What is the American Institute for Conservation?

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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

Saving Princess Carolina: Acidification Research and Future Treatment Options

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Figure 3. A degrading area of wood surrounding a fastener hole in one of Princess Carolina’s timbers. Image courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum and Park.

Hi! My name is Christy and I’m a conservation intern here at the Batten Conservation Complex. Over the past eight months I’ve been working on a research project at The Mariners’ Museum and Park for the final year of my graduate program at Durham University. This project has involved a condition analysis and investigation of potential treatments for the Princess Carolina timbers which are currently deteriorating because of acid formation.

Although my time as an intern is almost up, we have recently found out that I’ll be able to continue my work here next year! The Mariners’ has been named one of six museums to receive the Kress Conservation Fellowship which provides funding for a post-graduate fellow at the Museum. I will serve as that fellow as I continue the exciting research I’m about to tell you all about!   Read more

Brushing off a little history

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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

Archaeological implications of Monitor’s cannon boring project: Part II – Cats

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Cat-o’-nine-tails, from the Mariners’ Museum collection

In the last archaeological blog about the cannon boring project, I focused on why coal is cool. This was probably disappointing for some readers who hoped to read that we found the remains of a cat in one of the cannons. I skimmed over this because I wanted to focus on the cool things we did learn from the cannon boring, but I think it’s time to talk about whether there is ANY evidence, other than Francis Butts’ 1887 sinking account, that there was a cat on USS Monitor or other ships, for that matter

A SUPER brief history   Read more

Gun Boring? No! Gun fascinating!

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Microscopic image of grey cast iron, sampled from a Civil War period Hotchkiss bolt. The squiggly, black lines and nodules are graphite, surrounded by lighter-colored iron.

Last month, we were able to complete one of the last major steps in the conservation of USS Monitor’s two XI-Inch Dahlgren shell guns: boring concretion out of the barrels. Material Culture Specialist Hannah recently showed off what we found in this process (coal is, indeed, cool), but why clean the gun bores to begin with? And how do you actually go about doing that, anyway?

The ‘why’ has a few pieces to it. There are benefits to our archaeological knowledge of the wreck, but our primary concern was keeping the guns in good condition. Monitor’s guns are made of iron, and specifically are made of grey cast iron. Grey cast iron is not 100% pure iron; it contains about 4% carbon, and that carbon exists as flakes of graphite locked in by the metal surrounding it – picture little shavings of pencil lead and you won’t be that far off.   Read more