Conservation Assistance Day

Collections staff at the North Carolina Museum of History recently inaugurated a quarterly “Conservation Assistance Day” as a public service and a way to introduce preservation concepts into the museum’s array of public programs. Here’s how it works: whenever members of the public call the museum with questions about how to care for pieces they have at home, a staff member alerts them to the quarterly Conservation Assistance Day schedule and encourages them to sign up for an appointment to meet with one of the museum’s two conservators—Textiles Conservator Paige Myers or Objects Conservator Jennifer French. Each participant can sign up for one half-hour appointment and bring up to three treasures into the museum, where collections staff have a temporary workspace set up behind glass walls, visible from the lobby.

Both conservators meet with attendees who bring mixed media objects containing textile elements. In this scene, Myers and French analyze a fan. The conservators focus on identifying materials in the pieces and giving participants advice on ways to preserve their treasures. They always refer questions about monetary value to a list of qualified appraisers.

One participant brought in this elaborate collage on a hand truck, secured with a bungee cord. The wooden marquetry framed piece contains butterflies and dried leaves on a wool ground and likely dates to the 1880s. A print depicting an Indian warrior and maiden embracing (perhaps Hiawatha and Minnehaha) dominates the assemblage. Conservators pointed out evidence of previous insect infestations and light damage and advised the owner about climate considerations.

Folks who bring their heirlooms in for consultations leave the session pleased with the free service the museum provides, and many sign up for repeat appointments. Moreover, the event generates interest among general museum visitors who can see the artifacts and ongoing staff consultations through the glass walls.

Most history museums do not have conservators, but there are still ways to make the work of preservation more visible to the public. Consider setting up a temporary workstation in the lobby or main exhibit area of your institution to work on small re-housing or artifact cleaning projects. A few folding tables covered with ethafoam sheeting, muslin, or tyvek can create an easy-to-assemble work space. Be ready to explain the activity to visitors and help them understand why the artifacts need improved storage or other conditions. Information about collection dangers or the basic costs of archival storage products can be great to hand out to really curious visitors in these instances and may encourage future support of your institution’s preservation activities.

Have you ever tried bringing “behind the scenes” activities to the forefront of your museum? Besides setting up temporary workspaces and short-term preservation projects, do you have other ideas to make preservation more visible to the public?

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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 May 22, 2012, in museums, public programs and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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