Monthly Archives: November 2013

Turkey Motifs

Remember when Thanksgiving was its own holiday and not just lumped into “the Holiday Season?” This post highlights objects with turkey motifs found in the NC Department of Cultural Resources’ collections and exhibits nostalgia for days of yore when Christmas decorations did not appear immediately after Halloween.

H.1969.118.132

H.1969.118.132

H.2003.2.17

H.2003.2.17

Do stores even sell Thanksgiving greeting cards anymore? The verso of this 1914 postcard on the left is addressed to Miss Eliza Pool of Raleigh with the message “That each passing year may bring you more to be thankful for is the wish of your loving Brad.”

The card on the right dates 1948-1952 and shows a scene at odds with typical 21st-century experiences of the holiday. How many of today’s parents would send their pre-school boys outside with an axe to help prepare the focal point of the impending feast?

H.1978.48.1

H.1978.48.1

This “turkey tracks” pattern quilt dates to circa 1850 and incorporates pieces of calico dyed “Turkey red“–a newly possible and tremendously popular color during the mid-nineteenth century. Unlike the name of the quilt’s pattern, the term for the red dye referred to the Middle East, rather than the bird.

H.2004.136.1

H.2004.136.1

H.1972.63.37

H.1972.63.37

A wooden turkey figurine, carved of apple wood by John Hall of the Campbell Folk School in 1948, stands elegantly in contrast to the cartoon turkey with Jesse Helms’ head on this political button from 1990.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!

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Melting Risks: Plastic Storage Materials in Fire

NextBurn 023In preparation for our fire recovery workshops, we try to use a variety of storage materials in the mock museums we set up before a controlled burn. We stage plastic storage boxes, made from polypropylene (PP), and tyvek dust covers and artifact tags, made from polyethylene (PE), alongside storage enclosures made from archival board and muslin.  The view on the left shows one shelving unit pre-fire and before we placed clear PE sheeting around the unit as a dust cover. Note the tyvek dust cover on the uppermost rolled textile and tyvek tags hanging from objects.

tyvekMeltAlthough plastic enclosures can offer an additional measure of disaster preparedness for certain scenarios, such as water and pests, they do not protect artifacts as well as other materials in the case of fire. The fire, which burned at about 350 degrees for 2 hours, blew off the PE sheeting from its clips around the shelving unit and left the plastic cover a melted, sooty mess on the floor. Tyvek responds to extreme heat by shrinking up like a shrinky dink and eventually darkening and sticking to the adjacent artifact. The image above shows the same textile in the pre-burn shelf view (above left) with the shrunken dark remnants of its tyvek cover after the fire. Conversely, the cotton twill tape ties are sooty but still intact.

post burn view

post burn view

post burn

post burn view

Not all plastics in our “museum” setting responded in the same way. Placement and perhaps thickness of the materials affected the risk to the nearby artifacts. Remember that hot air rises, so the intensity of fire damage tends to be opposite from the intensity of flood damage. Tyvek tags on objects nearer the floor emerged from the burn building intact. In contrast, a tyvek tag on a hanging garment shrunk and darkened, though the tiny number is still surprisingly legible.

Note melted PP boxes on upper left and intact PP box on shelf below.

Note melted PP boxes on upper left and intact PP box on shelf below.

In previous controlled burns we have tested PP storage boxes with favorable results. Those same storage boxes made it through our recent BuncombeCounty burn well too. Two smaller PP boxes, made from thinner plastic, melted, though still not enough to harm the objects inside. Was it the placement or the varying thickness of the plastic boxes that caused the different outcomes?

Our controlled burns have taught us that plastic enclosures kept closer to the floor pose less melting risk than those at higher levels. Significantly, the closer to the floor, the greater the risk for flood and pest damage to artifacts. Also, proximity to floors and walls can increase RH fluctuations, and research has shown that plastic boxes help mitigate that collections risk. Might plastic enclosures be the best option for storage at lower levels in general?

