I’ve been posting snapshots if some of the conservation work ahead for our upcoming new exhibits. The Alaska State Library Archives and Museum (SLAM) project is in the construction phase, with opening of the new building planned for June 2016. There are approximately 22 interpretive areas, around 90 exhibit cases, and roughly 2,500 objects. The interpretive area addressed by this post is called “Sails on the Horizon: Foreign Voyagers in Native Alaska.” Many of the items in it are maps and prints about early explorers in the area and what some of the first encounters were like between Europeans and Alaska Natives. Because there are not a lot of conservation treatments needed in this section, I’m going to include images of the voyage between the different locations in downtown Juneau that conservators will be working this summer, since I will have 3 graduate conservation students voyaging here to work with me and I bet they would like a glimpse (more on them later)…
Here’s a snapshot of some of the conservation work ahead for the Russian America section of our upcoming new exhibits. The Alaska State Library Archives and Museum (SLAM) project is in the construction phase, with opening of the new building planned for June 2016. There are approximately 22 interpretive areas, around 90 exhibit cases, and roughly 2,500 objects. As I write this, we are beginning the ninth physical layout.
2013 was packed! This is the most delayed I’ve ever posted a Top Ten list yet…yikes! Most of this work is completed, but some of it is still in stream. Our eagle beaks and feet have not quite all been treated, but thanks to our custom QP card we now know the proper color range. These eagles, the snack food store, the dump, and dozens of live bald eagles are all within a small radius of space here in Juneau…coincidence?
1. EDENSHAW ARGILLITE SAFE
Several important pieces of argillite carving by Charles Edenshaw safely returned to Alaska from a loan to the Vancouver Art Gallery for their fabulous exhibition on the Haida master artist. I’d love to write this up more in-depth soon…from a conservator’s point of view, argillite is unpredictable, fragile, and complicated to repair. Allowing these large heavy pieces to travel made me nervous, and even more so when my favorite solution wouldn’t fit the budget. As a compromise, the VAG sent Dwight Koss and Rory Gylander to pack and help courier the pieces. They did a splendid job, the artworks were made more accessible to the source community via exhibition and catalog, and back again safe and sound.
2. PACKING COLLECTIONS FOR THE MUSEUM MOVE
Many months of packing! Check the index for my other blog posts about artifact storage solutions…
3. MOVING THE MUSEUM
How did we do it? If you were at the Western Association for Art Conservation (WAAC) conference in San Francisco this year, you got to see the PowerPoint. In a nutshell, Scott Carrlee wrote an IMLS Museums for America grant to bring dozens of museum professionals from across Alaska to come help us pack and move as a hands-on training and networking opportunity. Win-win for everyone. We had a six-week window to move about 40,000 objects, and utilized the Incident Command System to coordinate the effort. The collections were moved into the new vault (in the midst of a construction zone) through a tunnel built of shipping containers. One of the final objects to move was a 35-foot walrus skin boat. You can see photos and read the story in the Juneau Empire: Airborne Umiak Sails Over Museum.
4. WHEN YOU SEE GIANT HOLES RIPPED IN YOUR MUSEUM…
…you can breathe a bittersweet sigh of relief knowing all the collections were removed just a few short weeks ago. This image shows the old building coming down at the same time the new one is being erected. To the left of the image is the storage vault, already completed with the artifacts securely inside. Goodbye old building, we will miss you!
5. COME FOR THE RUSTY IRON, STAY FOR THE EAGLE PEDICURE…
…and Lisa Imamura gets into conservation grad school at Queen’s! With a Master’s degree in geology already in her back pocket, Lisa decided she’d prefer a career in conservation to a PhD in geology and began volunteering in the conservation department at the Alaska State Museum scrubbing rusty dirty wet shipwreck material. That was back in late 2012. She wore more hats in several areas of the museum (some of them even paid!) and she was a core member of the museum move team. A total dynamo. Towards the end, we let her work on picking garish paint off eagle feet. She’s gonna be embarrassed I posted this, but Lisa take heart! I chose a picture with a cute outfit and not your shipwreck-scrubbing gear!
6. COME FOR THE WATERLOGGED SILK WALLPAPER, GWEN…
…STAY FOR THE POLAR BEAR TONGUE!
What would you do, intrepid objects conservator, with two bolts of stinky, hundred-year-old shipwrecked silk wall covering with a painted floral design that just wanted to rub off on your fingers?? Lose sleep for many nights? Check! Write to conservation listserves and colleagues? Check! Wish it were someone else’s nightmare? Double check. Did I mention our building was about to be torn down?? Thankfully, the Alaska State Office of History and Archaeology helped us out with some funding to bring paintings conservator Gwen Manthey, who totally solved the problem. Plus she volunteered some time to help us out with a few other issues, like knocking back a garishly pink polar bear tongue. You can bet I want to bring her back for install time…
7. TOM MCCLINTOCK WON’T LET YOU DOWN
UCLA/ Getty graduate conservation student Tom McClintock took on a pile of motley tasks in his six weeks at the Alaska State Museum this summer, including eagles, basketry hats, shipwrecked carpenter’s polka dot pajamas, and moving many artifacts ranging from fine art to a large fishing boat. In this challenging transition time, Tom’s skills, flexibility, and roll-with-it attitude were the perfect fit. He even did dogsitting, bread baking and blueberry jam making for my boss’s boss’s boss. How’s that for making the conservation department look good?? Thanks Tom!
8. FRAN RITCHIE LOVES CRITTERS
Conservator Fran Ritchie returned to Alaska this summer as part of a Rasmuson Foundation grant to help several institutions with taxidermy issues. (Check her work on a leatherback turtle in Cordova!) It was Fran who determined the treatment protocol for our seven eagles, advised on numerous specimens, and assisted with liberating several creatures from hideous old mounts. Why all the interest in natural history, you ask?
One of the exhibits designed for the new museum is the Wonderwall, a giant glass arch over one of the gallery entrances that will amaze visitors with an array of spectacular specimens from the collection. Of course, this section of the museum is a special favorite of mine…
10. ARTIST INTENT
While a tremendous amount of our time is directed at the new building, we are thinking ahead as well. I co-presented a paper about artist intent with Sheldon Jackson Museum curator Jackie Fernandez at the Museums Alaska conference in Seward AK this fall. Many Alaskan museums have been actively collecting contemporary artwork, thanks the generosity of the Rasmuson Foundation Art Acquisition Initiative. Jackie interfaces quite a bit with artists who do residencies at the Sheldon Jackson Museum in Sitka, and she also helps select contemporary Alaskan art to add to the collection. As part of the Alaska State Museums, that collection falls under our conservation duties. We are thinking of ways to proactively collect artist intent information about preservation and exhibition of these works. Since Alaskan museums often collect works from the same artist, it would be great to have a mechanism to share this information.
As we moved out of the old Alaska State Museum, this was found in the education supplies. McGraw-Hill published this in 1978 as an Instructo Learning Center Teaching Guide called, “A Field Trip to An Art Museum.” I’m ready to pass it on to someone passionate for this sort of ephemera. I’ll cover US postage and mail it. Some reassembly required.
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