Friday, December 21, 2007

Last post of the year

Well, it's the last day here before I leave to visit family for the holidays. It's been a good year - I think we've made a lot of progress. And a lot of credit must go to the three dedicated student volunteers who contributed over 100 hours of their time this quarter. They were instrumental in updating the database with our old catalog cards, in making a HUGE dent into the unprocessed lithics which have been hanging around the museum for years, and in beginning to catalog the collections.

We've also done a lot of work toward creating and implementing policies for the collection and the structure of the museum.

Objects are being housed in archival materials, and in a way that will be safe for the move. Objects, like the one below, are having their picture taken for the database.

Carved bear, collected in Alaska. Similar to carvings dated to 100 to 300 AD in Allen Wardwell's "Ancient Eskimo Ivories of the Bering Strait."

A lot has been accomplished this year, but we're going to do a lot more next year. House and catalog pretty much all the objects. Ready the collection for a move. Finalize the policies and structure of our new museum. Involve more students, interns, and community members in the process. Yep, we've got a lot of work ahead of us, but I think it will be a good year.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ears, Nose, Throat, and Museum?

I guess you could say that I'm part of the Google generation. I turn to Google products multiple times every day. I blog on Blogger, which is owned by Google. My primary email is through gmail, I use Google maps to find where I'm going, and I use google search to find the answers to my questions.

Today I was thinking about the furs and hides in our collection. We have a large sheep or goat hide with fur intact and more than one tanned or semi-tanned leather hide. As part of a class project in the Winter quarter we're planning on rolling many of our Navajo rugs and Mexican textiles. At some point it came up that we might roll the fur.

My collection manager instinct said that rolling a hide was not ideal, but I've been trying to find out if this is true. So I googled "fur museum storage" or something quite close, and I found this page on preserving fur and leather. But something seemed funny. Why was this information coming up on a website for Otolaryngology? That's the fancy word for ear, nose, and throat doctors. Apparently, like many professional associations, they have a museum. And their museum provides pages with rather general info on all kinds of collections. How about that?

The otolaryngology page does say that leather and furs are but stored flat, but I'm going to check out some more google results to corroborate this.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Dance Shield, 3-342

Last week I asked you what this might be a part of:

Guesses included a shield, a spirit board, and two guesses of a mask. Shield is the closest guess. (click on image for a larger version)

According to the accession information, corroborated with some google searching, this object is a dance shield or dance paddle from the Trobriand Islands. The ethnologist I referred to was Bronislaw Malinowski, whose name I enjoy pronouncing.

The shields (we actually have two such objects in the collection) are beautiful but fragile. The pigments, especially the white, are not secure. Just taking the photos I took for these posts resulted in white pigment left on the dark background, just under the weight of the object itself. Until such time as we can consider professional conservation treatment, all who might handle these objects must be extremely careful and consider the implications setting it down on a table may have for the pigment.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Are you ready for your close up?

I liked last week's version of Whatzit, so I'm going to keep that up until I hear objections. Here's a small part of a larger object for you to mull over this weekend:

What kind of clues can I give you? The base material is wood. And certain famous ethnologists (famous, I suppose, if you majored in anthropology (which I did)) did work in the area this object is from.

Happy weekend!

Thursday, December 13, 2007


In some ways, museum work is all about renovations. We're constantly developing better methods to preserve objects, better ways to communicate ideas to the public, and better ways to involve the public in the sometimes esoteric world of the museum (constantly proved esoteric by the movies - we won't go into the various inaccuracies in such films as Night at the Museum).

What I've been doing for the short time I've been at this museum is renovating, improving the museum methods in place. And at the same time, a construction company is renovating a building on campus where our new museum is going to be. It doesn't look like much now, but, from the plans and the drawings I've seen, it's gonna be pretty cool.

But for now, it's under construction. They're gutting the building, which is fun to watch, fun to see through the building. Click on any of the photos to see them at full size.

And this is the front of the building - facing the university commons.

Like the collections, the building is a work in progress. But we're both moving forward everyday and getting a little closer to the goal of having a modern museum with a dedicated exhibition space and a modern storage facility. And that's pretty exciting.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Bentwood Box, 3-311

Ding ding ding! Larissa is on a roll with two in a row correct. This past week's Whatzit gave you this tiny image:

And asked you to guess what the larger object was. Larissa guessed that it was a bentwood box.

