MHS Takes Care of History

De-acidification of the newspaper in purified water. Photos by Laura Wulf for the Massachusetts Historical Society.
Photos by Laura Wulf for the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Because our state of Massachusetts has played such a huge role in American history and culture, it is home to a multitude of documents, artifacts and objects of historical significance. Some of them are preserved at the esteemed Massachusetts Historical Society.  Here you can see the fourth volume of a set of Revolutionary-era Boston newspapers collected, annotated, and indexed by Harbottle Dorr, Jr., a Boston shopkeeper, from 1765 to 1776. After the pages were dry-cleaned and the ink tested for solubility, the MHS conservator washed and de-acidified the pages in purified water.

Restored artifact. Photos by Laura Wulf for the Massachusetts Historical Society.

After a gentle wash, pages were dried, and then, the conservator used Japanese tissue paper and wheat starch paste to repair them. You can see a close-up of the restored bottom of the page in the photograph on the left. This project took place in the conservation lab of the Massachusetts Historical Society. You can also read more about MHS conservator and her work on the project in this post on the society’s official blog, The Beehive.

Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 31 March - 5 April 1776
Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams

The Massachusetts Historical Society is an independent research library and manuscript repository founded in 1791. Its holdings encompass millions of rare and unique documents and artifacts vital to the study of American history, many of them irreplaceable national treasures. Among them is correspondence between John Adams, who’s birthday will be celebrated tomorrow, and his wife Abigail. You can even view some of their letters right on your computer, in amazing high resolution, including her famous “Remember the ladies.

Museum on the Move

In some places they say moving is worse than (or at least equals) an earthquake. Now imagine moving a fragile and priceless Museum collection? Or, better yet, the entire museum! The challenges that museum professionals face when presented with a task of packing, transporting and re-installing precious artifacts can be daunting.
Each individual item needs to be assessed, based on it’s individual qualities and state. Precise measurements need to be taken. Custom temporary housing that can withstand the hazards of traveling (be it by air, or by car/truck) needs to be created. Special traveling arrangements, including such diverse details as security and climate control during the journey, have to be made.
Amongst several institutions that recently undertook such monumental tasks and lived to tell the tale, is the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, which lent one of 64 objects from 21 collections that were delivered and set up at Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem, OR. UPenn even dispatched a specialist, Katy Blanchard, keeper of the Near East collection, to head the unloading and installation of a 5,000 year old sculpture on loan for the ongoing show “Breath of Heaven, Breath of Earth: Ancient Near Eastern Art From American Collections” which will be on display at Hallie Ford until the end of this year.

Now, the process of moving the entire collection of Alaska State Museum to a brand new Alaska State Libraries, Archives and Museums building in Juneau hasn’t even started, but the staff and volunteers are hard at work, packing it all up and getting everything ready. Even though the trip won’t be long and most of the items will be moved on carts via a tunnel that will be built between the old and the new buildings, the task is not an easy one. Apparently there’s no manual on how to move a museum collection, so they had to improvise a lot.

Ivory cribbage boards sit in custom storage mounts made by museum professional Jon Loring. Photo by Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau.

Individually designed custom mounts and boxes were devised for each fragile item in the collection. Literally, each drawer, display and a box  of items has a special plan. Every item is numbered and the numbers are linked with the museum’s database which helps to keep track of the entire collection. Although they are still in the beginning of this road, museum staff are confident that by this time in 2016 when the new building opens it’s door, all the precious artifacts will be safely moved and preserved for admiration by the many generations ahead.
ethafoam planksAmong the many useful tools that might help to achieve such a task are:
Ethafoam planks, rods and sheets – lightweight, versatile archival foam material which is ideal for creating mounts, temporary, as well as long term storage housing for oddly-shaped 3-dimensional artifacts. Ethafoam cutting and shaping tools are also available.
Artifact Bubble Wrap and/or Polyester Batting will provide much needed cushioning and protection on the move.
Drop-N-Tell and Tip-N-Tell indicators together with large warningA-Frame Painting Transport Cart labels will serve as a caution against rough handling during shipping.
• Perma/Cor E-Flute and B-Flute Corrugated Board is a prefect material for creating custom-sized (and shaped) protective enclosures and boxes.
Glass Shield and Adjustable Frame Corner Protectors will temporarily protect your framed art from damage during the move.
A-Frame Painting Transport Cart is perfect for moving large heavy items around and beyond the museum walls.