Ethafoam

Thanks to Terry Hammond, Founding Director & Curator of the Guilford College Art Gallery, for contributions to this post.

When you are a staff member at a small museum and in charge of diverse initiatives, all the rules concerning preservation can be daunting and even discouraging. Most folks working with cultural heritage collections know that acid-free tissue and boxes are good materials for collections storage. Another material to keep in mind and rely on to be preservation-appropriate and versatile is ethafoam.

Made from polyethylene, one of the safer plastics, ethafoam planks are 2” thick or more and are easy to carve by using any new serrated edge knife. The foam will dull the blade fairly quickly, so dollar-store types are a good option. For most purposes, you should cover the carved ethafoam with a layer of tissue, tyvek, or muslin, as the carved edges can be somewhat abrasive.

  • Riser blocks: wood can emit harmful acidic vapors that an exhibit case’s microenvironment will trap and intensify, leading to the degradation of artifacts. Ethafoam can be cut in squares or stacked to varying heights and is dense enough to support (and slightly cushion) most objects.
a crocodile mummy mount at the Phoebe A. Hurst Museum of Anthropology
  • Storage mounts: carve a cavity for an artifact to rest inside or brackets to protect extrusions. Carved ethafoam can also be used to support the ends of a rolled textile storage tube, keeping the artifact suspended above a shelf. Click here for some helpful video instructions for creating ethafoam cavity mounts.

Display mounts: planks can be stacked, glued, and then carved into hat mounts and even manikins. Tried and true directions for building a manikin out of ethafoam will guide you in this task.

The main draw-back of ethafoam is its price. However, there is an ethafoam manufacturer here in North Carolina—Hibco Plastics—which sells the product for at least 30% less than the cost preservation product suppliers charge. Hibco’s factory is in Yadkinville, just west of Winston-Salem. The company sells ethafoam in bulk to museums all over the country. The advantage for institutions close by is that Hibco will fabricate smaller orders for pick-up. If you are interested in ordering ethafoam from Hibco and arranging pick-up orders, contact Chris Pavlansky, Sales and Marketing,  T: 800-849-8683 Ext. 138, F: 336-463-5591 (cpavlansky@hibco.com). Ethafoam is a product that exemplifies how buying in bulk can save a great deal of money. Remember, networking with colleagues from other museums and historic sites for coordinated supply purchasing can be a way to “do more with less–” an imperative we all face in today’s cultural heritage institutions.

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About collectionsconversations

This blog will contain posts from the C2C project staff on a variety of topics related to collections care and disaster preparedness. Enjoy the posts and let us know if you would like additional information or have a topic you would like for us to address.

Posted on January 12, 2012, in collections care, Exhibitions, storage and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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