I attended a session on Plastics today during the virtual AIC Annual Meeting, the professional association for conservators and preservation specialists. Netherland conservators Carien van Aubel and Olivia van Rooijen introduced the Plastic Identification Tool, an absolutely fantastic resource to aid inventory and condition assessment of collections.
Libraries, archives, museums and private collections may have a wide range of materials, each with their own methods of self-destruction and concomittant special storage and exhibit needs. Artworks, textiles, furniture, artifacts – all may have plastic components which may not have been identified during accession and which need to be assessed and monitored for deterioration. Some varieties of plastic can extremely vulnerable to damage from light, temperature and humidity, and may require very specific preservation strategies and housings to mitigate damage to the object itself or to nearby artifacts. Damage may present as color change, odor, sticky or pooling plasticizers, or changes in flexibility. An objects conservator may be required to accurately identify materials and conservation priorities, but a preservation consultant (like me!) can assist in developing and carrying out a condition survey.
I’ve been invited to test a new plug and play datalogger and gateway set from Conserv.io. The 2 loggers and the gateway are seen unboxed here. It was incredibly easy to set up – just plug in the gateway to the electrical outlet, pull the tabs on the loggers. Done. The set automatically starts transmitting data which can be tracked on the web-based app, optimized for any platform and for tablet, laptop and mobile devices. The system does not require wifi or ethernet to transmit information, but does require access to the internet to access the data. Your internet access does not have to be in the same location as the loggers and gateway. Pretty simple and easy for remote monitoring.
These loggers track temperature, relative humidity, light and vibration. The software is easy and intuitive to use, developed in consultation with conservators. I’ve only had it set up in my studio for a week but so far so good!
This is an excellent video put out by the Event Safety Allliance on March 4th, 2020. It provides guidance on 8 things to do right now to sustain your cultural organization or business and keep your staff and patrons safe.
Develop a business continuity plan that covers mass gatherings, following local government guidance. This plan should include pre-outbreak planning, plans for when the threat is present but not local, and what to do when the threat is local, and post-event evaluation and revision of the plan.
Categorize employees and tasks which are mission critical, who has time-sensitive projects, and who can or cannot work remotely
Consider moving elderly or immune-compromised staff or volunteers away from public-facing jobs
Delineate remote work and how to do it. Maybe now is the time for some long-postponed website or online catalog work?
Create a flexible refund policy to encourage sick people not to attend events
Create an emergency action plan if an event has to be canceled or if you have to close.
Who to call? Phone tree
Can event or exhibit be enjoyed remotely?
What is your event cancellation insurance?
Communicate with key stakeholders
Develop a statement on what you plan to say about your actions, how you are going to handle social distancing, what your messaging will be around managing sick staff or patrons. There’s a great example of this at 37:01 on the video.
Will you post a sign at the entrance requesting that sick people not attend events? Will you ask coughing, sneezing feverish people to leave to protect others?
Create a culture of permission to call in sick and examine ability to increase paid time off.
Create a situational awareness process
Designate one person to monitor the situation by staying up-to-date on current information and vetting it’s accuracy through sources such as Johns Hopkins, CDC and WHO as well as local governance and staff/volunteer wellness and stress.
Check supply chains
Know where your supplies come from, identify which are critical and plan for what you will do if you cannot obtain them
Promote good health habits
Increase cleaning schedules and follow CDC guidelines
Assessment of company travel policies
Review business continuity plan for the long-term
Ensure that IT department and infrastructure can handle increase in remote work
Ensure that collections and building can be monitored for security and environmental changes
Ensure staff and patron safety through social distancing procedures
The KonMarie method is taking over the world and here is a funny take on applying it to LAMs (libraries, archives, museums), with a few great questions to ask about objects, supplies, equipment, staff and board members, not to mention that drawer in which you keep a jumble of … who knows what. Do you want to take this into the future? Does it serve you or the organization? Do you even have a weeping closet?
I am so pleased to participate in this innovated IMLS-funded project created by the Missoula Art Museum. If you are part of a cultural organization in Montana, please consider signing up for my workshop and the conversation. Here for more information.
From the MAM website:
MAM CARES: CATALYZING ACCESS, RESEARCH, AND EDUCATION SOLUTIONS Launched with a $25,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, CARES (Catalyzing Access, Research, and Education Solutions) will determine the potential for community and statewide collaborations in collections-driven research, education, storage, preservation, and conservation efforts, and inform the conceptual design of a MAM collections center in Missoula.
In fall 2017, MAM received a prestigious $25,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) program, Museums for America. Only 24% of applications to this highly competitive program were funded, placing MAM in the national ranks of 138 projects that support the IMLS goal to to connect communities to their artistic and cultural resources. IMLS Director Dr. Kathryn K. Matthew says, “As centers of learning and catalysts of community change, libraries and museums connect people with programs, services, collections, information, and new ideas in the arts, sciences, and humanities. They serve as vital spaces where people can connect with each other.”
