Connecting to Collections

At last week’s Florida Association of Museum Conference an exciting new initiative was announced in relation to the nationwide Connecting to Collections initiative.  Connecting to Collections began back in 2005 with a report released by Heritage Preservation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).   The report, titled “A Public Trust at Risk: The Heritage Health Index Report on the State of America’s Collections (HHI),”, revealed that museum collections of objects, documents, and digital material are not only essential to America’s cultural health, but are imperiled and in need of swift protective action.

The study’s findings concluded that: 

  •   190 million objects held by archives, historical societies, libraries, museums, and scientific organizations in the United States are in need of conservation treatment;
  • 65 percent of collecting institutions have experienced damage to collections due to improper storage;
  • 80 percent of collecting institutions do not have an emergency plan that includes collections, with staff trained to carry it out; and
  • 40 percent of institutions have no funds allocated in their annual budgets for preservation or conservation.  

Starting in 2008 Florida museums began participating in the program with regional meetings and symposiums being held to discuss the status of collections held in the state.  Meetings continued through 2009 and now in 2011 a new initiative has been announced that will partner not only Florida museums, but also libraries, archives, and archaeological collections across the state in order to answer the demand for regional emergency response networks. 

Being in the midst of hurricane alley has made the need for emergency response of utmost importance to us here at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.  We look forward to working with other local museums to make sure these irreplaceable collections will stay with us for years to come. 


Please click here to read the full Connecting to Collections:  A Report to the Nation


The “NEW” Environmental Standards for Museums

A recent article in the American Association of Museum’s magazine Museum discussed the somewhat thorny issue of conservation standards in the environmental conditions for modern museums.  Titled “Crack Warp Shrink Flake:  A New Look at Conservation Standards,” the article covers the problems and damage that can occur when humidity and temperature levels are not kept at certain levels within museums.  Now a casual reader to our blog might ask oneself why these standards are under question.  Most visitors to museums, and especially to the collection storage areas of those facilities, will notice how the temperature at most facilities resides somewhere around 70 degrees Fahrenheit (+ 2), while the humidity stays at around 50% (+ 5), relative humidity.  These figures, 50/70, are the general levels most museums strive for within their facilities.  The article in Museum goes into the history of how these figures were devised as well as if these figures are in fact relevant. 

                As to how the figures of 50/70 were devised Pamela Hatchfield, the author of the article, traces that bit of history back to the turn of the last century and the evolution of modern day indoor environmental controls.  Beginning with the textile industry, and eventually adopted by the Museum of Fine Arts of Boston in 1905, the museum industry stipulated that all facilities should be able to establish parameters of 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit in order to keep the relative humidity at least as high as 50%.  Just 20 years later, most museums in the U.S. were attempting to operate at 55 degrees Fahrenheit.  These levels were further shown as being beneficial to museum collections during World War II when the collection of the National Gallery in London were kept in a stone quarry whose levels remained at 58 % relative humidity and 63 degree Fahrenheit.  The objects kept in this location where noted as having little to no flaking and cracking, while when the objects were returned to the uncontrolled galleries in London, damage was immediately observed. 

                By the late 1970s the levels of 70 degrees Fahrenheit (+ 2) and 50% (+ 5) relative humidity were held to rigid specifications in the museum field, with no compromise being given to environmental conditions outside the facilities or types of objects within the collection.  These levels, as noted earlier, are good general rules of thumb for general museum collections.  But it is well known among most museum professionals that certain types of objects within the collections, specifically negatives and photographs, can be kept at much lower relative humidity levels.  Also items that are used to a dry environment, such as a desert, would not handle an immediate introduction to the much more humid level of 50% relative humidity. 

So with these issues, along with others in mind, conservation experts have been asked to reassess the levels of 50/70 to ensure they are the best for the objects we have been entrusted to look after.  Culminating with a report issued by the American Institution of Conservation in June 2010, the most recent interim standards have established that most cultural institutions should strive for a set point in the range of 45-55% relative humidity (+ 5), with a total annual range of 40% minimum to 60% maximum and a temperature range of 59-77 degrees Fahrenheit.  These levels, as one can see, are much more relaxed and try to take into account the ranges most of us see within our facilities.  Another main point stressed in the report is that at all major fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity must be minimized, as this is event that causes the most stress to the objects themselves.  The report also acknowledges that some cultural materials require different conditions to ensure their preservation and that loan requirements between institutions should be determined in consultation with conservation professionals.

