Saving Family Treasures After a Fire

20 06 2013
Scorched but recoverable

Scorched but recoverable

Heritage Preservation has put together a very comprehensive and helpful document for those struggling to preserve what can be salvaged after a fire. I am going to post it, in its entirety, here. Whether you are suffering from the fires in Colorado, or are elsewhere, please feel free to contact me for advice or assistance.  The most important thing, after health and safety, is that you not automatically throw something away that is wet or scorched. There may be a possibility that it can be saved even though it looks bad.

In addition, following Hurricane Sandy the Museum of Modern Art published this extremely useful resource:

http://www.moma.org/docs/explore/conservation/resources_for_disaster_response_aic.pdf

Saving Damaged Family

Treasures After a Fire

As Colorado residents return to their homes following the devastating fires, the long journey of recovery begins. With homes demolished and lives upended, treasured possessions such as family heirlooms, photos, and other keepsakes become more cherished. The Heritage Emergency National Task Force, a coalition of 42 national organizations and federal agencies co-sponsored by FEMA and Heritage Preservation, in partnership with the Colorado Cultural and Historic Resources Alliance, offers these basic guidelines from professional conservators for those who are searching for, and finding, family treasures in the ruins:

After a Fire

  • Personal safety is always the highest priority when entering buildings damaged by fire.
  • Never attempt to salvage belongings at the expense of your own safety.
  • Wear protective clothing—especially gloves (nitrile or latex are preferred over cotton), face masks, and eye protection.
  • Avoid breathing in or touching hazardous materials. Risks in fire-damaged areas can include particulates, exposed asbestos, lead-containing building materials (such as glass and lead paint), and chemical residues.
  • If water has been used to put out the fire, mold may also be an issue and should not be inhaled.

General Handling Advice

  • Even though you will be sorely tempted, it is important to reduce the amount you handle or touch damaged items. The very fine particles in soot stick to everything and every touch will grind it further into the item you are trying to save.
  • Take photographs of your damaged items and contact your insurance agency as soon as possible to start any claims.
  • Soot and ash are very abrasive and will further damage your item through scratching.
  • If your items were exposed to both heat and water, they will be even more fragile.
  • Lift your objects carefully and avoid weakened areas; for example, support ceramics from the base rather than lifting by handles.
  • Wear nitrile or latex gloves when handling objects as the greasy residue in soot can be permanently fixed to absorbent surfaces by skin oils.
  • Avoid placing pressure on blistered or lifting surfaces, such as on paintings or photographs.
  • Place items in supportive boxes or plastic containers until you can obtain further advice or are ready to begin cleaning.
  • Keep in mind that the longer the soot remains on the item, the harder it is to remove.

Contact a Conservator
Recovering items damaged by a fire is challenging. If a precious item is badly damaged, a conservator may be able to help. To locate a conservator, click on the “Find a Conservator” box on the home page of the American Institute for Conservation (AIC), www.conservation-us.org. Also, you could contact the conservation/preservation department of a major museum, library, or archives for advice or contact the American Institute for Conservation Collections Emergency Response Team (AIC-CERT; see below).

Some Simple Cleaning Tips

  • Do not use water—or any other cleaning solution! Water will drive soot and ash further into the surface of your item and they will become impossible to remove.
  • As soon as possible, vacuum the soot and ash off your item.
  • Do not vacuum wet or damp items—wait until they are dry.
  • It is preferable to use a HEPA filter in your vacuum cleaner.
  • Use the vacuum on the lowest setting, or have smaller plastic tubes inserted into the main tube to reduce suction.
  • Do not use a brush and do not allow the nozzle to touch the surface.
  • Vacuum all exposed surfaces before opening out folded items such as textiles or books.
  • If you want to remove further residue, soot sponges can be carefully used if the item is robust enough. Cut small pieces of the dry sponge for more accurate application and economic use. The dirty surface of the sponge can be cut off to expose a new cleaning surface. These sponges (often called dry cleaning sponges) are available through Home Depot and specialist suppliers, such as The Sponge Company.

Some Important Considerations

  • Shelved books may be charred on the outside but intact inside. Vacuum the edges before you open the books—don’t worry if some of the charred bits come off.
  • Photograph albums may be stuck together—do not try to open them by force. You will need to take them to a conservator for advice.
  • Heat can make glass, ceramic, and metal items very brittle—remember to handle carefully.
  • Fabrics in particular might look intact but may fall apart without very careful handling.
  • Supports that you can slide underneath your belongings (sheets, boards, plastic) will enable you to safely carry more fragile items.
  • You have now essentially done all you can to stabilize your items. It is likely that they will need further attention from a qualified conservator as they may be in a fragile state. Please keep in mind that, while things might look irretrievably damaged, there may well be treatments that will salvage these items. Do not despair, but please seek conservation advice.

Source: Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material, which responded to the devastating 2009 bushfires in Victoria in 2009.

