Plastics in Our Collections: Chapter 1

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Collecting latex from a tree
© User:Iamshibukc / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

The Plastics Age

History is filled with ages that are tied to the innovation of materials:  The Stone Age, The Bronze Age, and The Iron Age. We are currently in The Plastics Age. Plastics have changed so much in our daily lives. Plastics are around us all the time.  They are in every electrical thing in our houses, in the clothes that we wear, in our furniture and the packaging of our food.

This means that as caretakers of historic objects, museums have to consider how long plastic materials will last in our collections. We focus on what we have to do and learn in order to care for plastic objects. We also study plastics in order to store them in ways that better ensure their survival. This is a complicated thing.  Plastics are not simple materials, and what works for one may damage another.  Some plastics have been around longer than others, so we know more about them. We can see how they’ve aged. For other plastics, we can guess at how they will survive (or not) based on their behaviors and chemistries, while still others are a gigantic question mark.   Read more

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

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Our Future Lies Upon the Water by Arthur Fitger ca 1901

I was going to come up with some witty lyrics; I swear I was, but it was too tough!

I’m fortunate. Sometimes it takes a pandemic to remind yourself of all the things for which you are grateful. For one, I am thankful that I get to photograph a collection as broad and as deep as that of The Mariners’ Museum. I miss my studio terribly, and I cannot wait to get back to taking photos of some spectacular artifacts. In the meantime, I’ve been taking a look back through some of my favorite images. I love some of these photos because of the object itself. Others I love because they represent breakthroughs in my photographic process. Some I love just because I think they look cool! Here are my ten favorite artifact photos from the last four and a half years.   Read more

The Bathing Girl

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The Bathing Girl, Catalog #2000.0031.000002

Every so often, in a collection as large as that of The Mariners’ Museum, an item surprises you. You see something so strange or unique that you can’t help but fall down a research rabbit hole in a desperate attempt to figure out what exactly you are looking at. 

Thanks to Erika Cosme, Content and Interpretation Developer and Lauren Furey, Manager of Visitor Engagement, such an item came to my attention.    Read more

Using Art Reproductions to Create a Home

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Vessel rushing through the water against a pink and yellow sky.
#1969.0438.000001

Do you love bold home decor? How about oversized works of art because they can draw focus in your room? Maybe you found they are an excellent way to showcase your personality. Perhaps, you have always wanted to have a gallery wall along your hallway or traveling up the walls of your staircase. Then you know that the choice of artwork placed there should be specific and well planned.

The Dilemma

Making a home sometimes starts in college. I remember my first week on campus; vendors were selling 20” x 30” movie and music posters to help students inject some needed personality into their cookie cutter dorm rooms. For others, it may happen when you decorate your first apartment. You may have purchased your first “art” from Ikea because they sold affordable large-scale art reproductions and inexpensive frames. However, your friends in the same financial situation purchased their framed art from there too. So now your living rooms match because there were not enough unique designs available at the Big Blue box store for everyone.   Read more

The Tale of a Whale, or rather the Teeth. . .

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Pocket Knife with Baleen (suspected) handle
ca. 1878-1882
Credit: The Mariners’ Museum and Park

Hello! As this my first blog at The Mariners’ Museum and Park I will introduce myself.  My name is Molly McGath and I’m the new Analytical Chemist here at the museum.  I imagine some of you might be a bit surprised at the idea of a chemist  working in a museum.  I do many different kinds of chemical analysis of museum objects, including chemical identification and characterization, exploring deterioration mechanisms of objects, and studying the short-term and long-term behavior of conservation treatments.   To give you a better idea of what my job is like, I’ll share a project I worked on right after starting.

First the Tale. . .

Conservator Paige Schmidt brought me a question about an object she was treating.  She wanted to know whether the handle of this knife (see image below) was made from baleen.  So I started the process of chemical analysis.   Read more