Monday, December 29, 2008

Winter Wonderland

I took this photo on December 19th:
Winter Wonderland at CWU

I could barely step outside without breaking into Winter Wonderland. There was a heavy frost on all the trees and the snow literally sparkled. It's not quite as magical now, but there has been snow over the holiday break. In fact, I just got back from a few days break for the holiday. All the students are still away, but I found that a mysterious visitor had left gifts for me while I was gone.

Boxes and foam

200+ cardboard boxes and 4 rolls of packing foam! I hope I ordered enough.... We have about 3000 objects to pack if you don't count the chipped stone (which should be okay moving in the drawers it currently lives in). Fingers crossed and away we go!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

End of the Quarter

Life around here is marked by the academic calendar. Last Friday was the last day of instruction, which makes this week Finals week. Last Friday also marked the last Annual Holiday Party the Anthropology Department will host here in Farrell Hall. Over the next few weeks, the Department will be moving over to the new Dean Hall.

Penny, the department secretary, snapped a few photos of the celebration decorations before they were taken down this week. I thought I'd share our holiday cheer! (click to see larger versions)

Holiday Decorations
Holiday Decorations
Holiday Decorations

Thursday, December 4, 2008

It's here!

Today was the Dean Hall re-dedication ceremony. Although we won't be moving the collection until late March, it is good to see the building springing to life. Most excitingly, for me, was my glimpse of the storage room. With compactor storage!
Dean Hall Compactor Storage
The installation isn't yet complete - they will be putting facings on the units so they can be moved by hand crank. My first impression is that these units are HUGE. It's like walking through a 24' long canyon, moving between the rows of shelves.

We'll really be able to give the collection room to breathe and room to grow.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Seeing the unseen

If you've been reading this blog for a while, I think you've come to understand that I am very particular about how objects are stored and supported. You've seen the bulky white foam and the specialized cardboard supports. But what about when objects are in galleries? They aren't (usually) encased in cardboard and foam. But, I assure you, we collections managers and conservators are still very particular about how objects are supported, even when on view.

The National Museums Liverpool blog has a nice post about exhibit supports and an even nicer flickr photo set of the process. Even though I work behind the scenes, I still love to see behind the scenes at other places. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Tips and Techniques Thursday: Support for Objects with Round Bottoms

So much for succinct blog post titles, eh? In the spirit of weekly features which may or may not be posted every week, I present to you Tips and Techniques Thursday. As museum activity accelerates (we move at the end of March), we're working to stabilize objects prior to packing.

Bucket support project

This week I worked on housing two buckets with rounded bottoms. The rounded bottoms mean that they can wobble as they sit on the shelf, potentially impacting other objects, but also putting pressure on a limited number of areas on the bottom. Meaning that some parts of the bottom could become more worn than others. So what to do about it?

You will need:
-A foam knife
-A safe cutting surface
-A hot glue gun and glue sticks
-Foam tri rod

Step one: Using an appropriate length of tri-rod foam, cut several triangle insets a couple of inches apart. Form into a ring to see if more cut insets are necessary.
Bucket support project

Step two: Using the hot glue gun, form the rod into a ring and glue the ends together. Hold the ends together for half a minute or so; the rod wants to return to a straight form, so holding it is important.
Bucket support project

Step three: If there is glue extruding at the join, trim it off or cover it with a piece of tyvek. Set object on ring.
Bucket support project

Now the pressure is evenly distributed along the bottom edge of the bucket, and it is less likely to wobble and impact other objects. I borrowed this method from the National Museum of the American Indian.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Answer: November 8, 2008 Whatzit

So I asked you all on Friday what this thing was:
Whatzit 11.7.2008

Four of you responded and all were close, or right! It is, indeed, 3.5" diskette holder. Remember them?

Don't see them as often these days, and most new computers don't even come with a drive for them. But the museum has some.

We're preparing for the first wave of moving, which involves the removal of all filing cabinets to be repainted. When I started here, I went through the office and filled the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet with what I called "Obsolete Technology." This included a bunch of 3.5" floppies, a Jaz drive, and several Jaz disks. As I cleaned out my filing cabinet last week, I decided it was time to see if I could recover any information from those disks (none labeled later than 2002, which in tech years is an eternity).

First I had to hunt for a 3.5" disk drive. Once found, I discovered that half of the disks had been corrupted. Then I hooked up the Jaz drive to a desktop computer and was completely unable to get Windows XP to recognize the Jaz drive. Suggestions regarding how I could get the computer to recognize a Jaz drive are welcome.

