Category Archives: workshops

Pros & Cons of Fire Recovery Workshops

This week our C2C staff is in Louisville Kentucky for the AASLH conference.  We’ll be discussing one of the big pushes of the CREST grant project—producing fire recovery workshops across the state. We hope to encourage those involved in coordinating professional development workshops in other states to consider whether hands-on fire recovery workshops would be useful to the groups they serve. This type of workshop is fairly unique in that we have partnered with a different fire station or training center to stage a controlled burn of a mock museum that we set up for each one. We’ve done 6 of these and covered the state fairly well geographically. They have all been different in terms of levels of damage to materials and the firefighting staff and procedures involved in each controlled burn. We’ve learned many lessons about working with the first responders, as well as the way materials react to fire, and recovery methods. We want to guide others from around the country to R&D—rip off and duplicate—what we’ve accomplished here in NC.

We’ll be sharing with those who join us the handouts we’ve developed for our participants as well as a supply list for the workshop and pointers for setting up the controlled burn. We’ve also identified some pros and cons for producing this type of workshop to help generate discussion for each attendee (and our blog readers) about whether this would be a viable training in their own areas.

  • Pro: Fire recovery workshops have been a useful hook into increasing disaster preparedness. The off-site, hands-on element is a more exciting topic than disaster planning and appeals to a wider range of participants. These workshops have also functioned as recruiting tools for both regional and statewide response teams here in NC.
  • poolNoodleMount2Con: They’re a lot of work! Controlled burns require regular rounds of accumulating and storing “expendifacts.” We don’t just stockpile junk but rather try to amass a range of materials (and proportions of them) found in typical historical museum collections. Multiples of the same thing are especially useful to test the protective qualities of various storage materials. Tagging and creating storage mounts, as well as taking photos of each object for an inventory, are labor intensive processes. In the final stages of preparation, the heavy lifting kicks in with loading, unloading, and reloading the cargo van.
  • Pro: The workshops have built bridges to emergency responders. By meeting the firefighter in charge of the controlled burn during the workshop, each participant has a contact in their regions. The firefighters we worked with first taught us about pre-plans and we’ve been able to spread the word about this key preparedness step as we travel around the state. Additionally, the triage tags we use for artifact recovery are modeled after FEMA’s Community Emergency Response Team triage tags for human victims. By using a similar system, we’ve allowed the firefighters to gain a quick understanding of our goals.
  • Con: Preparations for these workshops requires a great deal of staff time. You need months (and quite a bit of storage space) to accumulate the stuff you’ll burn. If an inventory is part of the workshop (and it has been for ours), the documentation takes roughly a week of full-time work. Another week is necessary for creating storage mounts, packing boxes, loading, and set-up.
  • Pro: These workshops have been a useful deaccessioning outlet for institutions around the state (and even beyond, in one case). 7 museums/ libraries have given us items to burn that could not be sold at auction.
  • TextilesPostburnCon: The controlled burns require regular buying and wasting of supplies. In addition to buying expendifacts from thrift stores and yard sales, storage supplies get used up regularly. Metal shelving has been the toughest supply to replenish cheaply. Tyvek and muslin garment covers and padded hangers need to be re-created before each burn.
  • Pro: Ultimately, these workshops have been effective as active learning events. Participants have worked with key concepts such as the Incident Command System, practiced triage and fire recovery steps for a variety of materials, and witnessed the reactions of various storage materials to fire.

Do you think it would be worth trying one of these workshops in your own area? Please get in touch, if you’d like more information. We’re happy to share!

May Mountain Moves

Two of our institutional partners in the NC mountain region have been moving mountains—of collection materials, that is—in May.

May Day moving was once tradition, from the colonial period to WWII, in urban areas characterized by a high portion of rentals, such as New York and Chicago. This 1865 political cartoon pokes fun by connecting the tradition to the April surrender of the Confederacy by depicting government leaders packing up and leaving Richmond on May 1.

