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

Conservators at Home

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This Monday marks eight weeks since the museum staff started working from home. For the Conservation Department it’s been an interesting transition. The majority of our daily life is spent treating objects, constructing object housing, and running analytical equipment. None of which we can do from home. In fact, professional museum bodies frown on conservators taking their work (aka the objects) home with them. Fair enough, but it does beg the question: what have you all been doing?

I’m so glad you asked. Paperwork. Lots and lots of paperwork. We’re finishing reports, catching up on research, and organizing object files. Also watching webinars, completing training, and planning for the future. It has been nice to have time to devote to the things that are usually relegated to the back burner.   Read more

Bringing the Outdoors In

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Interior of the Boat Building Shed after the move.

After nearly two years, an ongoing project to move and cover our over sized outdoor collections is nearly complete! I’m excited to share the incredible transformation and thank all of the people who made this project possible.

Hannah posted a blog at the start of the project in August 2018 talking about moving objects from outdoor storage into our former boat building shed. Moving objects inside slows their deterioration rate, which delays the need for active conservation treatment. Space is always at a premium in museums, and because these objects are over sized and fairly robust, they were stored outside for most of their lives. In an effort to improve their situation, we decided to repurpose the boat shed. In preparation for the move, Hudgins Contracting removed the loose gravel and resurfaced the floor for us so that the objects would have an even, compact surface to rest on.   Read more

Filling the Turret Tank: an epic saga in six parts

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The outside auxiliary tanks can hold the turret’s solution while we work or be used to build up new water. The middle “small” tank is where the skeg beam and hull plates are housed.

Turret Season is officially over! Last week we changed the solution in the turret tank and hooked it back up to its electrolytic reduction (ER) system. This is a long and exhausting process which takes about a week to complete. Let’s look at the steps involved in readying the turret for the off-season.

Thursday, A week out:   Read more

A tisket a tasket – I just finished a gasket!

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10 of 15 gaskets from the Starboard Worthington Pump before conservation treatment

This week I thought it might be fun to look at one of our more unusual types of artifacts that I’ve been treating. We have tons (literally) of iron and copper artifacts in the lab, but for every two pipe flanges bolted together, there is also one gasket keeping things tight. The humble gasket can be found throughout the Monitor’s engine room, sandwiched between the copper piping and iron machinery parts. Its job was to keep the fittings air tight and prevent leaks. Most gaskets are made from layers of rubber and textile pressed together, but we do have gaskets made entirely of rubber and a few that are actually leather.

In addition to the gaskets, rubberized fabric, buttons, and combs have also been recovered. Despite the evidence of wide use aboard the Monitor, modern rubber was a relatively new material in 1862. Natural rubber was used before the 1800’s, but due to its unstable nature, it wasn’t suitable for many applications. Thanks to a number of people experimenting with additives and curing processes, more stable forms of rubber became commercially available. For instance, Charles Goodyear (who’s patent is stamped on the Monitor buttons) is credited with patenting vulcanized rubber which is much harder and durable than natural rubber.   Read more