Homer training too, and so did Scott Carrlee (Alaska State Museum outreach curator, trained as a conservator) who happened to be doing a survey in Seldovia at that time. After the training, Bruce Kaiser offered to send the XRF to Alaska on loan. Smart move, Dr. Kaiser.
July 29, 2011 The XRF arrived at the ASM on loan, where Crista Pack was still doing her summer internship. As a conservation grad student from the U Delaware/ Winterthur program, Crista had already had some XRF training with Bruce Kaiser. She was doing a project for the ASM, “What’s That White Stuff?” and helped us kick the tires and take it for a test drive.
August 9, 2011 One artifact in particular, a leather tobacco pouch attached to a pipe, brought home to me the utility of the XRF. I wanted to know if the white crytals on the leather were from lead corrosion that was prevalent on many of the pipe bowls in the drawer, or perhaps a fatty bloom from a long-ago leather dressing, or maybe arsenic to prevent insect infestation. What would the XRF say? It told us we did not have arsenic or lead, but we did have a significant amount of potassium, which made me think about potash in the tobacco mixture the bag would have carried. This kind of info is really helpful for treatment decisions and handling protocols as well as artifact interpretation, and the XRF was so much faster than the other techniques I know of…without sampling! I could test for lead with plumtesmo papers, and test for arsenic using potassium hydroxide/ hydrochloric acid/ zinc with mercury bromide test papers…but just those two tests would have taken me more than an hour, and I still would not have known about the potassium. And really, I probably would not have occasion to spend so much time determining “what’s that white stuff” for this artifact. But if it is quick like this, there are so many more questions I am able to pursue.
September 2-3, 2011 In addition to analysis like pesticide testing (the arctic tern had arsenic), pigment examination (a mysterious atl atl had mercury in the red pigment, suggesting cinnabar which would be appropriate for an authentic old throwing board), material identification (a woody-looking fiber contained sulfur, suggesting baleen instead of a plant), looking at potential exhibit and storage materials (vulcanized rubber gaskets), and “what’s that white stuff”, we managed to pull off some educational programming. We went on the radio and in the newspaper to promote a “science gun” public program, inviting the public to bring a small metal artifact to the museum for testing. I cobbled together a cheat sheet of various metal alloys and the mineral content of certain gemstones, and we looked at over 100 artifacts from people in the community, right there in our exhibition gallery. The conversations were really dynamic and engaging, and we were using the XRF in conjunction with a couple of other techniques, like UV light to see fluorescence of certain gemstones.
September 6, 2011 Just before we packed the machine up to send to Monica Shah at the Anchorage Museum, a group of high school students came to the conservation lab for some science-meets-art demos. We chatted about the periodic table, elements, valence electrons, and the like…then used the XRF on various student bling and discussed the results.
September 26, 2011 Several of us attended another training on the way home from the Museums Alaska conference. For Monica Shah (head of collections and conservation at the Anchorage Museum), Scott Carrlee, and Holly Cusack-McVeigh, it was their second training. It was my first, and I was thrilled to get some of my questions answered after taking the XRF for a spin back in Juneau with Scott and Crista. Monica had the loaner XRF at this time, and it was heading to Holly next. We encouraged Holly to try the public program angle we had done in Juneau, and gave her my “cheat sheets”. Upon my return from the training, I wrote the following for the Alaska State Museum Bulletin:
“Ellen Carrlee and Scott Carrlee attended a day of XRF training September 26, 2011 at the Anchorage Museum at the invitation of Head of Collections/ Conservator Monica Shah. They were joined Holly Cusack-McVeigh and Bill Walker from the Pratt Museum in Homer. The training was led by Dr. Bruce Kaiser, a name well-known in museums and universities for connecting institutions with handheld X-ray fluorescence technology provided by the company Bruker AXS. One of these “science guns” has been traveling between the Alaska State Museum, the Anchorage Museum and the Pratt Museum, on loan from Bruker. The device shoots photons (or low-energy X-rays) at a sample, analyzing them non-destructively by measuring the movement of electrons. After a few seconds, a graph of peaks appears on the computer screen and the software helps identify which elements are present in the sample. Knowledge of physics and an understanding of how the machine works greatly enhance the interpretation of the data. Museums worldwide have been using XRF extensively in recent years to explore questions of alloy compositions of metal artifacts , pesticide contamination on ethnographic and natural history collections, pigment identification , and other questions that can investigated with elemental analysis. We’ll keep you posted as we discover the potential benefits offered for Alaskan collections.”