The Mountain Heritage Center of Western Carolina University is also packing up and moving. Staff members deconstructed exhibitions in late April – early May and have been re-configuring spaces to accommodate more artifact storage. By the end of the month they will move their offices to the campus library, where a new exhibition space will open in August–in time for the academic year.

The Carl Sandburg Home in Flat Rock, part of the National Park Service, began packing its collection of approximately 50,000 objects, ranging from furniture to archival materials, in the historic house in January. This month staff began moving boxed artifacts to an off-site storage facility in preparation for substantial renovations to the structure. Staff decided that rather than closing the house to tourists during the move, they could use the event as an interpretive opportunity. According to the site’s preservation webpage:

During this packing process visitors on tour will have an opportunity to see museum object preservation in person. The home’s interior will start to look more like the Sandburgs are just moving in with boxes still packed as the year goes on. This will be a fun time to visit the home to see the activity and to feel like the Sandburgs when they first moved to Connemara.

The move has also become a way for the site to connect with its social media audiences. Staff has been posting interesting collection finds on instagram, as well as a view into the tracking process. A collection inventory is a necessary and time consuming part of the move. Sharing a bit of the process with online audiences helps the public understand the meticulousness of preservation procedures, as well as engaging viewers with collection discoveries.

Need help planning a future collections move? The Science Museum of Minnesota has reported its experiences and advice for a major collections move, “Moving the Mountain,” and made the guidebook available as a PDF online. Beginning on page 66 are some helpful and well illustrated suggestions for fairly simple artifact mounts that could be used to move the artifact and continue as safe, permanent storage thereafter. Anne Lane, collections manager extraordinaire at WCU’s Mountain Heritage Center, will be instructing C2C’s Box Making Workshop next month where she will share her impressive skills for creating custom storage mounts and enclosures and update participants on her institution’s recent moving process.

 

Reminders from Recovery

Last week C2C conducted our 6th and final fire recovery workshop at the Fayetteville Fire Training Center. Overall, the process of setting up and burning the mock museum replicated that of earlier workshops. Our “artifacts” experienced a range of damage from a level of charring that would lead to deaccession to a light level of soot and ash to the absorption of smoky odors. The scenario gave our staff and participants a rare opportunity to witness the protective powers of various storage materials and the effectiveness of simple recovery treatments.

This event offered reminders of 3 preservation techniques we’ve discussed before, both in workshops and in this blog.

  1. ???????????????????????????????Textile interleaving helps protect artifacts. The vast majority of disasters involve water. Even fires usually end with the activation of sprinkler systems or water hoses. Although a fire’s intense heat often evaporates any water involved very quickly, bleeding dyes and sooty tide lines can remain. Participants in our “Collections Care Basics” workshops get to practice rolling textiles for storage. They are careful to interleave the object with acid-free tissue during each revolution and cover the rolled fabric with muslin, Tyvek, reemay, or tissue. In this case (shown above) the muslin cover appeared to protect the rolled textile inside but once opened, water damage became apparent. Dyes bled onto the muslin and interleaving tissue, which mitigated the damage from one layer of the textile to the next.
  2. board box after fire

    board box after fire

    plastic box after fire

    plastic box after fire

    Plastic storage boxes are a protective option—even in a fire. We previously postulated the melting fate of plastic boxes in fires as disadvantage of that storage option. However, in this fire, the plastic box protected its contents similarly to the board box. We had placed a like array of materials (8 objects) in each of 4 boxes—2 plastic, 2 board. One plastic and one board box survived well on a lower shelf. Both the plastic and the board box on a top shelf experienced destructive heat. The fire melted the plastic and caused the board to char and collapse. In both boxes most materials suffered damage but could be recovered. Once cooled, melted plastic could be pried off the surviving objects fairly easily and board dividers and tissue inside the box protected much of the contents.

  1. Gonzo is visible in the trashcan beneath the object tray.

    Gonzo is visible in the trashcan beneath the object tray.

    Deodorization chambers are effective as a recovery technique. Paper, textile, and wooden objects absorb smoky odors easily. The deodorization chamber we have recommended previously worked really well for the textile items involved in this fire. We placed two infant clothing items in the chamber overnight and all traces of odor disappeared. The Gonzo product needed recharging in the sun before the next session but then resumed absorbing effectively and deodorized two dresses that had been on the garment rack during the blaze.