Fire Recovery Practice

EricRogersOur Fire Recovery Workshop last week at the Buncombe County Public Safety Training Center is now behind us. We enjoyed beautiful, crisp fall weather in the mountains and a wonderful new facility. A shout out to the facility’s Director and fire fighter, Eric Rogers, for accommodating our unusual needs so well! This was our team’s 3rd and largest fire recovery workshop so far and we are planning at least 3 more of this type of training.

burnScene2One lesson we learned this time from our participants is that we need to provided clearer guidelines on how to recover artifacts before sending our group out to “just do it!”. Heritage Preservation offers a good start with this video, which our group was able to review beforehand, but its recommendations are limited to vacuuming and soot sponging. A couple of points to remember about these materials:

  • Vacuum objects in place before moving, if possible.
  • Do not unroll textiles or open books before vacuuming.
  • The vacuum should not be in direct contact with the artifact. Hold the nozzle with a thumb on its edge to prevent touching the artifact.
  • If possible, cover the nozzle with a flexible nylon screen, or even an old piece of pantyhose, to prevent sucking any loose bits of the artifact up, while vacuuming soot particles.
  • Variable suction is a helpful feature in recovery. On our windy day, the shop vac we used tended to pull textile items too much.
  • DavidGoist&SootSpongeOur consulting conservator, David Goist, cautioned our group to examine surface materials carefully before deciding to soot sponge. The pressure of applying a soot sponge might grind soot particles into some matte surfaces.
  • The name “sponge” is somewhat misleading for this material. Although it looks like a sponge, it should not be used to rub. A light dab will trap the soot particles on one face of the rubber cube. Cutting the dirty face off with scissors exposes a clean surface for more trapping.

The soot sponging process can also help identify patterns in soot damage. On Rogers’ suggestion, we placed one object, a carousel horse, in a room on its own, separated from the controlled burn areas. The recovery team found by sponging that soot only collected on top surfaces of the piece.

Although Heritage Preservation’s guidelines urge caution against rinsing anything sooty, Goist instructed the group that objects like glass and high-fired ceramics can usually be rinsed. Silver flatware may also be rinsed and then wiped with a cotton rag dampened with ethanol. Participants had success with these recovery techniques for the “artifacts” they recovered from the dining table setting in the mock museum.

Next week’s post will address the fate of the plastic storage materials we used in the controlled burn exercise.

Deaccession Destinations

Most museum collection policies delineate steps for the placement of deaccessioned artifacts.

  1. Attempt to transfer to a teaching or prop collection within the institution.
  2. Attempt to find another collecting institution for transfer.
  3. Sell at public auction and use resulting funds for collection purposes (acquisition or supplies) only.
  4. Destroy if in total disrepair or posing a health risk.

NextBurn 008NextBurn 010Another common guideline insists that deaccessioned objects should not be returned to the donor or a descendant for two reasons:  first, the donor may have taken a tax deduction for the piece and its return would render the deduction fraudulent; second, there may be multiple descendants with competing ownership claims which the museum cannot and should not arbitrate.

NextBurn 023In addition to the above 4 typical deaccession destinations enumerated above, C2C has become another option in between #s 3 and 4 (perhaps a 3 ½?). In cases where objects have no re-sale value but still have some level of structural integrity and visual interest, three North Carolina museums have opted to donate their deaccessioned pieces to C2C for our team to destroy in the mock museums we set up before our fire recovery workshops. These views include several deaccessioned pieces staged for the controlled burn at the Buncombe County Public Safety Training Center. Our fire recovery workshop participants got to practice triage and recovery with these materials yesterday. Sometimes items in these scenarios survive the fire and do 2 or more tours of C2C-controlled-burn duty, but more often they are destroyed during the burn or disposed immediately after the workshop.

Please consider sending your deaccessioned, no monetary value, but still interesting, objects to us at C2C for workshop use. And, stay tuned to learn the fate of these former museum artifacts after yesterday’s fire recovery workshop…