Czech Pipe

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Blog IMG_0564This carved wooden pipe from the Czech Slovak Museum was covered in mud and dust. Since it has so many small crevices it was very hard to clean. I used dampened swabs to remove the dirt. It is in three pieces and combined it took 6 hours to clean.

Below is the before (left) and after (right) cleaning of the pipe stem.
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Suitcase Saga Part 4: Conclusion

Thursday, December 12, 2009

After lots of fussing and fiddling the suitcase is finally done. I removed all the rust from the exterior and cleaned up the metal. The interior was trickier. I removed the paper lining and lined it with a heavy japanese paper and wheat starch paste. Underneath the paper the metal of the suitcase was extremely rusty so I removed that rust as well before re-adhering the new “lined lining”.  It wasn’t possible to remove the mold stains from the paper lining so this suitcase has ended up with a much more colorful interior than it ever had in it’s pre-flood life!

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Steve Stenstrom Workshop on Shellac Finishes

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Blog shellac 004Steve Stenstrom returned to the UI to teach us about Shellac. We learned about the properties of Shellac and the different ways to use it. Steve brought us pieces of wood to work with and we all got some experience “french polishing” which consists of a cotton pad soaked in Shellac wrapped in a piece of cotton (old tshirts work the best). Using the pads we learned the basic technique for finishing a piece of wood with shellac. This will mainly be applied to the trophies and plaques we have from the African American Museum.

Read “The Story of Shellac” and learn how insects make shellac.

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Storage is as important as treatment

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

dessicant bagThe objects we have received since the flood span a wide range of materials. Since we couldn’t work on everything immediately, one of the first things we had to address was proper storage. The wooden objects were set out to dry as were the baskets and miscellaneous plastic, ceramic, glass items. The metals however presented a problem. They were rusting and since we weren’t able to get to them immediately we needed to arrest the deterioration somehow.

After doing some research and consulting with Steve Stenstrom, an objects conservator, we bought large plastic tubs in which we could create a micro-environment for the metal objects. This allowed us more control over the condition of their surroundings. We put packages of plastic tub with metal objects and dessicants dessicant in the tubs with the metals to absorb any moisture which might contribute to the deterioration of the metal. The dessicant packets were switched out periodically and we were able to slow the process of rusting until we had a chance to stabilize the objects.

The items in the tub to the left are already cleaned and waiting to go back home to the African American Museum of Iowa.

inventory fun

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Keeping order in the aftermath of a disaster is not easy to do. When the flood hit Cedar Rapids in 2008 there was very little time to get everything out of the museums and things that weren’t rescued until after they had sustained flood damage were at times so unrecognizable it was hard even to identify which museum they had come from! There was no time to take an inventory, label or organize anything.

When we got the books, maunscripts, and artifacts back to the University one of our first, and largest, tasks was to put things in some semblance of order. This was mainly done for museum artifacts as opposed to the books and manuscripts which tend to be a bit easier to identify. We had a rough idea of what we should have and the curators were extremely helpful but many items had tags obscured by mud or ink that had run.


We imposed our own organization system and began a database to keep track of which museum an item came from, the condition, proposed treatment, actual treatment, treatment time and date finished. In addition to this we photographed every thing before we started work on it. This organization system has made it much easier for us to locate items when we are in contact with the curators. It also allows us to record what we’ve done for future reference.

The African American Museum is using a program called Past Perfect which allows us to see images of items before the flood. This has been invaluable in cases where we don’t know exactly how much treatment an object needs. We don’t want to remove a finish because we think it is staining from the flood. We also do not want to “overclean” objects, taking away from their provenance.

Blue Boxes

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Volunteer measuring blue corrugated board to make a boxVolunteer with blue boxes completed and one in progress

One of our volunteers has taken on the project of building custom boxes for objects to be returned to the African American Museum in November. Beth has been teaching Kallie Holt how to make boxes from the sturdy blue corrugated board we use routinely in the conservation lab.  In addition to making them easily transportable the boxes will be good for long term storage for these artifacts.

One of the advantages of our close communication with the curators is the ability to have us prioritize items. Susan Kuecker of the African American Museum is opening an exhibit in November and sent us a list of objects she needed so we could re-arrange our workflow. These are the objects that Kallie is re-boxing.  We hope to have a majority of the items from the African American Museum treated, boxed, and ready to go by December.

Volunteer Kallie Making a Difference

Friday, July 10, 2009

We have a new  volunteer! Kallie Holt, a Junior at the University of Iowa has volunteered to work 8 hours a week here in the Conservation Lab.

The first project I gave her was the cleaning of a collection of small miscellaneous items from the African American Museum. These objects range from pacemakers to a wooden gavel and everything in between. Most of the collection belonged to a medical doctor, hence the medical paraphernalia and miniature lungs which you can see at the bottom of the photo on the right.  Creepy.

Record Cleaning

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Caitlin and I discussed the timeline for returning the LPs and 45s to the Czech Museum yesterday, and we decided to start forging ahead with the final wash of the albums. We are using the same method we used right after the flood, when there was still a ton of mud on the records. One tray with a mild and dilute soap, and another tray filled with only water for rinsing. As you can see, we  switched brushes–we needed a slightly stiffer brush for these more sturdy records. I am also holding the record upright, in order to minimize the water contact with the paper label, as we have found some of the inks will run.  After a quick dry on a rack, I don cotton gloves and wipe them to make sure there are no drips and then stack them to dry while I wash another round. In the afternoon, I then use a microfiber brush on the dry records and sleeve them. Then, after nearly a year of separation, the freshly washed record is reunited with a clean and newly sleeved cover.

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!

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.