Although every disaster is different, we learn lessons after each that help us mitigate risks and be better prepared. What lessons have disasters taught you?

CREST Training

CREST_logo_edited-1We want to take today’s post to brag on our Cultural Resources Emergency Support Team members and assure you of their availability to provide NC sites with tangible assistance. CREST consists of experienced professionals who are dedicated to serving the cultural heritage cause across the state and are willing to take a leadership role in their own regions. In addition to the 3 of us on our C2C team, there are currently 14 CREST members across the state. Each has agreed to help out with artifact recovery in the event that any NC cultural heritage collection suffers from a disaster. Further, each works for an institution that supports his or her time away from the office for this purpose. This willingness to assist other institutions fits into the NC Department of Cultural Resources’ mandate for statewide outreach, and consequently, the majority of CREST members work for state-run institutions. Two of our members work for the National Park Service on opposite ends of the state, one in the mountain region, and the other on the Outer Banks. Notably, 4 of our members work for private organizations: Old Salem, the Asheville Art Museum, Wrightsville Beach Museum, and the NC Preservation Consortium. Our admiration and gratitude especially go to these institutions, which—without any governmental mandates—allow their expert personnel to respond to statewide calls for post-disaster artifact recovery.

In addition to all the artifact preservation experience the members have gained as librarians, curators, registrars, archivists, and administrators, each is required to complete 3 Federal Emergency Management Agency courses successfully:

These credentials serve 2 purposes: First, emergency managers and first responders take our group more seriously, knowing that a part of CREST training overlaps their own. Secondly, team members are able to interact with these leaders more effectively. With the training, CREST members understand chains of command and their own place within them, should their deployment be necessary. Members become familiar with emergency leaders’ processes, priorities, and terminology.

CREST members also commit to help our C2C team out with fire recovery workshops. They serve as team leaders, or in other administrative roles, during the workshop. Consequently, each gains hands-on practice in a disaster scenario as a leader, and some of the training concepts, such as Incident Command System, come to life. Moreover, the fire workshops have borrowed from Community Emergency Response Training in developing an artifact triage system. This interplay of knowledge between preservation expertise and emergency management procedures makes CREST members uniquely qualified to lead post-disaster artifact salvage efforts.

Always remember to call on CREST if your NC collection suffers disaster damage.

Controlled Burn Surprises

garment storage pre-burn showing various covering materials

G'boroBurnBldgLast week C2C held our 5th Fire Recovery Workshop. We’ve coordinated these across the state—2 on the coast, one in the mountains, one in the Triangle, and this recent one in Greensboro. Past participants and long-time followers of this blog will recall that within days before these workshops our C2C team works with firefighters to conduct a controlled burn. Our staff brings shelves and a variety of objects, including metals, ceramics, wood, books, textiles, papers, and photographs. We stage some in containers and others loose on shelves or in an “exhibit” area so that participants can gauge the effectiveness of various storage materials.

Firefighters burn the mock “museum” in a fire training facility. Most of these are masonry structures with special tiles designed to absorb the heat of the fire. Consequently, after our first 3 controlled burns we were somewhat disappointed that many of the objects survived un-charred with a film of soot and a smoke odor. (We had hoped for a better range of damage for the recovery learning opportunity.) Our 4th training center was different. It was a large corrugated iron building and the objects experienced a range of damage, with those on top shelves faring much worse than those stored at lower levels.

garment storage post-burn

garment storage post-burn

taggingWorking with a masonry building once again in Greensboro, we stressed to the firefighters that we wanted objects damaged…and they delivered. They selected the basement level of their training facility for the most intense fire. Indeed, lower ceilings kept the fire near the objects’ levels. When we first entered the burn building it looked as if there would be little for our participants to recover at all. However, some containers, though destroyed, protected enough of the objects that our participants could still practice triage and treatment techniques.

