By Robin Croskery Howard, Conservator
Have you ever wondered about the objects in a museum collection when they aren’t on display? How are they cared for and stored? What happens when oversize objects don’t fit in a banker’s box? As the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum’s Conservator, part of my job in caring for the collection is to provide adequate archival housing for objects that will protect them against certain basic agents of deterioration; in short, I make boxes with special inserts that protect our artifacts from too much light, dust, dirt, changes in the atmosphere, and vibrations. It takes time and creativity to figure out the best way to protect objects and still have the housing fit on the vault shelves. Sometimes the objects are too big and/or too heavy for me to make the right housing. When this happens, our Collections Division relies on outside companies to create custom wooden crates that will protect our objects in the same manner.
The Museum’s collection boasts ten large dugout canoes, which are mostly housed on chocks in the Curatorial Building and can be seen on our behind-the-scenes tours. These canoes were too big and heavy to place into the large vault in the building; they wouldn’t even make it around the corners in the hallway! Therefore, the canoes were moved into the hallway and placed onto heavy duty wooden and steel framed shelves. To prevent dust from accumulating on the interior of the canoes, they are draped in soft perforated Tyvek (textile-like DuPont material that is chemically inert). However, this material only partially protects them from too much light, dust, and dirt accumulation. And, the shelving is located at an access point for the building’s HV/AC system. Over the past year this has proved to be problematic.
In the next couple of years, the HV/AC system in the Curatorial Building will be overhauled to better meet the strict demands to properly store and care for our precious objects. To do that, the technicians will need to work in the same area as the canoes. Since they can’t be easily moved out of the way, the canoes need to receive protective housing. So, our division worked with an outside vendor to create custom wooden crates for three of the large canoes this year.
Exact measurements of the canoes were taken and sent off to the vendor. From there, the custom crates were built with a soft foam interior to protect and surround the object. On the day to crate the objects, four specially trained personnel from the vendor arrived to move the objects from the shelves and into the crates assisted by Museum staff. Last minute adjustments to the interior were made onsite as needed. By the end of the day, three canoes were safely stored in new crates.
These three canoes are now better protected against the agents of deterioration and anyone who has to work in the vicinity. This is a large and expensive project that we are undertaking in small chunks. Hopefully, all of the canoes will have this protective crating by the end of 2021, so that we can continue with the HV/AC project.