Moving On!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The long awaited day arrived at last. We moved out of our “dirty room” at Oakdale Hall, took down our sign, and turned in our keys! Over 18 months ago in the midst of finding space for faculty and students, University of Iowa officials took time to find us a room where we could store the flood damaged items from the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library and the African American Museum of Iowa. I’m still amazed at the fast turn around time we had for the flood response. The flood waters hit these two museums June 12, 2008. We were salvaging collections by June 18 and had a place at the University secured by June 23 with collections arriving the next day. Work on collections began immediately. Wow!

I suspect that this time table seemed really slow for the staffs of the two museums. I know it would feel slow if it were my collections. However, for an area disaster on the scale we had, this is very quick response time.

At one time this room was so full of items that we could barely move. The room allowed us to put things on hold until the museums could decide how to move forward. We started to clean the Czech LPs immediately as they were the most valuable and at highest risk of further damage. The Czech/Slovak staff took several boxes of items back for volunteers to clean. The African American staff brought in a consultant conservator to assist in prioritizing material.

We stored close to 5,000 records and 500 museum objects until we had them clean enough to bring into the conservation lab. Not all items were taken to the lab for final cleaning. Many were cleaned at Oakdale either because they were too big or the cleaning process was too dirty and smelly. Several objects were sent off to other conservation labs. All the LP and 45 records are clean and returned to the Czech/Slovak Museum and close to 300 objects have been returned to the African American museum. Others are waiting to be picked up. We have less than 30 objects left to clean.

We owe a special thanks to Steve Stenstrom (Wooden Object Conservator, Windsor Heights, IA) who conducted several sessions on cleaning metals and wooden objects; Helen Alten (Objects Conservator, West Virginia) who provided training and guidance on baskets and gourds; and Gary Frost (UI Libraries Conservator) who provided assistance with cleaning of the records, miscellaneous paper items, and the Jackson banner.

We could not have provided the flood recovery work for the African American Museum of Iowa and the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library without this room.

The rest of our work will be conducted in our conservation lab.

Though we still have much to do, it was a big step (physically and psychologically) to move out of the Oakdale campus. The end is in sight!!

Banner Solution

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Blog IMG_0077For months we’ve looked at the Jesse Jackson banner trying to figure out what to do with it. It was obvious from inspecting the banner that part of the damage was from folding the banner and not from the flood. Once repaired or at least stablized we didn’t want to fold it back up. The ideal would be to store it rolled rather than flat. We thought it was too fragile to withstand a tight roll. Purchasing a tube with an 8″ or larger diameter would cost $150 or more.

I took what I thought was a brilliant idea to our conservator, Gary Frost — building our own tube using multiple layers of thin archival tan board around a 5 gallon paint can. He suggested that buying a cement forming tube would be cheaper and easier. So we did.

The tube was, of course, acidic. We chose to line the roll with book cloth which gives a double barrier Blog IMG_0658 of adhesive and cloth between the banner and acidic tube. Other type liners could have just as easily been used — several layers of Mylar, polyethylene plastic sheeting, Tyvek, or heavy-weight acid-free paper.

Gary cut the tube down to size and then Linda and Caitlin lined it. As you can see, getting the cloth on smoothly is really a two-person job!

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Cleaning Busts

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Blog IMG_0920One project that Kallie is working on is cleaning a collection of busts. After Caitlin tested a couple different treatment methods she settled on using a mixture of water and photo flo roughly a 4:1 ratio. Kallie has been using swabs and cotton pads to remove the mud covering the busts. This process is particularly time consuming due to all the small crevices in the sculptures. There are 7 busts and Kallie has completed one and is halfway finished with a second.

The busts were a part of The Old Taylor Distillery Blog IMG_0922Company bourbon whisky promotion. For $5 you could buy a sculptured bust of an ingenious American. They belonged to Mrs. Gerolyn Banks, a teacher who used them as instructional tools in her classroom (incidentally, she didn’t drink alcohol). Kallie is working on Lewis Latimer who worked with Thomas Edison and developed an improved method for the production of carbon filaments in Edison’s light bulb. The ad for this particular bust can be found in Ebony, July 1967.

Other busts in the series include: Granville T. Woods who improved telegraph system for railroads; Garrett Morgan who invented the electric traffic signal; Benjamin Banneker was an astronomer, clockmaker, and surveyor who predicted eclipses; Norbert Rillieux improved sugar refining process; and Matthew Alexander Henson reached the North Pole with Admiral Peary in 1909. He was actually the first member of the team to set foot on the spot.

Two Vernons and a Typewriter

Monday, January 4, 2010

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One of our quandaries was how to clean Vernon Smith’s typewriter, an important artifact from the African American Museum. We found our answer when we contacted Vernon Steve at Steve’s Business Machines (formerly Steve’s Typewriter) in Iowa City. Vern cleaned and repaired the typewriter but did not repaint it. The typewriter shows the wear and tear of the flood but is clean and fully functional.