So, at the end of several hours, I had about 20 photos of students working in 2001 that I had not had before. I also had a valuable lesson in information management. So much of what we do these days is done electronically, but digital recording mediums can become incompatible or obsolete in a relatively short span of time. Today, I am not burning information to cds, which are fragile and scratchable; instead, our data gets backed up to the server and we use an external drive which is stored off campus as a secondary back up. Is it infallible? No. But it does the job for today. Still, I trust our paper records to last longer than our electronic ones.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Whatzit: November 7, 2008

It's Friday! Whatzit time! You know the drill: I show you a picture, you guess what the object is/is for. This time, I confess, I am cheating a little. This is not an object from our permanent collection; this is an object I came across while cleaning my office. I'll post about something related next week.

On to the photos!
Whatzit 11.7.2008

It's made of teak. The top rolls back. And there are little pads on the bottom.
Whatzit 11.7.2008

So.... What is it?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

A mask from the collection - from Mexico. Possibly a Moros y Cristianos mask, and probably not a Guy Fawkes mask like I thought it might be initially. Although V will probably continue to be a popular costume this year.

Have a happy and safe Halloween weekend, however you celebrate.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Box building time

It's busy busy busy here at the nascent Museum of Culture and Environment. Lots going on and lots in the pipeline. But today I am going to build some boxes and house some objects. First on the list: Russian religious icons.

Image on a wooden backing, with a copper overlay. The back is covered with an orange velvet. The velvet and the relatively small size of this icon suggest to me that this might be the sort of icon that one carried along during one's travels. There are five Russian religious icons in the collection; each one has its own specific needs for storage. So off I go!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Fun for Friday

I think the usual image of museums in the public eye is as stiff and rigid and dusty. And in many ways, it's true. Museums hold to a code of conduct and very particular professional standards about object care. But we have a sense of humor, just like everyone else. Sometimes, we even watch the fake news on Comedy Central. And sometimes, we accept donations from Stephen Colbert.

Mystery Box Revealed

Remember that box from the other day? Were you curious about what was in it?

Ethiopian Goat Skin Sandal

Four words: Ethiopian Goat Skin Sandals.

Ethiopian goat skin sandals which were once the home of an astounding number of pests, judging by the number of tiny molted bug skins I removed from the nooks and crannies of the sandals with tweezers. To be honest, it was pretty gross. I took a photo of the pile of moltings I removed from just one sandal. And possibly not all of them.

Bug carcasses

Icky, huh? I was glad to find that, despite all of the moltings, I didn't find anything that looked live.

In other news, the US election is coming up pretty soon. Voter registration in Washington State ends in a few days. If you haven't registered yet, go do it! And then vote! This has been a non-partisan message from your friendly civil servant.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Freezers: Not just for freezing food anymore

The museum has a freezer. In fact, we're going to get a bigger and better freezer in our new facility, but this little freezer is doing okay for the time being.
Pest Freezing

Um, okay, so we have a freezer. That's kind of boring. But why does a museum have a freezer? For hoarding microwave dinners and popsicles? No! For Integrated Pest Management!

Some bugs eat the kinds of things we keep in museums: fur, leather, paper, glue, horn, pretty much anything. But spraying collections with chemicals can be bad for the objects, not to mention the staff, so most museums use an IPM approach. IPM tries to be environmentally friendly and use methods other than pesticides to control potential infestations. And one of those methods is freezing (.pdf).

Freezing an object once will kill many pests. Freezing an object twice will kill most larvae/eggs. And that's what I did recently - sent this mystery box through a freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw cycle.
Pest Freezing

The box is wrapped in two layers of plastic sheeting and masking tape. The barriers should prevent condensation from occurring on the object (which is Not Good) - condensation should instead occur on the outside of the barrier. And not all objects should be frozen either. Anything painted, metal, glass, and teeth are among the objects which should not be treated in this manner.

But what's in the box? Well, I'll get to that on Friday - I think this post is getting long enough.

PS: I've spruced up the sidebar with some new widgets. What do you think? If you know of some great widget (or better ones than I've found), let me know!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Fall is here!
Fall is here

The Museum finally has a website! I've been mentioning a website since last fall, and it is here. It may not be the the shiniest, most modern website, but it gets the job done! Check it out!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Green is the new black!

Dean Hall is on track to be LEED certified. So when NPR's All Things Considered profiled the California Academy of the Sciences as the world's greenest museum, it caught my attention. Check it out!

New Renovation Photos!

Last week Friday, I had chance to tour Dean Hall a second time with the Anthropology Department. The last time I toured was in May, and a lot of progress has been made since then. It’s very very exciting to see the spaces really coming together.

Apologies for the photos – taking photos into dark spaces with flash and, apparently, a dusty lens makes it appear that it was raining in the building. I assure you, it was not.