Resources for Recovery of Cultural Objects—Books, Photographs, Art, Artifacts, Papers, etc.—Damaged by Water, Smoke, or Fire

American Institute for Conservation Collections Emergency Response Team (AIC-CERT)
24/7 Emergency Hotline: 202-661-8068

Western States and Territories Preservation Assistance Service (WESTPAS)
24/7 Emergency Hotline: 888-905-7737

Midwest Art Conservation Center
24/7 Emergency Hotline: 612-870-3120

Heritage Emergency National Task Force—Heritage Preservation
Two short videos walk you through salvaging items damaged by soot and water.
Watch the Field Guide to Emergency Response videos “Dealing with Soot” and “Coping with Water Damage” found under the Salvage Your Collections heading at: http://www.heritagepreservation.org/PROGRAMS/TFRespRecover.html

Additional resources for salvaging damaged treasures can be found at: http://www.heritagepreservation.org/PROGRAMS/TFcurrent.html

These recommendations are intended as guidance only. The Heritage Emergency National Task Force and its sponsors, Heritage Preservation and FEMA, the Colorado Cultural and Historic Resources Alliance, and the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material assume no responsibility or liability for treatment of damaged objects.


Founded in 2012, the Colorado Cultural and Historic Resources Alliance (CCAHRA) is a network of more than 100 individuals representing a wide range of institutions, including local historical societies, historic sites, museums, archives, libraries, and local and state emergency management agencies, throughout Colorado. Sponsored by the Center for Colorado & the West at the University of Colorado Denver and the Colorado Office of Emergency Management, CCAHRA works to improve the State of Colorado’s mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery efforts for cultural and historic resources during disasters.

Heritage Preservation is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the cultural heritage of the United States. By identifying risks, developing innovative programs, and providing broad public access to expert advice, Heritage Preservation assists museums, libraries, archives, organizations, and individuals in caring for our endangered heritage.

Heritage Preservation is co-sponsor with the Federal Emergency Management Agency of the Heritage Emergency National Task Force, a partnership of 42 national service organizations and federal agencies created to protect cultural heritage from the dam­aging effects of natural disasters and other emergencies.

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The Future Is Here and It Wants You To Try Its Stuff

10 04 2013

The Future is knocking at your door with a suitcase full of things it would like to demo on your carpet, your walls, your stovetop.  I’m thinking, I’d like to let it in. I’ve got a world of artwork to conserve and I want to know all about the new materials and methods that just could transform my work.

Some of you may know that I have occasionally perused a blog called Technovelgy, which explores the inventions created in fiction as they are brought into reality by science. Since 2007, it has been fun to daydream and write about how those things could be used in my day-to-day. But now, it is becoming possible. Some of it is still out of reach because of expense, but even the pricier things might now be available through collaboration with a university or corporation who own them. I already use newer fabrics to replace paper-based materials  in my lab, and I’m hearing about other conservators who are experimenting with things I’d like to try. This is getting exciting!

We’ve got 3-d printers, nanocellulose, hand-held instrumental analysis, data modeling, huge informational databases, vast social networks for fast exchange of information and brainstorming- and the Google Glasses to use them,  Awareness of the need for new ways to reduce water and paper use, find alternatives to toxic chemicals, and gentler treatment practices is driving new ways of working. Color matching, pattern matching, new ways of filling losses that are both reversible and detectable, but not visually or chemically intrusive – so many possibilities!

Wired has a very interesting aggregation of research into biological materials science.  Mussels, Chitons, Sea Cucumbers, Venus’s Flower Basket sponges…ooh. New adhesives, new framing and exhibit methods, new tools!

Of course, all this experimentation comes with potential iatrogenic effects. Today’s conservators are constantly trying to fix what past “innovators” broke.  Mr. Barrow, for example, has gifted us with some interesting problems. What exactly WILL happen when we introduce biomaterials like sponge glass and superstrong mussel glue? And, what will we need to do to conserve artwork and historic documents made of bioluminescent inks? Tell you what, though. I’m really looking forward to my self-sharpening scalpels.

If I were a grad student right now, the choices for research would seem so inviting. As it is, I will muddle along, daydreaming, and looking for every opportunity to partner with someone with the right Sci-Fi stuff.  I wonder what’s up in the MIT Labs?





More resources for recovering damaged art and family valuables

2 11 2012

This is a very helpful blog post about what to do with storm damaged artworks.

And here is AIC’s Tips for The Care of Water-Damaged Family Heirlooms and Valuables.  Most importantly, after your safety is secured, know that a surprising number of things can be recovered, no matter how badly damaged they appear at the time.   Contact a conservator for assistance and advice. I’m happy to talk with you by email or phone, and can help you find a conservator in your area.

Here, again, is contact info for AIC’s CERT program: The American Institute for Conservation (AIC), the national association of conservation professionals, is offering free emergency response assistance to cultural organizations.

*       Call AIC’s 24-hour assistance number at 202.661.8068 for advice by phone.

*       Call 202.661.8068 to arrange for a team to come to the site to complete damage assessments and help with salvage organization.

UPDATE: MOMA has published a great list of actions to take when first responding to water damage to collections – which things to air dry, which to attend to first, how to proceed. Very helpful.