This box is from the Northwest Coast and the motif appears to be a beaver. There are small shells that decorate the corners of the lid. Although the paint appears to have been "touched up" at some point in the past (obscuring original materials and possibly original colors), the box is still a treasure.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Friday Whatzit

So I think we're going to try this whole Whatzit Friday thing as variations on a theme. By which I mean, sometimes I will post an image of an object for you to guess, which is what I have been doing, but sometimes I am going to do something different. And by something different, I mean I'm going to post a close-up, a detail shot, a portion of the object and you can try to extrapolate. My inspiration is the child's brain teaser where there's a super-close up of something kind of woody and yellow, and it slowly pans out to reveal a bunch of pencils.

Let's try it with this first image:

The style of this object should be fairly easy to get from the picture, but what the whole object is? That's a sight more difficult.

Okay, have at it! Look for a reveal on Tuesday (since I'm posting after business hours EST).

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Sending out an SOS to the world

Okay, it's not really an SOS, but I've got that song by The Police in my head.

I do need your help. I've got a real whatzit situation on my hands. As in, what is this object? My documentation says "adze handle" (an identification made after it came into museum possession), but I remain skeptical. It appears to be made of bone with what appears to be baleen threaded through two of three holes at one end. One bundle of baleen is curved and twisted, the other is straight.

My guess is that it has to do with basket making or baleen processing, given the presence of baleen, but that's just a guess. Several google searches were no help in finding images of baleen processing tools, so I can't back up my guess. I suppose it could be an adze handle, but it's unusual for one, I think.

What do you think it might be? Why? Help me, blogosphere, you're my only hope.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Winter Answers

Well, it snowed and snowed and snowed this weekend. Then suddenly it warmed up and has been raining since, so the snow is much reduced as I type this.

And *ding ding ding* we have a winner! Larissa was right on to this past week's mystery object. It is a sled runner. My information tells me that it is whale bone and has been broken since at least 1998.

This sled runner is one of the many objects I've been rehousing to prepare for the move. This is how the runner is being stored.

The pieces are tied with cotton twill to a piece of cardboard lined with foam. The board has handled to facilitate lifting. This board fits into a large drawer. When it comes time to move, the empty space in the drawer with be filled with quilt batting (separated from the object by a layer of tyvek or tissue paper) and the drawers can be stacked. In this way, the objects won't shift and move around when they're loaded into a vehicle. And the materials used in the tray are such that the sled runner can stay on the tray for a long time without suffering negatively.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Snowy Friday Whatzit

Winter has made its presence known! It's chilly and there is snow on the ground. In fact, it snowed from Wednesday afternoon all the way through Thursday afternoon.

So I thought today we might have a wintery, snowy type item.

My documentation leads me to believe that this object is related to winter and snow, but... What is it? Happy winter and happy guessing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Belated answer

So last week Friday, I asked how big this crazy pine cone was. One guess came in - at 9.5 inches.

9.5 inches would be an excellently large pinecone, but it pales in comparison to the true size of this pinecone. 19.3 inches or 43 centimeters. It has a diameter of about 5.5 inches.

It is, apparently, a cone of the sugar pine collected around 1920 in northwestern California. So not only is it really big, it's really old. I think that's pretty cool.

Adventures in Collections Management will be taking a break for Thanksgiving, but we'll return early next week. And word on the street is that we'll be starting up a real, honest to goodness website for this museum-in-development over the break. So I hope I can bring that to you by early December. Have a great holiday weekend, those of you in the US! And everyone else, just have a great weekend!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Friday Whatzit... size?

Or: How Big Is It?

I'm pretty sure everyone is going to know what this is, but this week's mystery is the size of the object. Is it big? Is it small? Is it average? Guess in inches, guess in centimeters, guess in feet, guess in millimeters, I don't care. But go and have a guess at it.

It's a nice autumnal/wintery object, right on cue for American Thanksgiving (which is flying up on us next week already!)