This is part of the museum work area. Such a nice long work area with storage. There will be more shelves along the walls and tables in the middle to work at, as well.
Museum work space

This is my favorite part. This space is the collections storage room. The runners in the floor will support our compactor storage units. At the left of the image is part of the large structural column that also lives in our storage space. It’ll be a challenge to work around, but no more so than the challenges our current spaces present.
Collections storage space

The overhead lights in the work space. Don’t they look big and bright? The alcove in the background is created by the entry way into the collections space – our loading bay, essentially.
Workspace lighting

That’s all for the museum space, but the rest of the building is coming along well too. The upper floors are more complete. This is the third floor student area. Lots of light, and a great view onto campus.
Third floor student study area.

And your standard issue hallway.
A third floor hallway

We also got to go out on the roof. They’ve built a small teaching area up there. These pipes also come out of the building up there – they look very futuristic and just cool.
The roof

Oh yeah, and the view’s not bad either. I can’t believe the trees are starting to turn. Fall is here!
View from the roof

There are more photos in Flickr!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Whatzit Answer: 9/19/2008

Last Friday's Whatzit garnered two guesses: A silly guess (my apologies, Jeff, if this answer was sincere) that the object in question is a decorative figleaf, and a more serious guess (thank you, May) that the object is a pincushion.

Whatzit - 9.19.2008

I would agree with May, that the practical use of this object was as a pincushion, although I might also imagine that it was simply hung on the wall. In our database, however, we call it neither a pincushion or a wall hanging; it's a whimsey.

Yes, whimsey, as in whimsical, fanciful, fun, silly. Produced by tribes of the northeast, often Iroquois or Mohawk, whimseys were popular between 1890 and 1930, often sold at craft fairs or, notably, to tourists at Niagara Falls. Whimseys were produced in many shapes and styles. The whimsey in Friday's post is known as a trilobe heart, but the boot was also a very popular style. We have many examples of whimseys in our collection.

An essay on Iroquois beadwork is available here, and images of many more whimsies are available here.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Friday Whatzit! 9/19/2008

I'm back! I have a lot to talk about, but not right now. Now is time for another edition of everyone's favorite guess-that-object game: Whatzit?!

Here's today's mystery object:
Whatzit - 9.19.2008
It has a lot of beads...

Whatzit - 9.19.2008
Is firm, but not hard...

Whatzit - 9.19.2008
And has an undecorated side...

So... Whatzit? Answers coming early next week.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

And the beat goes on

Well, I am back from vacation. It was delightful and I got to see lots of natural beauty, some interesting museums, amazing petroglyphs, and lots of great American kitsch. But September is here, and I guess that means a return to reality. And with reality, comes mystery.

I have the object pictured below and I have no idea what it is. It reminds me of something my grandmother had with her sewing supplies, but I don't have a clue about how to start searching the internet to find a name for it. Do you have any idea? It's made of a light wood, with a structure that reminds me of bamboo.
Unidentifed object

And look what else I found upon my return to work! A great big spider. I think it's a Hobo spider. I saw two in two days. One here at work, and one in my apartment. *shudder* I'm not a huge fan of big, venomous spiders.
Big spider
I'm not actually concerned about seeing one here at work because these spiders usually live outside, I didn't find it in a collections area, and spiders rarely pose a threat to collections. Spiders, if they are living in collections areas, are more likely to be a monitor that will let you know there may be other pests in your collections. Still, I'll be happy enough not to run into one of these guys again this year.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Summer Vacation

Adventures in Collection Management will be quiet for the next couple of weeks as I go embark upon some vacation adventures.

I've spent today getting things in order: Cleaning up the work room, picking up and vacuuming the collections rooms, returning my library books. I've spent some time during this past week reading up on Columbia River Basketry and am now much more informed on the subject than I used to be. Reading about how time consuming basket making is and how vital baskets were to life in eastern Washington gave me an entirely new appreciation of the many baskets in our collection. The book linked above, Mary Dodds Schlick's Columbia River Basketry: Gift of the Ancestors, Gift of the Earth is an engaging read, and accessible. I would recommend it to any looking for an introduction to the baskets of this region.

See you at the end of the month!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Quiet Summer

August! Already!

Summer is a time for getting things done. We've put in a lot of time getting a website ready. The text is written, the photos are burned to cd, the cd has been handed off to our web guru. If all goes according to plan, the museum should have its first official public-facing web presence by the end of September. It's not going to be anything groundbreaking, not at first, but it is exciting for us to take these steps. I am absolutely, positively going to give you a heads up when the website is up.

Eastside Cascades/Interior Salish Basket

See that basket? It's one of two baskets chosen to be a part of the website header. This basket represents the kind of baskets used on the east side of the Cascades and by Interior Salish speaking people. This kind of basket was often used for picking huckleberries or root gathering. We chose baskets to be part of the header because baskets are not only beautiful objects, but also speak to the mission of the museum. Baskets were usually constructed from natural local materials for the purpose of gathering and storing natural materials. For a museum focused on the complex interaction between people and the environment, baskets of this type can tell many stories.

