Cleaning Gourd Drum

Wednesday, December 17, 2008 

This gourd drum, an artifact from the African American Museum is a dried and hollowed gourd, the top has been sliced away to create an opening which has leather stretched across it. Two sticks intersect inside the gourd with the ends protruding from the sides, through the leather as you can see in the picture below. It is also wrapped with cord and there is a wooden handle attached through a hole carved in the bottom.

The cleaning of this particular item is complicated by the fact that there is still hair attached to the stretched leather
of the drum. It is mostly around the edges and was plastered down by the mud and silt that covered the entire artifact. I have been using a variety of techniques to remove the mud from the body of the gourd including a Poly Vinyl Alcohol sponge for the cursory cleaning and then cotton swabs and saliva for spot cleaning.  The hair that remains attached to the leather is proving very tricky to clean. On the stretched leather I have been using cotton swabs and saliva but the hair is barely attached and must be cleaned with extreme care, for this I have been using a very fine brush with small amounts of water. The hair detaches so easily that anything more abrasive will remove it.

The mud is so thick that this method is very time consuming, I have to go over the same areas repeatedly. I cannot however work on the same area for too long because when the area becomes too saturated the leather softens and the hairs release more easily. I’ve been rotating and working on different areas for shorter periods of time.

There will be some residual staining but the drum will be stabilized to the point that it will be safe to handle, and suitable for exhibit display. As of today I have spent roughly 30 hours on the gourd drum and I estimate that it will require at least 10 more hours if not longer.