So, here it is:

And yes, this is an accessioned object here at the Museum of Anthropology (our interim name). Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Contaminated Collections

Pesticide residues are a big problem in museum collections. Particularly pesticide residues which remain tenacious over a long period of time - like arsenic.

Back in the day, it was common practice for museums and collectors to "poison" their collections - dipping them in some kind of chemical bath - to keep away the bugs, the rodents, and all manner of creepy crawlies which might eat the organic material in, say, a basket, a mask, or leather objects. It was recommended by the Smithsonian. This was wildly effective - there are many many beautifully preserved objects. To this day student museologists hear tales of small historical societies with volunteers who keep their cache of old pesticides on hand to treat incoming collections. The downside to the practice of poisoning collections is that the poisons which kill the creepy crawlies also tend to have detrimental health effects for humans as well.

This means that, unless museums have absolutely perfect records of the object from the time it was made through to the present day, we need to assume that an object is contaminated. Like this basket.

As I went to make a condition report of this basket, I noticed a white residue. Not exactly crystalline, but grainy and visible to the eye. Arsenic sometimes has this property over time (although I am not a chemist, nor do I play one on TV). But I wasn't taking any chances. I was already wearing my nitrile gloves (although not the brand linked to - we buy powder free gloves), because I am aware that pesticides are a likely issue in the collection. I began wearing a mask when handling this basket as well.

So I have a basket that I think might be contaminated with arsenic. What does it mean? It means that most of the collection is probably contaminated, as it has been moved over the years. But the nature of the residue made me feel that it might be removed by brushing or jostling. I do not wish that, because then there would be free floating contaminants. So I created a custom enclosed box which will help to isolate this basket and any poisonous residues which might be on it. I place a warning on the exterior box so that others are aware of the possible issues with this object.

Now, it's entirely possible that this is not pesticide residue. Maybe the white grains are some sort of paint splatter or old mold growth that looks unfamiliar to me. But I prefer to follow the old adage, better safe than sorry, and be careful.

The National Museum of the American Indian has a very good page of links on this topic, if you would like to know more.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

What was it?

Whatzit answers coming a day late - yesterday was a university holiday for Veteran's Day.

It is a swordfish bill.

I really enjoy our natural history collection, a legacy from an era without collecting policies. I get a kick out of things like our whale ear bones and this swordfish bill which, on the accession list, is called a
"swordfish sword."

I don't know where it was collected, but it was collected around 1924.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Friday Whatzit!

Okay, so I'm posting this on Thursday, but I'm making the bet that you're not going to check your feeds until Friday morning. ;)

I don't have a lot to give away about this object. So, onto the photos!

I guess I have one piece of information - the texture of the object is slightly rough. Oh, and the end bit there had once been glued to the main bit, but no longer is. So, what is it?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Cleaning House

This is a post about everyone's favorite activity: Vacuuming!

Yup, I vacuumed this morning. The collections storage area was sorely in need of some attention. In an ideal world, collections storage areas should probably be vacuumed once a week or once every two weeks. These rooms have not seen the suction power of a HEPA filter machine in about two months.

But I rectified that today, wiping out the tiny dust bunnies growing in the corners and cleaning up some of the tiny scraps of paper that made their way to the floor in the last 8 weeks. And now the floor is relatively clean.

Keeping museum collections spaces clean is very important. It helps to keep pests out and to identify when pests are present. It discourages dust from accumulating in the room and on the object. It is doubly important when collections spaces are not specially designed for collections. This space has door with gaps at the bottom and top and are relatively near exterior double doors through which the strong dusty wind of Ellensburg, WA blows whenever anyone enters or exits. So dust and dirt entering collections areas is a very real concern.

But the space is clean today and I plan to maintain it on a more regular schedule than I had during these past two months.

Monday, November 5, 2007

A Mystery Revealed

Last Friday's Whatzit was nigh impossible. It was a closed box with only the dimensions to guide you.

The consensus of the guesses was that it might be footwear (moccasins, knit socks, Jimmy Hoffa's loafers), but that it could be anything. Not footwear, folks.

They're masks!

From the collection of a former art professor on this campus, this is a pair of Nootka masks. Our documentation shows that there were originally three masks, but the third has not been located for approximately three decades.