October 21, 2011 The Pratt Museum in Homer hosted a free evening public program called “Trinkets or Treasures?” Holly says it was huge success and great fun for staff and visitors alike. During the time she had the machine, Holly focused on arsenic testing of taxidermy. Now she is turning her attention toward possible organic pesticides, but the pile of work has been narrowed down from the first round of XRF testing. She no longer feels bad about turning a school down for a loan of puffins now that she knows for certain they have arsenic on them. She tells me that as user-friendly as the instrument is, she knows there is even more information to be pulled from the data that she isn’t trained enough to extract yet. I have that same feeling…we are getting amazing info, but it is the tip of the iceberg. I also agree with Holly in her observation that the XRF is so helpful for collections research not just in answering questions we already have (Is this really silver? Is there arsenic here?) but also in sparking new questions we never would have thought of before. Holly sent the loaner XRF over to State Archaeologist Dave McMahan. He and Dr. Charles Holmes have been using it to examine glass trade beads and glazes on ceramics. I believe the touring XRF is now back with Bruker.
November 18, 2011 Scott and I are working on a grant proposal to buy the XRF. Not only could we use it for public outreach and researching our own collection, but Scott could take it out on site visits to museums and cultural centers statewide and loan it out to institutions with staff who have had XRF training. Holly suggests we might be able to have an XRF training workshop at the next Museums Alaska conference to increase the number of museums in Alaska who could get the XRF on loan from the Alaska State Museum. As I write this, Scott Carrlee is soliciting letters of support for the grant. I’ll keep you posted if we get it!
Here are some examples of totem pole mounting techniques that I have seen in Southeast Alaska. For details about rigging and equipment, as well as the most reasonable estimate I have of totem pole weight, see How to Take Down a Totem Pole. The strongback, or a supplementary post of metal or wood, is the way both new carvings and restored older ones are typically installed today. The method is especially effective for the old poles, as they often have rot, insect infestation, or other instability at the base. This damage is usually caused by installing the totem pole directly in the ground or into concrete, where it suffers from moisture ingress (remember that southeast Alaska is a temperate rainforest) and is vulnerable to insects.
The strongback helps the pole resist lateral loads, such as winds, but is not expected to support the totem pole’s weight. This is typically done with wooden spacers between the pole and a concrete pad, or by a special metal shelf welded onto the strongback near the base. Totem poles are typically attached to the strongback through bolts that extend to the face of the pole.
Details on materials specifications and hardware are not provided here, as these choices are guided by the particulars of each totem pole and its desired location. Considerations of weight, height, wind load, weather, limitations of access and so on require a custom solution for each pole. Installation of a totem pole usually involves a team of skilled individuals, as faulty installation can result in injury, damage to the pole, or damage to property. The following cases are provided as examples and a springboard for discussion of ideas among your team.
THE FOUR STORY POLE: STEEL STRONG BACK
Western Red Cedar, approx 35 feet tall, 83” circumference at the base. 3,400 lbs as weighed by crane in 2008.
Carved by John Wallace in 1940, this pole is now located at the corner of 4th and Main at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum (collection number 84.19.001). It was mounted at this location following a move from a nearby park in 1994 and re-mounted again following treatment in 2008, both times using a steel strongback with bolts extending to the front and bolt holes covered with wooden plugs.
THE WOOSHKEETAAN POLE: STEEL STRONGBACK
Western Red Cedar, approx 40 feet tall. Documentation suggests the pole weighs around 2,500 lbs.
Carved by Nathan Jackson (assisted by Steve Brown) in 1980, this pole is located at Centennial Hall in downtown Juneau and is part of the Juneau-Douglas City Museum collection (81.01.032). The mounting currently in place was installed in 1983 on mounts installed by Triplette Construction Company. The companion totem pole, the Auk Tribe Pole (81.01.033) was moved inside the atrium of the Juneau-Douglas High School in 2003 due to flaws in the original wood, resulting instability, and excessive weathering.
RAVEN AND EAGLE POLES: STEEL STRONGBACKS
Western Red Cedar, approx 26 feet tall
Carved by Tommy Jimmie Sr., Edward Kunz Sr., Edward Kunz Jr., and William Smith in 1977, these poles are located on Willoughby Avenue and appear to be the property of the Tlingit-Haida Regional Authority. The mounting in place looks to be original.