Montana has a rich history, and its institutions hold important collections of artwork, documents, and archival materials. However, many of the state’s museums and libraries are experiencing shrinking capacity as collections continue to grow. CARES will determine the potential for collaborations in collections-driven research and inform the conceptual design of a MAM collections center in Missoula.
Project Director Brandon Reintjes says, “Museums and libraries tend to develop and expend resources independently. However, there are significant opportunities for us to collaborate with our colleagues throughout the state, specifically in regards to collections. We’re extremely proud to have received this important national grant.” Nearly $22,000 of the total grant will stay in Montana communities and provide direct benefits for Montanans, including training stipends and new access to much-needed resources.
Denver-based book and paper conservator Beth Heller to Missoula to provide training to statewide museum and library staff. Local experts also contributing to the project include consulting architect Warren Hampton, Mansfield Library Head of Archives and Special Collections Donna McCrae, and Sue Near, a 35-year veteran of collections and administration at the Montana Historical Society. Their efforts will benefit an estimated 50 staff from institutions across the state, and by their efforts, help the public to enjoy, study, and understand our cultural collections.
Statewide Collection Assessment
In fall 2017, MAM contacted the directors of more than 230 Montana museums, libraries, and archives with a request to participate in a survey to identify significant needs, challenges, and opportunities. MAM will post the analysis prepared by conservator Beth Heller in early 2018.
MAM invites artists, collectors, community members, educators in K-12 and higher education, staff and volunteers of museums, libraries, archives and other cultural heritage organizations to help determine how a new collection facility can spark interdisciplinary collaborations, enhance access to scholarship and educational resources, and improve the care of cultural collections. Workshop seating is limited and registration is required.
Limited travel funds are available for participants who attend a workshop and charrette scheduled for the same day.
Preservation of Books and Paper Workshop, Friday, March 23, 9 a.m. – noon: Presented by Beth Heller Conservation of Denver, CO. Beth will focus on care of books, historic and archival documents, and works of art on paper. MAM thanks Archival Methods and University Products for donating sample materials for workshop participants. Register for this workshop! Please fill out the registration form and email it to Lily Scott.
Conservation and Preservation Design Charrette, Friday, March 23, 1 p.m. – 4 p.m.How can a new facility improve the long-term care of art, documents, and other cultural materials? Register for this event! Please fill out the registration form and email it to Lily Scott.
April 23 Research and Education Design Charrette: Monday, April 23, 9 a.m. – noon: How can a new facility meet the needs of K-12 and higher education? What are opportunities for collaborating to generate new research and educational materials? Please fill out the registration form and email it to Lily Scott.
Introduction to Archive Management, Friday, May 11, 9 a.m. – noon: Donna McCrea, Head of Archives and Special Collections, Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library, University of Montana, will introduce policies and procedures, and cover topics such as identifying and organizing physical and digital archival material, best practices for storage and handling, and options for providing access to internal and external users. Register for this workshop! Please fill out the registration form and email it to Lily Scott.
Physical and Digital Storage Design Charrette: Friday, May 11, 1 – 4 p.m.: How can a new facility improve the security of cultural collections in Missoula and across the state? How can it support collaborations that make digital information more accessible? Register for this event! Please fill out the registration form and email it to Lily Scott.
(Image: Jacob Lawrence, Seattle Arts Festival, Bumbershoot’76, screen print, MAM Collection, gift of J. Scott Patnode in honor of Stephen Glueckert, 2017.)
As a CAP Collections Assessor, I am available to assist you. Please read the information below and apply for the program as directed. This is a terrific resource that will help you assess the damage and develop a plan for moving forward.
Museums of any size are eligible for an Emergency CAP. Small and mid-sized museums will receive a general conservation assessment. Larger museums will receive a review of preservation/conservation plans for the structure and/or those parts of their collections which have been damaged by the emergency or disaster.
Assessor allocations for Emergency CAPs range from $3500-$4900 per assessor, based on institutional budget, need, and available funds.
Applications for Emergency CAPs are reviewed immediately upon receipt. Applicants are typically notified of their status within two weeks of application.
Program schedules and deadlines are determined by each institution and its team of assessors, subject to approval by FAIC. All program activities must occur within one year of notification of program acceptance.
Museums include, but are not limited to, aquariums, arboretums, art museums, botanical gardens, children’s/youth museums, general museums, historic houses/sites, history museums, natural history/anthropology museums, nature centers, planetariums, science/technology centers, and zoological parks.
Limited funding is available. Eligible museums interested in receiving an Emergency CAP assessment should contact Tiffani Emig, CAP Program Coordinator, at 202-750-3346 or firstname.lastname@example.org for additional information.
I’m pleased to announce that I am a Conservation Collections Assessor for the CAP Program.
The Collections Assessment for Preservation (CAP) Program “provides small and mid-sized museums with partial funding toward a general conservation assessment. The assessment is a study of all of the institution’s collections, buildings, and building systems, as well as its policies and procedures relating to collections care. Participants who complete the program receive an assessment report with prioritized recommendations to improve collections care. CAP is often a first step for small institutions that wish to improve the condition of their collections.”
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:
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
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.
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?