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