Emergency Resources for Cultural Institutions

29 10 2012

A Press Release from The American Institute for Conservation

cid:image001.jpg@01CC1BC1.2E6C2860

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 26, 2012

Contact: Eryl P. Wentworth

Phone: (202) 661-8060

Email: ewentworth@conservation-us.org

 

AIC-CERT

American Institute for Conservation—Collections Emergency Response Team

 

WASHINGTON, D.C.— With Hurricane Sandy threatening the East Coast, museums, historic sites, libraries, and archives in much of the Eastern United States will be at risk.  The American Institute for Conservation (AIC), the national association of conservation professionals, is offering free emergency response assistance to cultural organizations.  Please help make sure that staff members of collecting institutions know to contact AIC-CERT when a disaster—flooding, hurricane, earthquake, fire—has damaged collections.

 

  • Call AIC’s 24-hour assistance number at 202.661.8068 for advice by phone.

 

  • Call 202.661.8068 to arrange for a team to come to the site to complete damage assessments and help with salvage organization.

 

AIC-CERT volunteers have provided assistance and advice to dozens of museums, libraries, and archives since 2007.  AIC-CERT teams were on the ground following Tropical Storm Irene and flooding in Minot, North Dakota in 2011, the Midwest floods in 2008, and in the Galveston area following Hurricane Ike later that year. AIC-CERT members and other AIC conservators participated in an 18-month-long project in Haiti assisting with recovery of cultural materials damaged in the 2010 earthquake.

AIC-CERT is supported and managed by the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation (FAIC).  In 2007 and again in 2010, FAIC received funding from the Institute of Museum & Library Services to support an advanced training program for conservators and other museum professionals that resulted in a force of 107 “rapid responders” trained to assess damage and initiate salvage of cultural collections after a disaster has occurred.  They are ready to assist.

Resources and information on disaster recovery and salvage can be found on the AIC website at www.conservation-us.org/disaster .  The public can also call AIC-CERT at 202.661.8068.

# # #

About AIC

The American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works is the national membership organization supporting the professionals who preserve our cultural heritage.  AIC plays a crucial role in establishing and upholding professional standards, promoting research and publications, providing educational opportunities, and fostering the exchange of knowledge among conservators, allied professionals, and the public.

Learn more about AIC at www.conservation-us.org.

 

About FAIC

The Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works supports conservation education, research, and outreach activities that advance the conservation profession nationally and internationally while promoting understanding of our global cultural heritage.

Learn more about FAIC at www.conservation-us.org/foundation.





Plan Now for Conservation Grants Due January 15, 2013

19 09 2012

Here is some helpful information for those of you planning conservation projects in your institutions.  Please feel free to contact me if I can assist you in your project planning and implementation.

From the Institute of Museum & Library Services [9/19/2012 via the American Institute for Conservation (AIC)]

As we have previously reported, funding for projects that were supported previously under the Conservation Project Support (CPS) Grants program will now be included as part of the Museums for America (MFA) program. In the last two fiscal years, $2.675 million was appropriated for Conservation Project Support Grants. The good news is that even more IMLS support for conservation is possible if there are enough excellent applications.

While final guidelines have not been posted, the draft guidelines indicated that

1.      Final guidelines will be posted as soon as approved by the Office of Management and Budget. A projected date of October 15, 2012 was given. We will alert you as soon as a firm date is available.

2.      The deadline for submitting applications for FY 2013 funds is JANUARY 15, 2013.

Given that the late fall through the end of the year is a particularly busy time, we encourage everyone to begin planning now for applications for conservation support.

 

IMLS will open the Grants.gov portal and begin accepting applications as soon as it receives OMB approval. We will alert you to this as soon as we know. Additionally, IMLS staff will be offering webinars throughout the fall season to assist applicants with application preparation and to answer questions about the new guidelines.

IMLS has indicated that “applications submitted under each of these program areas will be reviewed by subject-matter experts.” And further that “in 2013, there will be no restrictions on the number of applications a museum may submit to MFA. We encourage you to read the IMLS blog.

National Endowment for the Humanities

The deadline for Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections is December 4, 2012 for Projects Beginning October 2013. This program helps cultural institutions plan and implement preservation strategies aimed at mitigating the greatest risks to collections in ways that pragmatically balance effectiveness, cost, and environmental impact. For information and guidelines , click here.





Interview With A Conservator

5 02 2012

Jill Whitten, of Whitten and Proctor Fine Art Conservation gives a wonderful description of the what it is that we do as conservators and how the practice of conservation continues to evolve.





All Your Shreds Are Belong To Us

14 12 2011

I’m always interested in stories about merging new technologies and old, analog and digital, human and computer teams.  Here’s a good one:  DARPA ran a contest last month, with a $50,000 prize,  in which contestants were asked to use technologies to re-assemble shredded documents. The winning team, All Your Shreds Are Belong To Us, “used custom-coded, computer-vision algorithms to suggest fragment pairings to human assemblers for verification.   In total, the winning team spent nearly 600 man-hours developing algorithms and piecing together documents that were shredded into more than 10,000 pieces.”    Here are some photos.   The forum discussions look pretty interesting.

Yeah, I think that type of help could come in handy for re-assembling  letters destroyed by iron-gall ink such as those in my photo above.  And I’d like to know more about those mysterious “human assemblers” and their techniques!








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