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Ethnology Collections: Phase I (August 2004-June 2007)

The Logan Museum’s 2002 CAP survey identified relocation and rehousing of the Tobin collection of ethnographic art from Papua New Guinea, the replacement of wood and press-board cabinets and shelving units, and the alleviation of overcrowding in storage as high priorities. NEH and cost-share funds are being used to mitigate these preservation issues by relocating and rehousing approximately 8,000 ethnographic objects. Anna Berg (nee Goodwin) `05, ethnology move coordinator, is coordinating and implementing the ethnology portion of the project under the supervision of Nicolette Meister, curator of collections.

The Tobin collection, previously stored in a non-climate controlled space in the Wright Museum of Art was moved to the Logan Museum in October 2006. Collections in the ethnology storage area are being packed and temporarily moved to prepare for a major renovation of the ethnology storage area. Beginning in September 2007, all of these collections will be rehoused in ethnology storage in four mobile compactor storage units and 49 open and closed cabinets and cantilever shelving. Mobile storage will create 1,000 cubic feet of new storage space for collections growth.

Ethnology collections are being temporarily stored on the second floor of the Logan Museum in the Shaw Gallery. On-site storage assures the highest level of security, enables collections to be accessed for teaching and research purposes during the rehousing project, and enables museum staff to monitor environmental conditions thereby assuring objects are not subject to fluctuations in relative humidity or temperature during the project. Before collections could be moved to the Shaw Gallery, the space was fitted for temporary storage. Tobin collection storage units were relocated to the Logan Museum and large open-shelving units were purchased from ULINE. Additional glass shelves were installed in the exhibit cases to store oversized textiles and objects too fragile for packing.

Inventory control is an essential part of the ethnology rehousing project. During packing, each box is assigned a box number and corresponding box inventory form. Box inventory forms record box numbers, catalog numbers, object names, geographic locations, packer initials, and pack dates. Box inventory forms are placed in shipping sleeves on the outside of the box to ensure the list of contents is visible. A copy of the box inventory is filed in a binder and the data entered in a move database for tracking purposes.

We implemented standardized packing methods to facilitate the training of student assistants, the purchase of packing supplies, and effective use of storage space. We pack all ethnographic collections, with the exception of oversized objects, whole ceramic vessels, and objects too fragile for packing are being packed, with archival materials in non-archival boxes. We selected standardized box sizes based on the dimensions of current and temporary storage shelving. Standardized packing methods were adapted from the packing methods used by the Science Museum of Minnesota and the National Museum of the American Indian. Standardized packing methods include:

Pillow packing

This packing method is used as interleaving to pack textiles, clothing, flat fragile objects, and small 3-D objects and to fill voids in boxes. Depending on the objects the “pillow” can be a 4 mil polyethylene bag filled with polyester fiber fill, a .23 mil polyethylene bag filled with peanuts or shredded polyethylene foam (squeeze air out before closing), or layers of muslin fabric with polyester fiber fill between the layers.

Padded boards/ties

Padded boards provide support for flat, complex objects and objects with fragile appendages. Archival foam board, blue board, or Coroplast are cut to size and padded with 1/16” or 1/8” polyethylene. Objects are lightly “tied-down” to the boards using twill tape slid through slits in the board to ensure objects do not slide. Catalogue numbers are written in pencil on the lower right hand corner of each mount. These mounts protect objects during temporary storage and may also be used as the permanent storage mount.

Snakes/ring mounts

Snakes and ring mounts provide support for and stabilize round bottomed objects. Snakes are made of 2” and 6” cotton stockinette filled with polyester fiber fill. The ends can be knotted or tied with twill tape. Ring mounts are made from ¾” or 1½” polyethylene backer rod adhered using a heat gun.

Student Involvement

Currently, 15 students are helping to implement the rehousing project. Students are sorting archaeological artifacts, correcting cataloging problems, and packing and cleaning ethnographic objects.

While many of the students have taken one or two Beloit College museum studies classes, project-specific training is being provided. In September, 2006, all of the students participated in a day-long workshop on packing anthropological objects presented by Helen Alten, objects conservator and president of Northern States Conservation Center. Students received a packet of information about the rehousing project and standardized packing methods, attended a Powerpoint lecture on the agents of deterioration and proper handling, and were able to practice packing methods on objects in the Logan Museum’s education collection. Through the project and professional training, students are gaining valuable hands-on experience in object handling, museum quality materials and products, packing methods, safe transport of objects, and inventory control systems.

Anna Berg and 10 student assistants finished packing the ethnology collections before the end of April 2007, which was ahead of schedule! In total, they packed and relocated 7,067 objects, representing 5,670 catalogue numbers from ethnology storage and the Wright Museum of Art to temporary storage in the Logan Museum’s Shaw Gallery. Despite efforts to develop a variety of standardized packing methods, by far the most efficient and commonly used method was mummy wrapping.

After the objects were safely packed and out of ethnology storage the task of disposing of the old storage furniture began. The wooden shelving units were dismantled and sold at a local auction house and the 60 pressboard open and closed shelving units were donated to the Beloit Historical Society and the Wright Museum of Art.

As with any move project, there were surprises. Because we assumed most objects would be packed in boxes, we overestimated the number of boxes required to pack the collection. More creative use of exhibit cases, open shelving, and pallet packing decreased the number of objects packed in boxes. Conversely, we grossly underestimated the number of polyethylene bags required to rehouse the archaeological objects. To date, we have used more than 14,000 bags but budgeted for 7,000. Because move projects develop and change as they progress, it’s a good idea to buy supplies in segments to prevent unnecessary expenditures.