Surprises and lessons from our 5th controlled burn:

  • Exhibit2Postburn
    Acrylic hoods can melt, though the artifacts inside may be okay.
  • Fire moves up, but it also moves toward any vent; consequently our table setting was not charred.
  • Even in the most destructive fires, metals and ceramics are likely to retain their forms and may be worth conserving.

If you’ve missed the last 5 of these unique workshops and want to join in the fun, our next (and probably last) fire recovery workshop will be in Fayetteville, April 13, 2015. You can register by following this link.

Promoting, Prioritizing, and Preserving Active Collections

If you skipped the AASLH conference this year and you don’t follow the Engaging Places blog, you may have missed the “Active Collections Manifesto.” It’s a strong stance on promoting quality over quantity in collections and argues for a discriminating approach to resource expenditures. The Manifesto’s writers have an impressive record of professional accomplishments in the museum field and their ideas are worth considering and debating.

The Manifesto calls for prioritizing collections into different levels and providing a corresponding tiered standard of care. In many ways, collections stewards already do this by default. The objects relating to research requests are usually documented more thoroughly and stored in positions of greater accessibility. In other ways the differing values placed on collection items are more deliberate. Our workshops always promote selecting 5-10 priority artifacts that are crucial for the institution’s mission or community identity as a disaster preparedness measure. Sorting collections into tiers of significance and/ or stakeholder interest and concentrating documentation efforts and scare preservation resources on the upper tiers could have multiple benefits beyond disaster preparedness. Would a field for priority codes in systems like Past Perfect be useful? Prioritizing collections is something those in the library/ archives field already do deliberately and it makes a lot of sense for museums to take a tiered approach to collections too.

Here are two additional great ideas the Manifesto promotes:

  • emotion-provocation as a criterion in assigning an object to a tier
  • a deaccession special task force: As we’ve seen with assessment programs, outside experts can be convincing for boards and stir up the stagnation that is all too often a dominating force.

As a former curator for a state history museum, I do have some concerns with mass-scale deaccessioning, however, and I’ll share a story from my previous position to explain. As the Manifesto mentions, audiences’ needs evolve and the stories stakeholders want to tell change over time. Some lower-tier artifacts may jump to a higher tier, depending on the story, so in my experience, mass deaccessioning projects need to be undertaken with great care.

Courtesy, Louisiana State Museum

Courtesy, Louisiana State Museum

One part of my job was managing a historic row house, and I researched those who lived in the house during one decade—the 1850s. That had never been done before because heads of household were tenants, rather than owners, and had been overlooked in earlier interpretations. (This new research approach also uncovered a lot of great information on slaves, but that’s another story.) Anyway, imagine my surprise and delight when I did collections database searches on all the tenants’ names and discovered a pair of shoes that had once belonged to the final tenant of that decade! The pair had probably never left a storage box since its donation in the 1920s, and in a tiered approach it would have been placed on a low level. Once a new interpretive direction came to the fore, the shoes launched into a higher tier.

Similarly, masses of WWI stuff that seemed fairly low priority 20 years ago are undergoing a dramatic shift in significance now in collections across the country as institutions commemorate the centennial.

To learn more about deaccession issues and recommended procedures, consider tuning into AASLH’s upcoming StEPs webinar. Or join us for a FREE webinar viewing party at the NC Museum of History.

Professional standards in preservation have risen to such great heights in the last few decades that very few history museums can keep up. A tiered approach to management could really help by considering those standards only for the higher priority level(s). Thanks to Rainey Tisdale, Trevor Jones, and Elee Wood for their bold decree and for supplying more food for thought on collection topics.

Adrienne Berney, C2C Collection Care Trainer

Book Cradles

yearbook on display at the Carthage Museum

yearbook on display at the Carthage Museum

Rare books frequently turn up in exhibitions in libraries and museums of all types. Instead of displaying the book flat and stressing its fragile spine, or squeezing it into a stand, consider a book cradle to provide appropriate support. The Benchmark catalog is one source for state-of-the-art book mounts. These are visually appealing but at $155 each, typically not budget-friendly for smaller institutions.