Ultimately these guidelines, which are considered interim and could ultimately change, have acknowledged the fact that most institutions have collections that contain and wide variety of objects.  Because of this environmental conditions must be tailored to reflect both the material types and the environment they reside in, in order to ensure that they will be preserved for the future.

For further information concerning this topic, and other select articles from the American Association of Museum’s magazine Museum, please refer to the following link:

Chaos in the vault!

Chaos in the vault!

What do you think when you see this picture?  Some might think, “Wow, what medical hazard has be-fallen this room”, while others might think, “That’s a heck of a lot of plastic and tape”.  In actuality, it’s something that would strike fear in the hearts of most staff who work in the collections of a museum.  That’s right, painting in the vault.  Specifically the ceiling of the vault.  For the past year or so those of us working in the collection storage areas of the Museum had noticed some of the paint on the ceiling of the vault flaking up.  After assuring ourselves through inspection of the ceiling that no leaks were present, it was discovered that certain impurities of the original poured concrete ceilings were working their way out the concrete and causing the paint to flake up.  While the impurities weren’t harming the structural integrity of the vault, it looked quite bad and paint was falling onto the upper shelving of the vault.  So after considering several aspects of the Museum (current tour schedule, room usage among others) it was decided that August would be the best time for the painting to commence.  So once that was figured out we can go ahead and start breaking out the paint brushes right?  Wrong.  What next commenced was about a two months worth of planning.  This planning included, figuring out how to tent certain shelves so that objects could be left in place but with protective covering, deciding what objects should be moved from the vault for their safety, where to move those objects to, as well as what is the best kind of paint to use in the vault so that the fumes coming from the paint wouldn’t harm objects left in the storage area.  Now, knowing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, I can say we’ve almost completed this project with no causalities (either human or artifact).  All of the objects left in the vault are fine, the vault itself was painted and thoroughly cleaned, and next week we plan on moving all of the objects that were moved into the vault back into their normal resting places.  Ultimately I can say that our collection staff did a great job in the planning and execution of this process but, as I’ve told them many times throughout this process, let’s hope we never have to do it again!

The Most Exciting Time of the Year

It’s that time of the year again.  No, not Christmas or any other major holiday, rather on June 1st our part of the country sees the start of hurricane season.  While this might not seem all that exciting to other portions of the country, down here in South Florida hurricane season is a time of year met with some anxiety.  In 2005, South Florida was hit with storm after storm, one of which plowed its way across the everglades causing extensive damage to the Big Cypress Reservation.  So what does this matter to those of us who work behind the scenes in the Collections Division of the Museum?  Besides creating hurricane kits and preparing our homes for the possibility of storms, the Collections Division staff also finds itself creating kits and preparing plans for the rescue and stabilization of the galleries and collection storage areas found at the Museum.  One of the main ways in which we prepare for the possibility of being impacted by a storm is to run training sessions, for example our Emergency Preparedness, Response and Salvage in Museum Collections workshop held in February 2010. 

            Besides going through training, Collections staff also needed to prepare kits in order to deal with any disasters that might occur.  Unlike the hurricane kits possibly kept in your home, our museum disaster kits contain items such as nitrile gloves, masks, caution tape, and many different absorbent materials that will help us deal with any water type disaster.  Our disaster kits are also kept in rolling carts that can be moved around the property and brought to the site of the disaster itself. 

Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Emergency Cart

Another large part of hurricane preparedness is planning.  In 2005, when Hurricane Wilma cut across the everglades, portions of the roof were torn from the main Museum building.  This caused water to pour into the Museum, which in turn damaged some of mannequins currently on display.  Most of the damage was minor and quickly fixed, but Museum staff realized that if another category 5 storm would hit the Museum action had to be taken.  In conjunction with a mold mitigation project that occurred in 2007, the staff devised a plan to de-install all of the mannequins and artifacts currently on display in the 5500 square feet of gallery space.  After a months work of planning and testing, the staff can now de-install and secure the entire gallery in one day. 

Courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Since the very active hurricane season of 2005, South Florida has not been hit by any hurricanes.  But a major mistake many South Florida residents fall into is the idea that since the past few years have seen no storms, we can become lax in our preparation and planning for this year’s season.  It is one of our major responsibilities as residents of this particular region to always be on watch and prepared for the next major storm.