Vern inherited the business from his father. He not only repairs typewriters but also repairs cash registers, old calculating machines, time-clocks, etc. In fact, after seeing the results of the typewriter cleaning, we left a flood-damaged sweeper for repair.

Vernon Smith courtesy of the African American Museum of Iowa
Vernon Smith courtesy of the African American Museum of Iowa

The typewriter was a college graduation gift from Elmer Sr and Vesta Smith to their son, Vernon. He graduated from Coe College circa 1950. He used this typewriter to type up his master’s thesis at the University of Iowa. He received a master’s in Chemistry from the U of I in 1952. Before receiving his master’s he had accepted a position as a chemistry instructor at an African American college in Virginia. 10 days after receiving his master’s while he was packing to move to Virginia, he contracted polio and lost the use of both of his legs and one of his arms.

He spent 4 years recovering from polio and then found a job in the special laboratory at St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids. He worked there for 35 years retiring as head of the lab. He was very active in community affairs in Cedar Rapids, particularly in Civil Rights issues. He co-founded the Cedar Rapids Negro Civic Organization in 1961 and served on its scholarship committee throughout the 1960s. In addition, he served as a member of the Cedar Rapids N.A.A.C.P. and the Cedar Rapids Council on Human Relations. In 1971, he was named “Handicapped Iowan of the Year”. He married Phoebe Downs and raised five children: Ruby, Vernon, Deborah, Phoebe, and Katharine. He passed away in 2000. More at:

Flood-Damaged Phonograph Records Sent Home

Friday, December 18, 2009

A much awaited event finally arrived. We returned close to 1,500 sound recordings to David Muhlena, Library Director for the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in Cedar Rapids. Cleaning the records was very labor intensive. We began our work in July 2008, working in the Paper Lab cleaning off the worst of the mud, mold, bacteria, and river debris. In September 2008, we brought the records to the conservation lab for a more thorough cleaning. We’re estimating that actual hands-on cleaning time was around 750 hours. We’re not done yet. We only returned the LPs and 45s, we still have the 78s to clean.

We could not have competed this project without the donation of archival tan board for the three flap enclosures by Archival Products, Des Moines, Iowa and funding for new sink/water system from the State Historical Society of Iowa Historical Resources Development Program (HRDP).

The local media has been very supportive in covering our flood “mile markers.” It’s always good to get the message out that many flood/water damaged items can be salvaged and to remind the public that recovery from a disaster such as the Iowa Flood of 2008 takes time.

Endless Possibilities Grand Opening

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Blog IMG_0510Last night I attended a reception for the grand opening of the African American Museum of Iowa’s permanent exhibit “Endless Possibilities” which traces the journey of Iowa’s African Americans. This event was also a farewell to curator Susan Kuecker who is moving to Pittsburgh.

Susan and I have crossed paths many times, sitting on the same board, giving presentations, sharing Blog IMG_0501preservation concerns. Since the flood I’ve gotten to know Susan even better and am impressed with all the work she’s done post flood. This exhibit is a fine example of her ability to bring a story to the public.

It was a lot of fun to go through the exhibit and see all the items that we had worked on put into context. There was no signage indicating what had and had not been in the flood. I doubt very much that anyone Blog IMG_0502going through the exhibit could discern which was which.

If you have been reading the blog, you should recognize the gourd, basket, money (the long thin metal),
suitcase, and buttons as items that we have cleaned.

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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New Volunteer Elizabeth

Friday, November 20, 2009

Blog IMG_0021Elizabeth Boyne has joined us in the lab as our newest volunteer. We have no shortage of projects. She started with cleaning and flattening newspapers from the Czech Slovak Museum but will most likely clean a collection of busts from the African American Museum and assist with cleaning and flattening manuscript files. Elizabeth is a Graduate Student enrolled in the Joint SLIS and Center for the Book program. She will be working with us in addition to working in Book Repair with Susan Hansen. We’re always excited to gain an extra pair of hands!

Where We Are Now

Monday, November 16, 2009

On October 23 we sent another round of artifacts back to the African American Museum. We also sent back the first of the manuscript boxes to be cleaned.

We hope to be out of Oakdale Hall by the end of the year and it is heartening to see it empty out a little more each time we send things back. Almost all the metal objects have been finished and we are in the process of completing the wooden items from the African American Museum. We have only a few remaining objects from the Czech Slovak Museum that need to be cleaned.

The African American Museum Manuscript box project, which consists of 105 boxes of files that need to be cleaned, flattened, and rehoused, is well underway. Twenty three boxes have been returned and there are several more in various states of progress.

The LP and 45 Collections are virtually finished, we are still researching cleaning methods for the 78s. Once we have returned the LPs we will be able to move the remaining objects at Oakdale Hall to be stored at the Library.

The fact that we are getting to the point where we can consolidate items is a pretty big deal. When the flood recovery began we were bursting at the seams wondering where on earth we would find the room to store all of these things. Now that we have some breathing room it is easier to see the progress that we have been making.