By making your own cradle out of acid-free board, however, you can create a preservation-appropriate mount on a small budget. The planned DIY activity at last week’s C2C workshop, Exhibition Basics, was making a book cradle. Andrea Knowlton, who is a conservator for UNC Chapel Hill’s Wilson Library special collections, provided instruction in this useful skill. But if you missed the session and are interested in learning to make this kind of mount, there are also some online instructions that will guide you. During the workshops Knowlton used 3M acid-free double-sided tape, rather than hot glue, to attach pieces of board together for the cradle. For diagrams of  various book cradle shapes you can make yourself, click here.

Knowlton also recommends polyethylene strap, an affordable display supply from Benchmark, to secure pages safely on each side of an open book. The Benchmark site includes helpful images and instructions for using poly-strap for this purpose. The poly-strap has softer edges than strips of polyester film (melinex/ mylar)—a preservation advantage. Use a bit of the double-sided tape to attach one end of the strap to the other, keeping the adhesive from touching the book.

ExhibitsWorkshop3At right, another instructor from last week’s workshop, Linda Jacobson, also of UNC-CH, discusses supplies and methods with participant Justin White of Wilson’s Imagination Station. Note two of Knowlton’s completed book cradles in the right foreground.

What mounting-making challenges have you faced? Have you discovered any  methods to enhance both an artifact’s display and preservation at the same time?

NC Soda

TP.2010.037.016

TP.2010.037.016

H.1995.131.5

H.1995.131.5

Have you ever wondered why the biggest carbonated beverage companies (Coke and Pepsi) originated in the South (Atlanta and New Bern, respectively)? In the years before air conditioning, the longer and hotter the summer months, the more customers might seek out variety in thirst quenching. Also, suffering through days of high heat and humidity can squelch appetites. Dyspepsia, something we’d call general indigestion today, was a common diagnosis in the 19th century. So it’s no accident that pharmacists, especially in the South, developed appealing concoctions, often with medicinal ingredients, to entice customers. In fact, the name “Pepsi” came from pepsin, a digestive enzyme that was a primary ingredient in the New Bern-originated drink.

What do North Carolinians call carbonated beverages like Pepsi? There’s no consistent answer,  although this study of over 5,000 people found that the majority of North Carolinians ask for “soda,” with the brand name “coke” used generically as a close second, followed by “soft drink.” Pepsi did not start out as a soft drink, since alcohol was another ingredient in its 1893 drug store recipe.

Prohibition, which North Carolina adopted in 1908, forced alcohol out of legally sold carbonated beverages and meanwhile encouraged the development of new varieties. Pepsi became the most internationally renowned soft drink with origins in North Carolina, but several others came along in the early and mid 20th century and garnered loyal consumers—even fans.

S.1991.1.94

S.1991.1.94

Created in 1917 in an empty whisky distillery in Salibury, Cheerwine’s name and redwine color nodded deliberately at the new alcohol restrictions. The Carolina Beverage Corporation, still based in Salisbury, is the oldest soft-drink purveyor continuously in the hands of the same owners—the Ritchie family. Distribution of the drink has expanded greatly over the past several decades, beyond western North Carolina and into 12 states. Cheerwine now boasts something of a cult following.

H.2014.10.8

H.2014.10.8

Similarly named, the Bludwine Bottling Company also began in 1917 as an independent soft drink bottler on Main Street in Gastonia. Decades later, in 1953 the proprietor developed Sun Drop. The brand’s official relationship with NASCAR boosted sales throughout the greater Charlotte region and beyond. The Gaston County Museum showcases more artifacts and details about Sun Drop here.

Does your institution contain soda bottles or related artifacts in its collection?  We have started supplying Cheerwine for our workshops and found it to be the most popular canned drink among C2C participants. What brands are most popular with your community?

 

Fire Recovery: Simple Triage and Rapid Treatment

For disaster recovery workshops, we’re following the lead of emergency responders by promoting START: simple triage and rapid treatment. However, while those professionals are focusing on human victims, our participants deal only with the much less urgent and less significant needs of artifacts.