These wooden masks are some of the first to be rehoused in anticipation of our future collections move. The custom box is built to fit within a standard bankers box. A layer of foam topped by quilt batting could be laid in the box to prevent shifting during the moving process. The masks sit on custom made pillows sewn from Tyvek and stuffed with polyester quilt batting. The pillows support the masks and keep them from resting exclusively on their edges - this distributes pressure.

Additionally, the boxes create a microenvironment which buffers the masks from the changes in temperature and relatively humidity in our storage areas.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Friday Whatzit

Okay, I know this one is cheating, completely unfair. I know that. But I get a kick out of it and I encourage you to guess anyway.

The question is not so much "Whatzit?" but "What's inside that thing?"

Here's the thing in question:

It's a custom made box, approximately 12" by 15", has a lid, and is about 3" deep. The box is made from archival acid-free, lignin-free cardboard.

But what's inside it? I don't think I'll tell you anything about it. Just this: There are two objects inside this very prettily made box.

All shall be revealed on Monday, but I look forward to your wild guesses. :D

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Orange you glad you know the story?

My home page is BBC News and today I noticed a news article of interest to collections types.

A museum in Staffordshire (UK) was recently presented with a dried out old orange.

Ew, you might say, nasty old fruit. But this orange is 116 years old and tells a poignant story about a mining disaster in 1891. A man had packed his lunch for the day - including this orange - and went to work. There was an explosion and he was fatally wounded, later dying in a hospital. His effects, including his lunch box containing this orange, were returned to the family, who kept them. The orange, over the course of time, dried out and blackened. He never did get to eat it for his lunch.

I'm sure people local to the area knew the story of the mine disaster, but to learn one of the smaller stories, a story that includes a remarkable piece of fruit such as this, makes history somehow more present.

*image borrowed from a google image search

Monday, October 29, 2007

Monday Answers

On Friday I asked you all, Whatzit?

Larissa said she thought it might be a multi-purpose candle holder. And that's close enough for me!

Here's the story: Ellensburg is very near to the Cascades, and very near to a small town called Roslyn. Roslyn was a coal mining town and this object comes out of the coal mines there. My information says it was a miner's candle holder. The point could be driven into a crack in the rock, or it could be hung from a ledge with the hook.

Mining was a huge industry in Roslyn, especially in the early years just before 1900. Even today, as we see on the news all the time, mining is a dangerous industry. Can you imagine what it was like over a hundred years ago? Going down underground with just a couple of candles and these candle holders to light your way as you work in the dark and the dust? It's a scary job, but a job that fueled the railroads which helped to populate the West.

I found this description of miner's candles via Google Image Search. It's a small object, and fairly simple, but important historically.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Friday Whatzit?

Did you notice there was no whatzit last week? I noticed. But I have one this week! And it's an object that I have records on! So it's not one of those cheating Whatzits where I hope you'll tell me what it is. :)

It's a metal object, relatively small.

Blurry photo of a different angle:

It's from North America. And that's all I'm going to tell you about it. Metal, not big, and from North America. So. Whatzit?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Still More Rocking, Still Less Rolling

Can you guess what these are?

Boxes on a cart? Yep! Boxes filled with.... rocks! Specifically projectile points and chipped stone tools.

All those boxes on that cart, yes all of them, are chipped stone pieces from a donation the museum received in the 1950s. The catalog cards read something like "Cigar box of arrowpoints, 200 in box. Found at campsites along the Columbia River." And there are many cards like that. At some point the "arrowpoints" were removed from the boxes they were donated in and put in these white cardboard boxes; I would guess it happened in the mid to late 1970s. And they've been sitting in them since then.

From time to time, people have worked with this collection of chipped stone, recording information about each object, placing it in a bag, and writing a unique object number on the bag. But the objects still remained in these boxes.

I find it difficult to locate things in the boxes, even the ones which have been previously worked over and individually bagged. In light of this, I have asked one of my intrepid volunteers to help me organize these lithics so that they are accessible. And also so we are able to evaluate if the 200 in the cigar box still number 200, or if some have been misplaced over the years. This project will also allow us to bag the loose objects for consistency. Additionally, the individual bags will protect the points from the kind of damage possible in the older storage (ie, a bunch of them in a box). A further benefit is that this project makes the objects more accessible to any researchers interested in working with this unprovenienced collection of lithics.