2009 in Review

2009 has been a banner year for the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. Not only have some major milestones been met by the Museum, but we have kept on going with special programs and exhibits that have helped to highlight the history and culture of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Here is a quick review of what happened in 2009.

2009 has been a banner year for the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.  Not only have some major milestones been met by the Museum, but we have kept on going with special programs and exhibits that have helped to highlight the history and culture of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.  Here is a quick review of what happened in 2009:

In February the Museum, along with Heritage Ft. Lauderdale, AutoNation and RM Auctions, participated in the Wheels fundraising benefit.  The benefit was held at the Broward County Convention Center and included live entertainment provided by “The Fabulons” and a silent auction with all proceeds benefiting Heritage Ft. Lauderdale. 

March found the Museum hosting Kattle Kids Day, a weekend long event for school age children in the surrounding area.  The day was a resounding success with both Tribal kids and kids from across the region learning about the importance of the cattle industry for the Seminole Tribe of Florida.  In fact the event was such a success that another one will be held March 2010, so stay tuned for more information on this popular event. 

Roping up some cattle at Kattle Kids Day 2009
April was an extremely busy month for the Museum.  Unconquered Imagination opened at our facility in Okalee at the beginning of the month. The exhibit featured contemporary native artists from across the country and ran at that facility through October 2009.  Another exhibit, Native Words, Native Warriors, opened at our Big Cypress facility at the end of the month.  This exhibit, produced by the Smithsonian Institutions Traveling Exhibit Service, was met with much excitement by both the staff and community. 
Native Words, Native Warriors Opening April 2009
The other big news from April was the Museum finding out that it had earned national accreditation from the American Association of Museums (AAM).  This made the Museum the first tribally governed museum in the United States to receive official certification from the AAM.  It took four long years to earn this distinction, but with it the AAM verified that the Museum met national industry standards of excellence in all aspects of its responsibilities including governance, staffing, sustainability and stewardship of the collection entrusted to its care.
Chairman Mitchell Cypress and Historic Resources Officer Tina Osceola at Accreditation Press Conference

June found staff from the Museum attending the Smithsonian’s Affiliation Conference held in Washington DC.  Because of the long standing relationship the Museum had with the Smithsonian, the Museum became an official affiliate member in April of 2009, which allowed staff to attend the conference.  Affiliate museums from across the country also attended, which allowed for some excellent opportunities in networking. 

In July, Native Words, Native Warrior closed at our Big Cypress facility which allowed for a new exhibit to open in the space.  The Randle/Sheffield Collection: Life Along the Tamiami Trail in the 1940’s and 1950’s was loaned to the Museum by the South Florida Community College Museum of Florida Art and Culture for exhibit until January 2010.  This exhibit is based upon the photography of Florence Randle who was a commercial photographer with a studio in Coconut Grove in the 1940’s. She and her niece, Phyllis Sheffield would often spend their weekends photographing the Seminole people who lived along the Tamiami Trail.  The exhibit shows some excellent images of the Seminole people which have never been shown before in the Big Cypress facility. 

Randle Sheffield Opening July 2009

Fall of 2009 continued to be a busy time, with the Museum celebrating the one year anniversary of the exhibit, Cattle Keepers:  the Heritage of Seminole Cattle Ranching.  Because of the popularity of this exhibit, it will remain open until September 2010.  Staff also represented the Museum at various conferences including the Florida Association of Museums conference, held in Sarasota, Florida, and the Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums conference in Portland, Oregon.  At both of these conferences Museum staff presented on various aspects of the Museum, including disaster planning, the accreditation process, and the oral history program.  

In November the Museum was proud to host the 12th annual American Indian Arts Celebration (AIAC).  The event took place from November 6, 7, and 8 on the festival grounds across from the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum on the Big Cypress Reservation.  During the festival the Museum hosted an authentic American Indian market, food vendors, children’s craft corner, dance demonstrations, story telling and alligator wrestling.  Also special performances by the award winning Yellowbird Apache Dancers, featuring Kevin Duncan the current world champion teen hoop dancer. The event ended each day with a musical performances by renowned Native American reggae artist and singing sensation CASPER and the 602 Band.

This was just a quick review of some of the larger events that occurred in 2009 for the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.  Stay tuned to our website, blog, and Facebook page for what we have planned in 2010!