“Please Don’t Eat the Pictures!”: museum etiquette demystified

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The 1983 Sesame Street TV special explains why you shouldn’t eat art (imdb.com)

When I was little, Sesame Street aired a special called “Don’t Eat the Pictures: Sesame Street at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.” I adored it. For those who didn’t watch the VHS tape on repeat, the gang go to the Met and accidentally get locked inside for the night. The story focuses on Big Bird helping the spirit of an Egyptian boy to reunite with his parents. Meanwhile, Cookie Monster is struggling with his desire to eat all of the paintings depicting food. But Bob points to the sign that says “Please don’t eat the pictures!” 

Digesting the art is an obvious “no”, however, sometimes it seems like museums say “no” to things without a reason. I promise we’re not trying to dampen anyone’s fun. These rules are designed to protect both the collection and people.    Read more

New Year, New Project: USS Monitor’s rope

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This piece I worked on in 2019 has a splice in it forming two loops. Features like this may help us understand more about its purpose.

What’s your New Year’s resolution? I’m not great about setting personal resolutions, but we do have one for USS Monitor; 2021 is the year of rope! This year the archaeological conservators are working together, separately, to finish all of the rope fragments in our walk-in fridge.

Normally our yearly work plan focuses on the larger items which require multiple people. We then fill in our extra time with smaller artifacts. Because of social distancing and limiting people in the lab space, this project is a great alternative. The four of us will work together on our own time to treat the remaining 90 accessioned rope pieces. Not only will this free up space in our cold storage area, but it means that an entire material type will be treated and available for research.   Read more

“In the Land of Submarines”: Documenting Nishimura 3746

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Japanese submarine Nishimura 3746 in 2020

This week “in the Land of Submarines” we’re focusing on documenting the Japanese submarine Nishimura 3746. Previously we talked about its history and our initial assessment of the hull. All this activity is in preparation of moving the sub onto a custom cradle and to a new home. 

Since it’s arrival at the Museum in 1946, the sub has been displayed and stored outside. At 35 feet long and 22 tons, keeping it inside wasn’t an option at an institution where space is at a premium. As we prepare the sub for lifting one of our major steps is documenting its condition. After 82 years the hull is still sound, however we’re paying particular attention to the keel.    Read more

“In the Land of Submarines”: Assessing Nishimura 3746

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Nishimura 3746 in 2020

Welcome to the second installment of our miniseries on Nishimura 3746, a Japanese midget submarine. We’re deep diving into an on-going project to resupport this one-of-a-kind vessel. Check out the first post in the series to learn about Nishimura’s history and how it arrived at the Museum. 

The purpose of the project is to lift the sub onto a custom cradle and move it to a more accessible location. The sub currently rests on its keel and is supported by several blocks. A proper support will protect the hull, provide safe access, and bonus, can be used as an exhibit mount when the time comes to display it!   Read more

Agents of Decay: they’re everywhere!

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The “best” example of inappropriate temperature is when you accidentally melt plastic during a kitchen mishap.

I know, Agents of Decay sounds like an epic punk band or a comic book supervillain gang, but it’s actually a concise list of the different ways things deteriorate. In 1994, Charlie Costain of the Canadian Conservation Institute created the original list of nine agents and coined the phrase “agents of decay” to summarize the forces behind object damage. The next year, conservator Robert Waller added the final agent, making it an even 10. After 25 years, this list remains a linchpin of conservation theory.

You see, it is vital that a conservator first understands the problem before fixing it. We spend as much time learning about damage pathways in school as we do in addressing the problems. The agents range from everyday environmental issues to unlikely, but devastating, events. It’s important to remember, and you’ll see it as we go through the list, that often these agents work together. Conservators have two methods of combating damage. The first is preventive conservation, which focuses on manipulating the environment around the object to prevent or mitigate possible damage. The second is interventive conservation. This is a response to the damage and involves treating the object in order to stabilize it.    Read more