What is the American Institute for Conservation?

Posted on
The Mariners’ Museum and Park’s own Paige Schmidt (left) working as part of the Wooden Artifacts Group Programs Chairs

If you’ve ever read any of our blog posts about conservation, taken a lab tour, or talked to a conservator at any museum, you might have heard one of us mention “AIC” or the American Institute for Conservation. AIC is a national organization with thousands of members, including conservators and other museum professionals. It is a vital way for conservators to share information. So for this blog post, we thought we’d tell you a bit about what AIC is, how it helps us inform conservation decisions at The Mariners’ Museum and Park, and what we do at the Museum to contribute to AIC.

AIC holds an annual conference, which is usually located in a different city every year, giving conservators opportunities to not only attend lectures, but visit museums and conservation labs across the country. The conservation department at the Mariners’ makes an effort to present any new research produced at the annual conference. (You may have read about unique treatments we have been conducting in the conservation department in this blog before.) We make a concentrated effort to share our  results at the annual conference, so that other conservators can benefit from our research. Even if experiments do not yield the results we were hoping for, the information helps other conservators when making treatment decisions. Additionally, we often find colleagues from other museums who want to collaborate in continued research through AIC conferences.    Read more

Brushing off a little history

Posted on
The brush was removed from the starboard gun carriage, covered in mud and hard concretion.

Although my blogs to date give a very Dahlgren-centric view of what I do, there is far more to USS Monitor than just its guns. And I love having such a huge variety of objects to work on! In addition to big metal objects, we find a wide variety of organic objects, ranging from the wooden sides of the gun carriages to rope packing seals to a wool coat. We also have a number of brushes from on board the ship, including a nearly complete bench brush that I’ve been working on!

This brush was originally found stuck to one of the gun carriages, covered in mud and concretion – the hard, rocky material that forms around corroding iron. Although the brush itself is entirely organic – wood and fiber – it was so close to the iron of the gun carriage that it was caught inside concretion formed by that object. As a result, it didn’t look like much to begin with.   Read more

Paper and Water – Friends or Foes?

Posted on
Making paper by hand. The wooden vat contains cotton fibers suspended in water. I am holding a wire mesh mold which was dipped into the vat to pick up some fibers. I am shaking the mold back and forth to get even fiber distribution while the water drains.

We all know that paper isn’t exactly one of the most waterproof materials out there. In fact, water exposure is one of the most common causes of damage to paper objects that I see as a paper conservator. It can cause major issues such as distortion, staining, loss of media, and mold, just to name a few. It’s somewhat counterintuitive, then, that water is a crucial part of many types of conservation treatment. People are often a bit shocked that bathing paper (yes, it’s what it sounds like) is a common practice with positive results! In this post, we will explore a few ways in which water interacts with paper on different levels, how conservators harness and leverage these interactions to treat condition issues, and how, if left unchecked, these interactions can cause major and irreparable damage.

Papermaking – Wet Beginnings

To understand paper’s relationship with water, we have to go back to the beginning – papermaking. True paper is defined as a non-woven mat of fibers formed by draining water from a slurry. The water holds the fibers in a suspension into which a screen called a mold is dipped and drawn upward, allowing the water to drain and the fibers to settle into a layer over the screen. To ensure an even distribution, the mold is shaken back and forth while the water drains, causing many of the fibers to orient in the direction of the movement before coming out of the water. This causes a characteristic called “grain” in a finished piece of paper.   Read more

Plastics in Our Collections: Chapter 1

Posted on
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