In the end, this arrangement will be more accessible, better organized, more easily assessed, and will save space.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

An Answer Revealed?

So, what was it?

Kate guessed that it's a weaving tool. This is a really good guess. And for all I know, it might be. It certainly bears some resemblance to descriptions of weaver's combs I've found online (the one linked to does not resemble this object, but it's a starting point, if you're interested). But I can't know if Kate is right.

The museum's records tell me only that this is "Northwest Indian bone comb or fork." These records are incomplete; the donation was purchased decades ago by the museum, after the collector has passed away so the information is incomplete at best. In fact, it's the same collection as the awl from two weeks ago, and it has the same problem.

Personally, I really like this object. And I really wish I knew more about it. Until the time that this collection is researched by experts, we probably won't be able to identify its original purpose.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Whatzit Friday

It's already another Whatzit Friday! I don't know about you guys, but the weeks are just flying by.

So I'm going to be honest with you, I don't know much about this week's object either. It's a bit like the awl of a couple weeks ago, where our records are very very sparse. But, it's a pretty interesting object, and I'd appreciate any insight you might have on it. I'll let you know what my records say early next week.

I apologize for the quality of the images. For these informal pictures, I'm working with a quite old digital camera that only focuses when it wants too - despite my efforts, I could not get an image of the entire object in one frame that wasn't a complete blur.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Rock and roll! Actually, less rolling please.

Look at how shiny all those rocks are! But wait! They're impostors! Those are reproductions! Made from plastic! In the 1970s!

But no need to be all exclamatory. These are the kind of casts commonly used in education collections in museums and archaeology departments across the country. These are very high quality casts, but it is not the way of small museums to have such large Clovis points, or to have authentic Mousterian or Levallois pieces.

You'll note these casts have numbers on them. At some point in the past, these casts were accessioned into the permanent collection. By accessioning these pieces, the museum agreed to hold and preserve these pieces to the best of its ability in perpetuity. Whether or not a set of casts should or should not be held as "museum objects" is not a question we're going to address just yet. But the numbers were applied to show that the object belongs the museum and to give some information about it and to make it unique from the other objects that might look like it. The 21 means that these casts were our 21st accession. The 15 on that one in front means it is the fifteenth object cataloged.

You'll also note that the pieces are just knocking around at the bottom of that box there. Having objects "knocking around" does not mesh with preserving an object in perpetuity. So one of my projects today was to put the casts and their original sleeves in new polypropelyne bags, labeled and organized by catalog number (that's the accession number followed by the object number, or 21-15 for that one in front).

After completing my project, the casts are better protected, more organized, and accounted for.

This is actually a pretty good example of what a collections manager does: Protect, organize, and account for. It just doesn't sound as fun when you say it like that, does it?

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Tuesday answers, and a problem fixed

Whatzit Friday has come and gone, leaving you hungry for answers. Larissa B. guessed that it might have something to do with X-ray protection or could be a tool for flattening. Ana agreed with her. Someone guessing off the blog thought it might be a hanging sign with the signage worn off or a base for hammering on.

Good guesses everyone, but not quite right. It is... drum roll please... a bed warmer! Made of soapstone and collected in Wisconsin around 1930, this object would be heated and placed under the sheets to warm them up on those cold Wisconsin nights. Brrr!

It has been pointed out to me that, in order to comment on this blog, you need to sign into a google account. I have corrected that, and now anyone can comment on this blog, google account or not. I apologize for that oversight; it has been rectified.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Another Whatzit Friday

My my my, what have I got for you today? Well, how's about you tell me.

It's heavy. And, um, rectangular, and um, heavy. The handle-looking-thing is metal and slightly rusted. Whatzit?

Thursday, October 4, 2007


A lot of what I do is about respect. Respecting objects, respecting their histories. This becomes even more important when working with objects made by Native groups. I am not an expert on things, just on how to care for them. Therefore I might not know what is a sacred object and what is not.

I bring this up because, when I take photos of objects to post on this blog, I do not intend to offend anyone. If I inadvertently post an object in a way which is inappropriate, I would like to be notified so that I can rectify the error.

