Of the approximately 1600 artifacts recovered from the USS Monitor, 1/4 of them have been conserved. Many but not all of the 400+ conserved artifacts are now on display in the USS Monitor Center at The Mariners’ Museum. So what do we do with the artifacts that aren’t currently on display at the museum? The museum must safely store these artifacts under precise temperature and humidity controls in order to guarantee their long term stability while awaiting exhibition.
The following pictures show one of the many climate-controlled artifact storage areas at The Mariners’ Museum. This specific location houses many Monitor artifacts that aren’t currently on display.
The nutguard discussed a few weeks ago has now been removed from its desalination bath. It was dried under a fan overnight then coated with a tannic acid solution to stabilize the surface. It was necessary to carefully scrape away numerous large flakes of rust from all over the surfaces of the object before the tannic acid could work. As the flakes came away bright metal was visible. The entire surface had an even black color once the tannic acid had been applied. A coat of acrylic lacquer was applied to give it some moisture protection and the object was photographed and placed on a padded mount for long term storage.
The most delicate part of the treatment was preserving a large iron fragment connected to the edge of the nutguard by just a tiny ribbon of metal. A cloth band on the storage mount secures it to prevent it from moving.
Hey folks, Josiah here. I’m relatively new to the Monitor Conservation Project, on a yearlong fellowship to help with all of the work to be done here and to learn about marine archaeological conservation as I go along. One of the most interesting things that I am learning from working here is the logistics of large scale conservation work. The majority of work in the conservation field tends to deal with relatively small objects, papers, paintings, etc. Often they are things that can fit on a workbench or easel and require a lot of fine detail work. Sometimes a larger sculpture or painting comes through the lab and requires a bit of planning, equipment, jigs, and improvisation to perform the necessary work. Other projects such as large outdoor sculpture are too big, or too permanent to bring into the lab, and require the conservator to move his “lab”, including scaffolding and ladders as well as the usual equipment, out to the object. The work on the Monitor is a bit different from either of those situations. It is a huge project involving both huge artifacts, and thousands of smaller artifacts, and all of it has to come to the lab. A project like this requires massive planning and investment in logistics, equipment, and support before any treatment of objects can even begin. The recovery effort to bring these objects up from the bottom of the ocean was a pretty incredible undertaking in itself, but it was long before my time here so I’m going to write mostly about the logistics of the lab and the ongoing work of treatment.
Stay tuned for Part 2!
The Monitor’s clock movement was in amazingly good condition after 139 years in saltwater, due to many of the parts being made of high quality brass and copper nickel alloys.
The use of nickel in some of the components was verified by elemental analysis performed at the College of William and Mary materials characterization laboratory at the Jefferson Laboratories Applied Research Center in Newport News. This analysis provided valuable guidance in selecting the most appropriate conservation treatment for these parts. The delicate springs, screws, and gear shafts (called arbors) made of steel did not fare so well, however, and had completely rusted away apart from a few preserved remnants of the main spring.