African American Museum of Iowa Category

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A Typical Day of Flood Recovery Work

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

I checked in with the conservation lab staff this morning. I happened to have my camera with me and thought you might like to have a snapshot of a typical day. This is the activity I captured at 10AM this morning.


While the ledger from the Johnson County Historical Society dries in the press, Gary begins to inspect and separate the pages from the next ledger in the queue.


While the records from the National Czech & Slovak Library & Museum are drying, Beth is mending a record cover.


Caitlin is cleaning a manuscript from the African American Museum of Iowa and Bryan is cutting board to make folders for Czech records.


Kristin is searching for the “perfect” spill guard to put around our new water system for the “just-in-case” pipe leak. The last time we had a pipe break all the water went into the Library Director’s office. Not a good thing!

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Suitcase Saga Part 3

Friday, May 15, 2009


For the exposed metal I started with a medium grain steel wool to loosen the more rusted areas. I continued to vacuum the loose particles. The next step will be using a double beveled knife to try to remove some of the more stubborn areas of active corrosion. When the metal is cleaned and stable, I will replace the reinforced paper to the inside of the suitcase with wheat starch paste.

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Suitcase Saga Part 2

Thursday, May 14, 2009


After I removed a majority of the mold I began to lift the paper lining where it was detaching. I did not attempt to remove the paper where it was still adhered because it is so brittle that it would just fall apart. For the areas I could not remove, I gently rubbed the finest grain of eraser crumbs over the surface with my fingers to get some of the dirt up and then vacuumed them with the Nilfisk. You can see all the active rust that was under the paper lining.

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Suitcase Saga Part 1

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

This metal suitcase from the African American Museum collection was covered in rust and mold. It is also lined with brittle patterned paper. It’s a mess. I consulted with Gary to determine the best course of treatment.

To begin, I used the Nilfisk Vacuum with pipette attachment to get the fuzziest mold, being very careful to avoid catching the paper lining which is detached in many areas.

 Gary shows me how to lift out the loosened lining paper. �

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Cleaning the Rust

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The pictured objects were actively corroding after the flood. To slow that process we put the objects in sealed containers with silica gel packets. The dessicant pulls in moisture so it doesn’t permeate the objects. 

Now we are trying to clean up the effects of the corrosion and stabilize the metal so that the objects can be put on display and preserved. To begin with, we take small knives (carpenter’s marking knives or exactos) and carefully scrape away the flaking rust spots. Some of these objects were painted so we must be careful not to disturb that while we are removing the rust.

Once the large areas have been scraped a brass or bronze (named for the bristles) brush is used to begin to even out the surface. A couple different weights of steel wool are used and finally a coat of oil which is rubbed into the metal with a fine grain steel wool. 

I cleaned the drill bit last week, it took about 4 hours and the coils were very hard to clean. Looking at it now it doesn’t seem like the same object, It is amazing the difference in the condition. It is tedious work, rivaling the basket cleaning, but there is no saliva involved in this project!


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Metal Cleaning Party

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Several weeks ago, Steve Stenstrom offered to give us a quick workshop on metal cleaning and preservation techniques. Our best guess is that we have a bout 100 metal items to clean — most are from the African American Museum of Iowa. We really needed his assistance, took him up on his offer, and decided to hold a metal cleaning party.

On Tuesday, Caitlin set up the Oakdale storage room with tables, covered with plastic, and worklights. She also swept out the room and made it look presentable–we have been taking pictures of each item out there and finishing the inventory, so we had a few things to tidy. I was to gather the tools and cleaning items that we might need and bring them out to Oakdale.

Bryan Stusse and I met Steve out at Oakdale Hall around 10:00AM so we could set up the tools and go through items with him. While Nancy and I talked to Steve, Caitlin and Bryan went to meet Leigh Ann Randak, Johnson County Historical Society curator, in order to help her navigate the Oakdale maze.