THE GOVERNOR’S TOTEM POLE: STREETLIGHT POLE STRONGBACK
Yellow Cedar (considered unusual) 31 ½ feet tall, 21 ½” wide at base, 71” wingspan at top.
Carved by and Charles Tagook and William N. Brown in 1939-40, the totem pole stands outside the Governor’s Mansion on Calhoun Avenue in Juneau. The pole is part of the property, but the Alaska State Museum assists in its care. It was mounted using a galvanized steel street light pole and brackets in 1997 during a treatment led by conservator Ron Sheetz. The re-mounting mechanism was designed by George McCurry, Southeast Region Maintenance Manager for the Department of Transportation. The mounting system involves brackets attached to the back of the totem pole that bolt together with brackets on the street light pole. The pole was taken down briefly in spring 2011 to protect it from house renovation work and re-installed successfully the following autumn.
THE HARNESSING THE ATOM POLE: ALUMINUM STRONGBACK
Western Red Cedar. 14 feet tall, 23” diameter, 19” deep
Carved by Amos Wallace in 1967, this pole was installed around 1976 at the public library on Calhoun Avenue in Juneau. That site is now the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, and pole is part of its collection (84.18.001). It was mounted directly in the ground in the 1976 and remounted in 2004 using an aluminum strongback designed by Banghart and Associates. While steel can be smaller in cross-section for a given project than aluminum, the latter is easier to manipulate using standard woodworking tools and offers more options on site for a good fit. The bolts are stainless steel.
SITKA NATIONAL HISTORIC PARK: WOODEN SUPPORT POLES
The totem poles in the park have a varied history. Some were collected by Governor Brady around 1901-1903. Many are replica carvings, particularly from the Civilian Conservation Corps work of the 1930’s but some reproduction poles from the 1970’s as well. The park is part of the National Parks Service, and in the 1980’s there was concern about the deteriorating condition of the poles. Ron Sheetz, the furniture conservator who was in town to finish the work on the Russian Bishop’s House (also NPS) was called over to take a look. Considerable preservation work was done to many poles in 1991 by Al Levitan, Ron Sheetz and others in conjunction with a totem pole preservation conference. The most common method is a supplementary wooden post made from a yellow cedar log attached in the concavity behind the original pole. This post holds the original up above ground level, and is itself buried in the ground. This method was apparently used in earlier preservation efforts and can be seen as a mounting technique on many poles throughout Southeast Alaska. Sometimes a cedar box was built around the support.
THE FRIENDSHIP POLE: INDOOR BRACKET
Approximately 21 feet tall and thought to weigh around 800 lbs (underestimated?)
The Friendship Pole was carved around 1959 at the Alaska Indian Arts Center in Haines as a commission by the Department of Corrections. Museum records indicate the carver was Leo Jacobs. It was installed in the atrium of the Dimond Courthouse building in 1976. It is now part of the Alaska State Museum collection (II-B-1679). Following new Homeland Security measures, the pole was moved out of the way of security screening equipment in 2002. It has a custom bracket system to attach it to the structural elements of the atrium, designed by Banghart and Associates.
THE OLD WITCH POLE: INDOOR STRAPPING
Western Red Cedar. Approx. 38 feet tall, base 4 feet in diameter. Thought to be 2,500 lbs. though estimates vary widely in the written reports.
Carved in Sukkwan in the 1880’s by a Haida carver whose name is not the museum records. Installed indoors in the atrium of the State Office Building in downtown Juneau in 1977. It is part of the Alaska State Museum collection II-B-1632. The pole has a hollowed out back and compromised structure, which was reinforced with wood from the inside when mounted indoors, and the main support for the pole is given by large steel straps around the exterior of the pole that are bolted to the wall. Straps like this would not be an ideal solution outdoors, as you would get very different weathering, deterioration, and biological growth in the locations of the straps.
NOTE: How much does a totem pole weigh, anyway? I’ve noticed the math doesn’t quite seem consistent from pole to pole in the documentation. I am suspicious of dimensional estimates and weights of the poles that I read in the files unless more elaboration is provided, particularly info from the designer of the mount. The best resource I have to date is the description of the weight of the YaxTe Hit pole described in How To Take Down A Totem Pole.