I’m Stephanie Carter and here at the museum, I spend my time in the conservation lab with conservator, Corey Smith. I’m going to give you a sneak peak into the work I do for the museum, and tell you what prompts me to keep making a 2.5 hour drive each way to be at the museum at least twice per month (or more, depending on if it’s exhibit time)!
So why would someone drive 280 miles in a day to work in a lab? Well in my case, it all comes down to my passion for material culture, as well as my career interests in museum work, preservation, and conservation. I’m currently a student in the Johns Hopkins University Masters of Museum Studies program, and can happily report I am halfway through my degree and getting more excited every day at the future that lies before me.
As much as I love the path I’m on, I’ve never been able to completely distance myself from my innate love of historic objects and the intense feeling of purpose I feel while working hands-on with them. Through a Florida Association of Museum’s course held at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki, I was introduced to Corey and her conservation lab. It was love at first sight! Being able to treat, conserve, learn from and give appropriate attention to objects sounded like paradise to me! Once my current degree is completed, I’m interested in going into conservation studies. Many of the schools that carry a conservation degree (and there are only 4 in the United States), require internship hours with a trained conservator prior to applying. The intention of going on to conservation graduate school is one of the requirements to work as an intern in the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Conservation lab. In addition to the conservation internship hours, I’ll need additional classes in chemistry, organic chemistry, art history, studio art, and fluency in a foreign language, just to be a likely candidate for the graduate programs! Conservation labs are hard to come by (especially in Florida), so when I applied to be the intern at the museum and was accepted, I was very grateful and honored that Corey would give me the opportunity to follow this passion.
So, enough on my background. What everyone really wants to know is what I do when I work at the museum, right? For the last few months, I’ve been working with Corey on readying military items for exhibition in the upcoming Tools of War show. My job has primarily been to work on 18th and 19th century muskets, rifles, and pistols that will be on display. On a typical day in the lab, I start the conservation process by doing a thorough historical search of the particular gun I’m working on. Some items in the museum’s collection have little to no documentation or historical background, so it’s my job to find out as much as I can about the item. With the help of the Flayderman’s Guide to Antique American Firearms and other weaponry books from the museum’s library, I’ve been able to fill in many gaps of information including approximate year of manufacture, materials, caliber, and many other pertinent historical facts. Of course, the internet is always another useful tool for information! After the research, I make a detailed report of my findings to be added later to the museum’s cataloguing software. I then examine the weapon for cracks, corrosion, insect holes, discoloration, or any other problems, and compose a detailed condition report from my discoveries. Archival digital photographs are taken of guns to visually document their current condition. Lastly, with Corey’s assistance, I compose a treatment proposal and submit it for authorization. Once the proposal is authorized, the REAL fun begins!
After the treatment has been authorized and with Corey’s guidance, I then can begin the treatment process. With the guns I’ve worked on thus far, the attention they’ve needed has included: vacuuming them with a HEPA filtered vacuum, cleaning corrosive areas of metal on the gun gently with cotton swabs and ethanol, coating the metal with a microcrystalline wax, and then buffing the metal to a shiny finish with a cotton cloth. Some of the guns have also had foreign powders, adhesives, accretions, or other vestiges of residue on them that require careful removal. Part of the conservation process is the removal of these potentially harmful substances that could induce further damage to these already fragile objects. Depending on the substance, other tools such a wooden skewer, adhesive remover, stiff boar brush, or a scalpel may be utilized for the removal. After the treatment is completed, I write up a report detailing the work I performed. The gun is now ready to be installed into the new exhibit!
Make sure to come out to view the new exhibit, Tools of War, beginning in March, and see what the wonderful employees of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki (including myself) have been working on! For more information on conservation work at the museum, visit http://www.ahtahthiki.com/seminole-indian-conservation/index.cfm. For more information about the field of conservation and other projects happening around the globe, visit the American Institute for Conservation at http://www.conservation-us.org/.