After we had settled in, Steve gave us an intro lecture, discussing briefly the problems with alloy and non-alloy metals, a little background in metal manufacture, basic tools and solutions for removing corrosion, and then tried to convince Nancy to set up an electrolysis bath in the lab for some of the items. She wasn’t convinced.

Each of us selected a metal object to work on. At the end of the day we had two horse shoes and a knife cleaned and two other items partially cleaned. Our original intent was to start cleaning metal in the conservation lab. After a day of scraping, flaking, sanding rust and other debris from the metal, we decided this particular task is too dirty for the lab and will continue our work out at Oakdale.

We still need to learn how to finish the cleaned metal object to protect it from contaminates. Steve offered to come back another day. His offer was gratefully accepted.


The three photos on the left are courtesy George McCrory, University of Iowa News Service.

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Volunteer Begins Working File Project

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Our publicity has been paying off! Marilyn Maynard, a local Iowa Citian, read about our recovery efforts in the Press Citizen and thought she might be able to contribute. She is currently working on a project designed to clean and copy the working files for the African American Museum.

The files were in a large filing cabinet and are dirty and warped with water damage. Our volunteers will be dry cleaning them with eraser crumbs to prepare them for photocopying. The folders are being replaced and the information hand copied onto the new folders. 

This is a large scale project and would possibly have been dropped if it wasn’t for the help of volunteers like Marilyn simply because it would be too expensive. The fact that we have people willing to take on some of these projects allows the museums to put their money to use in other places and makes it possible to save more of these collections than we would have otherwise. 

Some other workflows we hope to get going with our volunteers are cleaning, flattening, and rehousing newspapers from the Czech Slovak Museum and cleaning, and rehousing court dockets for the Johnson County Historical Society. 

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Saving Working Files Conundrum

Friday, February 6, 2009

Susan Kuecker, African America Museum curator, would like to save her working files. These files have all her research for various researcher requests, grant applications, and projects, collected over eight years. Most of this information is not in her computer. Since most of the items in the files are not unique, she can’t justify spending a lot of money on recovery.

Since the material is not unique, our working premis is that we’ll clean the items good enough to make a photocopy replacement, flattening only when necessary. Our best guess is that there are about 6,000 pages. When I first priced this proposed project out using a conservation lab technician’s time, the price tag was around $24,000. Then I tried the same scenario using student workers. The price tag was $12,000. Still too high. A little light bulb went off — we are interviewing volunteers. Perfect!

After a brief discussion with Susan, we arrived at a plan whereby the AAMI will supply us with replacement folders and photocopy paper and we’ll use a combination of students and volunteers to process the files. Any exceptions (unique brochures, newspaper articles, photographs) will be separated out for a later project. New price tag is under $900. Very acceptable to all!

We’ve begun pulling the material out of the file drawers and putting them into boxes for volunteers to work on. The file drawers are going back to the AAMI. They hope to be able to clean the drawers and repaint for re-use.

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African American Objects Ready to Go Home

Friday, January 30, 2009

On Tuesday February 3, 2009,  we will be returning the first finished round of artifacts to the African American Museum. This will include baskets, gourds, feathered fans, sandals, a beaded necklace, a syrup tin, a box of buttons from a local dry cleaner and many other objects. It will be a landmark in the progress we have been making. With so many projects happening simultaneously it is nice to be able to see what we have accomplished so far and to be able to send these artifacts home to their museum.

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Boxing Up African American Objects

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Since all the cleaned items will be off to their home, I am taking today and tomorrow to box them up for travel, and also future protection. It is so pleasing to see these items we have lived with snuggled in new boxes, waiting to be picked up. Making the clamshell boxes out of the blue board is also a nice break from what seems like constant cleaning. Some of the items, like the feathered fans, will share housing, but the baskets will be happiest in sturdy boxes by themselves. It will help us, with space (and hopefully the African American Museum, too, that’s the idea), as we can stack boxes, but not items. This was Nancy’s idea, after noticing that the items that had been properly housed prior to the flood fared much better than unhoused, or ill housed, items.