In the meantime, I do my best to identify which objects seem in some way special and which ones were more of the day-to-day variety. And I think it's fairly often clear what falls into which category, but I still worry. There haven't been any comments to precipitate this post, just my continuing desire to maintain appropriate levels of respect for objects.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Tuesday morning answers

The answer to Friday's Whatzit: Awl. Well, an awl from Alaska is what the accession list says (the information written down when we originally acquired the object).

Larissa B. made a good guess of a hair pin. I was thinking along those lines myself; I would have guessed something like a shawl pin.

An awl is an object used to punch holes in things, usually leather. Awls are usually made from a strong, sharp material such as bone or horn. I find it a bit unusual that this awl is so light and made of wood. There is some evidence that it could be an awl - the "pointy" part has a shiny patina on it, as if it were rubbed against something frequently.

The awl will continue to be a mystery to me, at least until someone encounters it and knows the history of this kind of object. But that's part of what makes this job fun. I have the chance to encounter new objects and learn about them. If I don't know what they are, I'll do some research to better understand what it is I'm taking care of.

The mystery presented by objects such as this awl is also why museum people insist on asking so many questions of individuals interested in donating things. Museums are in the business of stories; preserving stories, telling stories, keeping stories. This awl has lost its original story, it's become a mystery. If the awl came to us today, we would ask the owner where they got it, how they got it, what they know about it. We might discover it belonged to the owner's grandmother and was carved by the owner's grandfather to commemorate a friend. We might discover that the awl was used to make the boots which protected the family's feet against the cold. Suddenly the awl would become imbued with a history much greater and much more useful than the mystery that we currently have. But maybe, if we encounter the right person, we'll be able to find a story for the awl yet.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Whatzit Friday!

Oh wowee wow, time sure does fly! It's Friday already! Let's have another round of Whatzit?! Now remember, it's more fun if you guess what it might be in the comments.

This object is made of wood, and is very light. It might be an unfair Whatzit, because I'm not entirely sure I believe what our catalog card says this is. But it's pretty nifty, nonetheless.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Beaded Leather

Whoops! Time sure flies when things get busy. With the start of the school year here at Central Washington University, I've experienced an influx of interested volunteers and interns. This collection has gone from 8 months of no one working with it to having about 7 people working on it (students and me). So far though, we've been working on the exciting, but darned useful, task of transcribing data from our catalog cards into our PastPerfect database. I anticipate moving onto object cataloging by next week.

Instead of taking the time to come up with a fun post for y'all, here's a pretty picture of an object in our collection:

Monday, September 24, 2007

Answers to my question

On Friday I asked you, Whatzit?

Two of you bravely responded: Larissa B. guessed that it might be a fossilized seed pod or some sort of sea shell. Ana guessed that it was a part of a cranium.

Neither of you are exactly right, but Ana's pretty close. The object is question is actually a whale ear bone!

I wish I could tell you more about it than just it's name, but unfortunately, that's about all the information I have. The museum received the whale ear bone as part of it's first accession, which consists of over 600 lots of objects. Some of those lots have a great deal of information about their origins, others do not. The whale ear bone falls in the latter category. If I were to hazard a guess about its origins, I would guess that the donor bought the ear bone from some curiosity shop during his travels in the first half of the twentieth century, but there's really no way to say for certain.

Thanks for playing Whatzit!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Whatzit Friday

One of my favorite activities is learning more about the collection. On more than one occasion I would encounter something and say to myself, What IS that? And I would go to the documentation we have to find out, and sometimes onto Wikipedia and the internet to confirm what the documentation said.

In honor of discovery and learning, I'm going to post pictures each Friday (that's the plan for now, in any case!) of some object that I had to do some work to understand. I'm not going to tell you what it is, not right now. You'll have to wait until Monday to find out the answer. But in the meantime, I encourage you to make your guesses in the comments.

I ran across the object below while I was transferring some of our written information into our database. It's a natural history object, relatively heavy for its size, and hard. Whatzit?

I should let you all know that these are not official museum quality photos - these are some quick snapshots.

Okay, go to it!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Foamy, foamy, foam!