Triagetag2Upon relocating the artifacts to a safe work area (using as limited and safe handling procedures as possible), the next step in recovering artifacts from a fire is triage. For our last workshop, we modified emergency responders’ START tags for artifacts.

  • Green: Undamaged artifacts have usually been housed securely enough to protect them from soot. After careful inspection, these can be rehoused in clean containers for a return to storage with no treatment necessary.
  • Yellow: these objects require simple treatment techniques before they can be packed up for long-term storage.

Conservators recommend a strict progressive cleaning procedure that begins with vacuuming and moves to soot sponging and then to wet-cleaning, if necessary and safe for the material. These techniques enacted quickly after the fire will guarantee the highest degree of soot removal for most objects.

  1. Air dry if necessary. Find a shady place if outside or use electric fans to promote air flow inside.
  2. Vacuum: conservators recommend vacuuming in place before relocating the object, but after a fire it is more likely that the contents of a burned structure will be removed before artifact recovery can begin. Brushes should not be used in the soot vacuuming process. If a nylon screen or old panty hose is available, it can be used to cover the nozzle only and should not be pressed against the object. If not, place a thumb on the edge of the nozzle as a bumper to space it a short distance from the object.
  3. Soot sponge: remember to use a dabbing motion, rather than rubbing, which will may grind the tiny soot particles into the object.
  4. Wet cleaning:
  • Ethanol wipe/ dab for metals, also useful on glass and high-fired ceramics
  • Squirt bottle rinse with weak detergent solution (select one with low levels of dyes and perfumes such as Palmolive free and clear.)
  • Blot with damp cotton swabs or rags
  • Avoid immersion but this may be necessary as a last resort

In addition to Heritage Preservation’s brief video, click here for the best professional guidelines we’ve found so far that are specific to soot and ash.

  • Red: objects may be packed for relocation to a conservation studio right away, or they may go through the simple treatment techniques outlined above before going into this category.
  • Black: objects that seem too damaged to recover or not enough of an institutional priority to warrant conservation costs go into the “morgue”—a holding area to await the formal deaccession process before disposal.

We’re working though this START system for artifacts in workshops and so far it’s been a useful approach. We plan to train our Cultural Resources Emergency Response Team (CREST) in its use for future actual disaster recoveries and will practice it again at our next fire recovery workshop in Greensboro.

 

Scrapbook Preservation

H2005.61.10

H2005.61.10

If scrapbooks are an important component of your collection and you’d like to learn more about their preservation, consider the NC Preservation Consortium’s workshops. An upcoming scrapbook workshop is on July 25th at Elon University and though registration is currently full, NCPC promises to schedule more on this needed topic. If you are not able to attend, online learning can offer some guidance. The American Library Association recently sponsored a free webinar on scrapbook preservation during 2014’s Preservation Week. You can access the recording here. Melissa Tedone, Conservator at Iowa State University Library, shared several helpful tips, including:

  • Staples should be removed if possible when they are showing signs of corrosion/ rust. If they have been holding other items in place on a page, a loop of linen thread can replace their function safely.
  •  To help preserve acidic papers, whether newsclippings or scrapbook pages, now crumbling, interleave with acid-free, lignin-free bond paper, such as permalife. Lace or post bindings may need to be loosened before interleaving, as the additional paper will add bulk and stress a tight binding.
  • “Magnetic” pages, popular in the 1970s, pose particular problems as a result of the material compositions of both the adhesive and the plastic film covering sheets. The plastic can be removed and replaced by interleaving with permalife sheets.
  • If  disassembling the album appears to be the best solution, thin metal spatulas can help pry photos off deteriorating adhesives. Waxed dental floss, used in a sawing motion, has also been effective for removing adhered items.

In addition to these kinds of preservation tips, NCPC workshops promise much more. Exhibition techniques, numbering methods, physical access measures, and best cataloging practices are a few of the areas workshop participants will be able to explore. Contact Executive Director, Robert James, if you would be interested in attending a future workshop on this topic.