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: http://www.aam-us.org/pubs/mn.cfm.

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A Note From Membership

It is the season for winter guests here in the sunshine state and at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.  The weather is fine, the birds are here on their migration south and people are visiting from all over the U.S. and the world.

 

 

 

Tools of War exhibit opening.  This is our newest exhibit, which looks at the changing technology of weapons and how these advancements shaped the Seminole Wars. This exhibit features great items from our collection, including weaponry from the Seminole war period and earlier.  Museum members should have received their invitation.

 

From Surviving to Thriving: an Everglades Economy continues on view in the East Gallery.  It is a chronological look at how the geographical area commonly known as the Everglades has sustained the Seminole Tribe of Florida from the mid 1800s to the present. 

This year we have participated in several local festivals and events including Battle of Okeechobee Reenactment, Swamp Cabbage Festival, Brighton Field Days and South Florida Fair.  Our goal is to let people know about the Museum by providing information and directions.  It has been great fun meeting people and talking with them about all we have available.

A Conversation About Conservation with Museum Conservator Corey Smith, Thursday March 17 at Edison College Hendry/Glades Center.  We have collaborated with Edison College – Hendry/Glades Center, LaBelle Heritage Center, Clewiston Museum.  All entities are helping share the word and with members and within their communities.  Refreshments generously provided by Riverside Realty, Inc.  If you are in the area, please join us.

To enhance your Museum experience we offer free tours on most days, check the calendar on our website for times and days.

Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum members are always admitted to the Museum free and receive other great benefits.  If you would like Museum membership information, please email me at marybirch-hanson@semtribe.com or call 954.364.5205.

I look forward to hearing from you and seeing you at the Museum. 

Mary Birch-Hanson

Membership Coordinator

A Farewell to 2010 From the Director

Talk about being new at something.   Forgive me if this blog is too colloquial or boring or technical or anything, I am freely admitting that this is my first time “blogging”.  I have been told by my much hipper and younger colleagues that I can write about pretty much anything I want, so here it goes…

I guess if I have to expound on one topic that sort of encapsulates 2010 then it would be growth.  Growth here at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.  There’s the obvious literal growth of additional staff, new structures, equipment, etc, and then there’s the growth that I think we’ve seen as an institution.  I feel  like this last year was one in which we gained a strong hold on our strategic planning and budgeting processes; and in how we operate, who does what.  I get the idea that we are staring to create a “culture” of our own here and I like that idea very much.  I think a good deal of what makes a job enjoyable is the way things operate.  Don’t get me wrong, I also understand that there are always issues and not everyone is happy and I don’t profess to be anything even close to an excellent manager but I strive to be.

We have a lot to look forward to in 2011 and I think we are up to the challenge.  We have some new staff that have just started with us and some who will join us just as the new year starts.  I am excited about them joining our team and I can’t wait to see what they have to offer.

Lastly, I am excited to see what the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum can do for the Tribal community here in Florida and in the rest of the country.  I suspect we will continue to grow in terms of our national exposure while still making sure that we connect with and cater to our primary audience of Seminole Tribal members here at home.

Anne McCudden

Director

How Does the Third Place fit into Exposing, Understanding and Unlearning?

Upon a recent conversation with some co-workers I recently learned about a provocative new exhibit that got me thinking about how the content within our museum affects our audience perception of Native American stereotypes and what steps we are taking to foster Native pride. The exhibit I am referring to is called “Reclaiming Cultural Ownership: Challenging Indian Stereotypes and was created by the noted artist Shan Goshorn of the Eastern Band of Cherokee. This particular exhibit features juxtaposed elements of stereotypical Native American imagery captured from everyday objects and photography of Native Americans by Goshorn. I believe the crux of the exhibit is threefold; to expose mainstream America’s conceptions of Native Peoples as potentially hurtful and wrong, to understand how this is a systemic issue in America, and to “unlearn” these conceptions.

“Steven Ross,” a black-and-white photograph by Shan Goshorn,

The task of Exposing, Understanding and Unlearning behaviors placed on minority groups by mainstream American society is an incredibly complex undertaking. However, it is a task that is essential and should be championed by those groups being affected. Native American museums have an instrumental part to play in this. By creating content that is cognizant of these three issues they are doing their part to disseminate the proper information. As an example of a successful tribal museum the question is begged; is the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum willing to champion the triad of Exposing, Understanding and Unlearning. As I sit here writing this blog I can say the jury is still out. However, there is a silver lining.

In a previous blog post I highlighted a thought provoking keynote address about the Third Place by the great museum thinker Elaine Heumann Gurian. Elaine described the concept of the Third Place as a neutral community space, where people come together voluntarily and informally in ways that level social inequities and promote community engagement and social connection. I feel that the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum should embrace the Third Place concept. It will be important for our museum to become increasingly active in the social engagement arena because by doing this the triad concept of Exposing, Understanding and Unlearning will happen organically. If embraced, the Third Place will spark dialogue amongst tribal members and promote understanding between tribal members and non-tribal members alike. Over time the misconceptions and stereotypes that are still prevalent in the mainstream will become “unlearned.” As an example of a successful tribal museum, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki is in a unique position to become a Third Place.

Commercial and promotional objects featuring Native people and imagery are part of an exhibit by Shan Goshorn

The challenge, when taking on weighty topics such as Third Place and Exposing, Understanding and Unlearning, is to change perceptions of what a museum is and what it can offer society. This is sometimes true amongst evened tenured museum people. However, I am the eternal optimist and believe that entrenched and antiquated notions of what museums are can be transformed to meet new and challenging concepts. It is imperative that we at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki have the wherewithal to incorporate new ideas and to challenge the status quo.

Tribal Historic Preservation Office: Collections Division

The Tribal Historic Preservation Office’s Collection Section plays many roles in the preservation and care of the Seminole Tribe’s archaeological collections.  From carefully cleaning artifacts as they come in from the field, to cataloging and housing the objects through archival methods, the Collections Section works hard to uphold the highest standards of safeguarding the archaeological collections. 

Left: Katy Gregory, Right: Kate Redente working in the conservation lab.

One of the most important aspects of the Collections Section is the lab.  The lab is where most of the work takes place including the cleaning, sorting, identifying, cataloging, and accessioning of the objects.  Below is an explanation of the life of an object once it enters the lab.

Most of the objects come from the archaeological excavations done by the Tribal Archaeology Section and primarily consist of animal bone and ceramic fragments.  Once excavated, the objects are brought back from the field to the lab.  Depending on the material and type of object, it is gently cleaned in order to remove any excess dirt and sand.  Cleaning is done to prevent future damage and deterioration to an object.  However, it is important to know that not all objects are cleaned especially if the historic or cultural integrity of an object could be affected or destroyed.  Most of the time cleaning can be done by using a soft bristled toothbrush and distilled water.   

After the objects have been cleaned, they are left to dry on the drying racks.  It takes about a day or two for the objects to completely dry. 

Once the objects are dry, they are carefully sorted into like groups and cataloged.  Each group of objects receives a unique number which helps to identify the object as well as link the objects to their records.  Keeping track of each individual object is important and helps keep the collection organized and as well as allow for easy research access. 

Object Sorting

The final stage of preparing the object for storage is to place the objects into archival bags.  Each bag has an identification tag which is also printed on archival paper.  However, because some objects are too fragile to house in bags, custom boxes and supports are sometimes made to help prevent damage and deterioration.

The Collections Section is excited to be a part of the preservation of the archaeological collections.  It is great to be able to preserve these objects so that we might have a better understanding of the past!