To touch or not to touch: interacting with artifacts

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The Monitor’s propeller lost much of its strength while on the sea floor. The large platform and signs encourage people to examine it from a safe distance.

Every museum goer has encountered warnings about touching artifacts, but have you ever wondered just how damaging that contact can be? I think we would all agree that leaping a barrier and picking up a vase is a definite bad idea, but what about resting your hand on a chair or poking a polar bear specimen? The truth is even the lightest touch can cause harm.

Last week I took a break from dry ice cleaning to work on the “Virginia Gun,” an IX-inch Dahlgren shell gun which sits at the entrance to the Ironclad Revolution exhibit. It was recovered along with the USS Merrimack by the Confederates and was used aboard the renamed CSS Virginia during the Battle of Hampton Roads (1862). It is a fascinating object that draws a crowd. Unfortunately, it also tends to draw wandering hands.  My job was to remove greasy fingerprints from the side of the barrel. This got me thinking about how we protect objects and how although we have “do not touch” signs around the museum, visitors might not understand why this is such an important rule.   Read more

The Many Uses of X-rays

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The glass tube which could contain mercury.

Earlier this year we conducted a survey of all the small metal objects waiting to be conserved. We assessed the condition of each, took a photo, and changed solutions. We also slated some objects for x-radiography.

There are three reasons these particular objects were singled out. First is to determine the condition of the object. When artifacts are submerged in seawater they are covered in a cement-like aggregate called concretion. This is a mixture of metal corrosion products, sediment, and sea life, including mollusk and corals. Concretions can be a thin hard shell scattered across a surface or entirely encase a group of objects in an amorphous lump.  By x-raying these concretions we can:   Read more

Conservator on Deck

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Meet the conservators and collections team!
Meet our conservators and collections team!

This August is a great time to visit the Mariners’ Museum and Park! Not only is admission one dollar, but we also have lots of amazing tours and talks going on throughout the entire museum. Come meet the staff of the Monitor Center and learn more about the history, archaeology, and conservation of the ship. Every weekday from 2-3 pm, one of our staff will be on the observation deck overlooking the wet lab. This is a fantastic chance to ask questions and learn more about what we do in the labs. Check out the museum website for all the information you need to plan your day!

Week Five in the Turret

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Although the outside of the nut is degraded, the inside threads are easy to unscrew.

Hello Everyone! We’ve been busy in the turret for the last few weeks. As Kate explained in her post earlier, we are concentrating on removing the remaining nutguards. There are a total of 24 ringing the inside of the turret in various states of preservation. So far we’ve dismantled the smaller fragments and are working towards the larger, more intact ones. We chip away at the concretion behind the nutguards and along the edges until they can be lifted off. Some are still bolted in place and the bolts can be unscrewed with a wrench due to the excellent preservation of the inner thread system.

Once the nutguards are detached, we concentrate on removing the concretion that formed behind the barrier. This consists of hard iron corrosion and concretion mixed with sludgy sand and softer corrosion products. In addition to revealing more of the turret walls, we are interested in any remaining artifacts lodged behind the plates.   Read more

The Metals Survey 2016

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Shelves with objects waiting to be surveyed.
Shelves with objects waiting to be surveyed.

Hello everyone! As promised, this week’s post is all about the metals survey. This was a great opportunity for me, having joined the conservation team in December, to have an in-depth look at our collection.

For the last month and a half, Will, Mike, and I have opened over 300 containers as we examine all the small inorganic artifacts awaiting conservation. The majority are iron and copper alloys, but there are other metals and glass as well. The purpose of the survey is to assess individual artifacts’ conditions and create a record of the current state of the collection. This allows us to prioritize. If something is very fragile and actively corroding, we want to focus on it, before it declines further. Inversely, if something is in great condition we want to treat it before we lose any more information. All of our organic material underwent a similar survey in 2015. As we check-in periodically, it establishes a timeline for the object throughout its life in storage. Conservation takes time. It is important to keep an eye on the whole collection, especially those which aren’t in active treatment.   Read more