I have been meaning to write a blog about progress on the Monitor ropes but, although archaeological objects conservators are currently focused on this part of the collection, we do all sorts of other things that I thought would also be interesting to share with you.
A man of many hats
I did not expect how many photography styles I would have to be familiar with as a museum photographer. I might have on my technical photographer hat; focused on meeting set standards to ensure precision reproduction is possible. A little later on, I might become a still-life photographer and carefully craft lighting to create a beautiful image of an artifact. That afternoon, I might have to be a documentarian and follow staff members that are doing interesting work.
If you’re familiar with my photography, you will probably know that I am typically the happiest when I’m in the studio working with lighting to create images that make our artifacts look beautiful. What can I say? I’m a bit of a control freak, and the level of control I get to exert in the studio is comforting to me. That said, every once in a while, it’s good to step out into the wide world outside my studio doors and take photos with less control.
If you visit the International Small Craft Center on Thursdays, you may spot Objects Conservator Paige Schmidt and me (Summer Conservation Intern) crawling around on the floor between the boats. We have not lost our glasses like a blinded Velma Dinkley. Actually, we’re conducting a conservation survey of the Museum’s collection of 142 small craft.
The small craft collection contains a diverse variety of vessels ranging in size, shape, function, and source culture. Because the Museum’s small craft originate from such a variety of contexts, each boat comes to the Museum with its own quirks and challenges resulting from its history of use. To get a better understanding of the collection, its condition issues, and its needs, it is necessary to evaluate each small craft, one-by-one.
Last month, The Mariners’ Museum and Park welcomed me “aboard” for an 8-week Graduate Fellow Internship in Conservation. During this summer, I am working with the Conservation Department under Object Conservator Paige Schmidt. I’m coming to The Mariners’ Museum from Buffalo, New York, where I’m studying Art Conservation at SUNY Buffalo State College, majoring in Objects Conservation. During my time at the Museum, my primary project will be the treatment and analysis of a Ship’s Medical Chest from c.1860 (image 1). The results of analysis will be used to inform safe handling and storage of the chest. The Museum has almost a dozen medical chests, which were once used by ship physicians to hold their medical tools, books, and “medicines.” This chest houses 9 glass vials, 6 of which contain substances that may have been used as medicines in the 19th century (image 2).
Our suspected substances
Finding unknown medical substances in a museum collection can be concerning, as many early medicines are now known to be hazardous. Some of the vials were labeled, “Camphor,” “Bryonia,” “Nux Vomica,” and “Tartar emet,” (although the Nux Vomica vial was empty). Camphor is a common ingredient in topically-applied medicines like anti-irritants and vapor rubs, but high dermal exposures and ingestion can be toxic.
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.