When I went to graduate school for a degree in museology, I learned things I never expected. Like about foam. You know how foam on, say, those headphones from 1987 crumbles right off and is gross and disgusting. That foam is what will call unstable foam.

Appropriate foams for museum purposes are pretty stable. That is, they don't break down as much over time. In fact, we use things that aren't supposed to break down at all, or very very slowly. When materials break down, they release gases which we usually don't notice because they usually don't affect us. But if you put a very fragile old object on materials that break down (like that gross old foam), the gases and acids given off by unstable material can cause the object it's touching to discolor or grow weaker.

My original point was meant to be this: My supply orders are beginning to roll in, and I have some foam!

That's 6 planks of 2" think ethafoam. Useful stuff. Also in the picture are nitrile gloves and an acid free box. But there's more!

Let's see, that's more nitrile gloves, acid-free lignin-free file folders and paper, cotton tying tape, and some good old aluminum foil. Aluminum foil? What's that for?

Well, remember what I said about foam decaying and giving off gases? Wood does that too. A lot of our current storage space is made up of pressed board wood shelves, which is wood plus nasty chemicals. Currently, most shelves have a layer of paper on them on which the objects sit, but it's possible that those gases and unpleasant things released by the wood could migrate right through the paper. So I plan to lay a layer of aluminum foil between the paper and the shelf. Aluminum foil makes a barrier that the gases can't penetrate, at least not so easily. That's the story on aluminum foil!

I'm still waiting on two rolls of 1/8" thick ethafoam, and a roll of acidfree, unbuffered tissue paper. What's unbuffered? Let's save that for another day. And maybe another day I can tell you all about the kinds of foam I know. :D

Monday, September 17, 2007


How do you start a museum collection? Well, someone says "I would like to give you these things" and you say "Okay, I'll take them." And there it begins.

In the case of the museum collection at CWU, the collection began in 1953 with a large donation from a local doctor which runs the gamut from lithics, to natural history material, to coffee grinders. After that, the donations were pretty quiet until the 1970s when an effort was made to become a museum.

In the 1970s, many donations were made to the museum, and an exhibition space was created. A professional museologist (their term!) was brought on board to maintain collections, exhibits, and the museum studies program. Sadly, around 1980, budget cuts resulted in the loss of the museologist position and the museum more or less shut down. The collections remained. Over the next 20 years, efforts were made from time to time to revitalize the museum, but none came to full fruition. In the past decade or so, the collections were cared for by one of the professors and his wife, who served as volunteer curator.

I was brought on in August as part of a bigger plan for the museum. Renovations in one of the buildings on campus will provide us with a dedicated exhibition space and a collections space with more climate control then we currently have now. It is my task to ready the collections for a move to this new facility. This includes everything from writing up new policy and forms, to putting official paperwork in order, to making sure the collections are housed in ways which will keep them as stable as possible for as long as possible. And that's the short version of the story as I've discovered it. I understand that a longer version is in the works for the official museum site (which I will, of course, link to when we get it ready to roll).

It's really very exciting. While the collection has been cared for and documented over the years, I can find areas where we can improve on the care and documentation. By doing this, we'll make the collection useful to potential researchers (students, faculty, visiting scholars) and we'll have a really cool collection to use as a base for exhibitions in the new museum space. I hope you'll follow the journey.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Adventures in Collections Management!

You remember how Indiana Jones worked for a museum?* Well, I work for one too! Except that I don't travel the world and fight Nazis. But I do think my job is pretty exciting.

I am the Collections Manager for the Anthropology collections at Central Washington University. Although we don't currently have formal exhibition spaces, we will be moving into a brand new collections space and exhibition space inside of the next two years. That means there's a lot of work to do before we're ready to move!

What does a collections manager do? Many things. A collections manager is responsible for maintaining physical and intellectual control of museum collections. What does that mean? It means I need to know where our stuff is, if it's our stuff, and I need to ensure that the collection is cared for in a way which will keep it around as long as possible. That's the short version. I think you'll get an idea of the longer version over time.

So, wanna see it? Just a peek, a quick peek for today.

*Okay, fine. He was a professor of archaeology, but he was very concerned with the museum, adventuring and fighting Nazis for it. At the very least he mentions a museum at one point.