Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Blog

When Objects Visit the Doctor

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By Rebecca Fell, Curator of Exhibits

Objects, like people, sometimes need to visit the doctor. Museums strive to keep objects in their best health. But some objects, like the Archer who lives in the Village of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, will always require a little more healthcare than others. Because his purpose is to live outdoors, the Archer deals with the wind, rain, and curious kids. The Tribal members who sell and work on their crafts in the Village keep an eye on him. So do the maintenance staff.

Sooner or later, though, the Archer needs a bath or to have a few repairs to keep him looking fit and trim. This is when the object’s doctor comes in, or conservator, if you want to be fancy about it. The conservator will make the diagnosis and often apply the treatment. Sometimes she or he will need help from other specialists to complete the treatment. In this case, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum’s conservator, Robin Croskery-Howard, made her treatment plan and requested assistance from the Exhibits Fabricator, Nora Pinell-Hernandez. Below Robin and Nora share a little about the process that got the Archer back to his full health.

(Rebecca Fell) Tell us a little about the history of the Archer. Who made him?

(Robin Croskery-Howard) The Archer was created by artist Brad Cooley, who has created several other statues for the Tribe, including the bronze statue in front of the museum.

 (RF)Robin, tell us a little about the problem the Archer was having:

(RCH) Like most outdoor sculpture, the Archer began to have a few issues after so many years outside. Over-exposure to water and sun can do a lot of damage. Many of the areas around his hands and the folds in his clothes were cracked and worn. He also had quite a lot of pigment loss to his legs and the top of his head. Other issues included general dirt residue, insect casings, and bird droppings. All of these had to be cleaned off before any other work could begin.

(RF) It sounds like he needed a spa day as well some assistance. Describe how you make your decisions and treatment plans for the Archer?  How did you coordinate your care with Nora?

(RCH) When beginning a new treatment, it is always best to consult the latest information regarding a specific material typology or problem. Books are a great resource, as well as colleagues and professionals in related fields. After doing quite a bit of reading, a sponge bath followed by patching seemed to be the best option. I coordinated with Nora in regards to what should be done. I bathed the Archer with a special soap and water. She was able to research the best fiberglass for this sculpture and methods of application. Once clean, she applied the fiberglass and color-matched the areas that needed touchups.

(RF) Did you go back to the artist and request his help?

(RCH) When I first received the request to help the Archer, I was given the artist’s contact information. Unfortunately, by the time I began on the project in earnest (about a month later), the artist had passed away. It is always better when the conservator can have input from the artist in regards to the care of their artwork.

(RF)Nora, describe your process for us:

(Nora Pinell-Hernandez) Typically I work like a mad scientist in my (home) shop, mixing materials and colors to get the result I want. But the Archer is not an experiment – he depicts a Seminole warrior and needs to be treated with the utmost care. My first task was to research resins that would be used to compensate for large cracks on the Archer’s clothing

(RF) Tell us about resin:

(NPH) The resin has to withstand high humidity, be able to fill a hollow area of about 1/4”, sandable, adhere well to other materials, and not cause damage to the original material. We selected Aqua-Resin because it fulfilled all of these requirements but even better – it is a water-based, non-toxic resin. Don’t let the water-solubility fool you – Aqua-Resin is very tough when used with fiberglass and after leaving it out in the swampy environment for over a month it definitely won its place in our tool cart.

(RF) How about when you are mixing up the paint?

(NPH) Before I began work on the Archer, Robin and I tested the material on a small part of the big shirt. I then did another set of experiments using multiple grades of sandpaper to obtain the same smooth surface as the Archer. Next, I had to see how well the new surface took to the second most important aspect – the paint!

I used Gamblin paint which is a high quality acrylic. As a fine artist I have a knack for matching paint – probably from trying to fix all of the scratches on my own paintings (I’m a bit clumsy in my personal studio). Not only did I need to color match, I also needed to get the right sheen. The Archer’s clothing has a semi-gloss finish while the hands and face are less lustrous and the belt is a matte black. The Archer is placed under direct sunlight, making imperfections easier to spot which meant the texture and paint color had to look seamless. I hope that when you visit the Archer you will be unable to distinguish where the cracks used to be.

 (RF) What is his purpose in the Museum?

(RCH) The Archer usually stands sentinel in the Village about half-way around our boardwalk. He is an example of what a mid to late 19th century Seminole man who was bow hunting would look like. His bigshirt and kerchief are both solid colored.

(RF) What other considerations did you keep in mind in getting the Archer back to health?

(RCH) We had to remember that the Archer was going back out into the same environment from whence he came. This means that he’ll be exposed to the same stressors, and will likely need an annual checkup next fall to ensure that he’s still in tip-top shape.

(RF) How did Hurricane Irma affect the Archer and his treatment?

(RCH) The Archer weathered Irma quite well, with only minimal damage. However, some of the process had to be repeated, due to the nature of destruction during a hurricane.

Thank you for sharing your insight on this process, Robin and Nora. It sounds like the Archer had quite recuperation under the Curatorial Chickee.

If you would like to see the Archer back in action, take a stroll to our Village grounds. The Village is located at the halfway point of our mile long boardwalk. He is the quiet type, but the ladies and gentleman working in the village will gladly talk with you.

Image 20171023_110449 After receiving a gentle bath, the Archer is being patched up by Nora. He is patient and quiet as she works.
Image 20171201_100323 The Archer is back in his favorite spot, ready to go hunting.
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