Conservators – The Original Photoshop

By Rebecca Fell, Curator of Exhibits

The main purposes of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum are to tell the Seminole story and to care for the objects of the Seminole people. There are many formally prescribed ways the staff does these things at the Museum. Further, the team sees itself as a resource to the community. Sometimes that means using these technical skills in less formal ways.

Robin Croskery-Howard is the Conservator for the Museum. She likes to say her job is “Objects Doctor.” She makes sure the healthy objects stay healthy by monitoring the conditions in which they are stored and displayed. She also provides treatments to objects when they are brought in “unhealthy” or due to old age which makes them susceptible to developing problems while in the Museum’s care. These treatments are usually preventative in nature, but sometimes she needs to be proactive and fix something that has broken.

As a result, Robin is able to share a great number of tips with Tribal community members on how to care for their most precious items. Attending events such as the Senior Center lunches, she shares information on how to safely store these items, how to make lasting repairs, and who might also be able to repair the items in question. Sometimes, when her schedule allows and her skill sets are best suited, she is able to step in and make the repair herself.

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Pictured here is Robin making repairs to a physical photograph. The photograph of cattleman Junior Cypress (who the Junior Cypress Rodeo and Entertainment Complex in Big Cypress is named after) had heat sealed to the glass of the frame. This happens frequently to photos when they have been in their frames too long, sometimes too close to a lamp or window. Robin had to carefully separate the image from the glass, and gently pull away the sealed portion from the image. Loss of emulsion, the top layer/ image part of a photo, is almost always inevitable. But here Robin was able to pull the lost piece away from the glass afterwards and perform a procedure called bridging. Using a very expensive Japanese tissue paper and creating a special kind of glue, she creates a piece of backing to stabilize the detached piece and affix it back to the original image. By using these very particular materials she not only fixes the image but ensures that it will stay intact for as long as the photograph exists.

Next Robin will still need to scan the image to make a few adjustments in Photoshop. You might ask, “well, why doesn’t she just do that in the first place?” Photoshop is great tool that can provide pristine copies and even ‘fix’ images through the use of filters. But, it only ever makes copies; the original will still need repairing. In some cases, this is fine. People are okay with getting a good copy instead of holding onto the original photograph. However, the staff knew the community member wanted to keep the original as well as have copies to share with others.

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