Proceed with Caution: Neoprene’s Preservation Prospects
Recently the High Point Museum received a potential donation. “SesquiWhoo” is a large, owl costume, awkwardly shaped for collections storage. In 2009 the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival’s costume designer created the piece to be the mascot suit for High Point’s 150th anniversary. City officials named the character “SesquiWhoo,” a play on the term sesquicentennial. Although SesquiWhoo may be eye-catching and fun in a future exhibit, the costume poses several preservation challenges. In addition to the difficulties that the costume’s size and shape present, its primary material—neoprene—has questionable properties.
Neoprene is a synthetic rubber, now commonly used for both wet suits and laptop covers. Concerned about neoprene’s stability in long-term storage, Museum Registrar, Corinne Midgett, posted a query about neoprene’s preservation prospects on the list-serve for the Registrar’s Committee of AAM. Expert respondents warned that the material would off-gas, emitting acidic or sulfuric vapors that may harm nearby artifacts, as it ages. Additionally, they predicted it would harden over time and loose elasticity and warned that heat and UV radiation could accelerate the material’s deterioration. Storage recommendations included isolation, cold temperatures, and regular changes of packing materials.
The museum plans to proceed with accessioning the costume. Can SesquiWhoo be preserved effectively for perpetuity? Check out its size and shape. What suggestions can you make to support this piece in storage? Short of buying a large refrigerator unit, what strategies can High Point Museum staff use to isolate and chill this piece?
Thanks to Corinne Midgett for the inspiration and information to create this post.