This basket will also, likely, be the first object profiled on the website as a "Highlight of the Collection." But first I need to do more research on it, so I can better tell its story.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Fragile objects

There are many fragile objects in this collection - feathers, beading, paper mache masks, broken glass bottles - but there are some objects that make me nervous just looking at them. This partially reconstructed bowl is one of them:

Repaired pot

Repaired pot

Repaired pot

My best guess is that this bowl or pot was never a whole object in the collection. There was a donation of thousands of pottery sherds received in the 1970s, and I think the pieces making up this bowl came from that donation. This bowl is one of the objects which lacks any documentation. There is no number written on it, which is the primary way in which I can match an object to its records. Fortunately, this type of pottery is a very small percentage of our collection, so I can make some educated guesses about its history.

I believe that these pieces came to the museum in pieces and were reconstructed as a student project. In many areas, one can see the glue seeping through the cracks and yellowing.
Repaired pot

Most of the repairs seem reasonably secure, and I was able to lift it, but it makes me very very nervous to breath within a couple of feet of it. So what is going to happen to this bowl/pot? For the time being, it will be recorded as an undocumented object - an object that we might be able to find information on later, but don't have it right now - and taken care of as best we can. Deciding how to house it so it can be moved to a new facility will certainly be a challenge!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Crystal Skulls and Glass Flooring

It's a quiet week here - I'm spending a lot of time processing digital photos for the database. We're also making headway in designing an actual website for the museum. This isn't an official date, but we're hoping to get it online by late August.

In the meantime, I keep up with museum news and blogs while I eat lunch, and two items caught my eye today.

More of the "crystal skulls" are forgeries. There was a big hullabaloo right about the time that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was released over one of the famous crystal skulls being fake. The revelation that it was a forgery prompted other institutions with crystal skulls to begin close investigation. And this article reveals that the skulls in the British Museum and the Smithsonian both have evidence of modern manufacture. Sorry, Indy.

The Brooklyn Museum is reflooring its Court. Way more interesting than it sounds. This blog post from the Brooklyn Museum shows how they are saving and re-creating a very cool glass floor in their popular Court. Lots of neat images of original floorplans and the undertaking to save the floor. Check it out!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Back to work!

Here in the US, we're coming back to work after a long weekend. I've got a list of projects to tackle this week which include processing some objects which had not been cataloged or photographed, some database cleanup, and some filing. In the meantime, here are some photos of the new building, coming along nicely. I may have mentioned this, but the museum will not be occupying the entire building; instead, it will have a nice suite of spaces on the first floor. The Anthropology and Geography departments will make up much of the upper floors.

As always, click through for larger images.
The addition to the front of the building is coming along very nicely.
Dean Hall July 1, 2008

The bottom floor walls have been put up.
Dean Hall July 1, 2008

It's quite a dry region here; you can see what the grass would look like if it wasn't watered regularly (most of the campus is).
Dean Hall July 1, 2008

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Whatzit Answer: 6/20/2008

Whoops! I didn't mean Thursday when I told you that the answer to last week's Whatzit would be revealed early this week.


There were two excellent guesses as to what this strange contraption might be: A clothes drier or wringer, or a paper or cardboard crimper. Both are close in their own way: This contraption is a fluting iron.

A fluting iron was used to put crimps, pleats, or ruffles into petticoats in days of yore. So it has both to do with laundry and crimping - half points to both guessers. Most fluting irons were not so fancy as this hand crank model - they usually had a ridged base and a ridged curved handheld top part. This particular fluting iron is from right here in Ellensburg, WA and is part of the oldest and most diverse collection in the museum. It's exact history is not known, but one can easily imagine the pioneer families of the Kittitas Valley ordering a fluting iron from the city to bring a little bit of luxury to their lives.

You can see many kinds of historic irons in North Dakota State University's Emily P. Reynolds Historic Costume Collection.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Science Friday!

I listen to NPR here at work quite a bit. Right now it's Talk of the Nation Science Friday, one of my favorite shows. There are two gentlemen from the Getty Conservation Institute discussing art conservation and the agents of deterioration. Should be quite interesting.

Podcasts are available, and this segment is running at the beginning of the second hour. Check it out if you want to learn more about preserving and conserving from some very experienced folks.

June 20, 2008 - Whatzit?

Oh boy have I got a good whatzit for you today! At least I think so. Check it out (click to view larger version):


It's metal, you can turn the hand crank which causes the two rollers to turn, and it's a pretty sturdy little machine. There's a small tab in front that can move back and forth adjusting... something.

From the back:

There are a few more photos, including of the text on the object, in our Flickr stream. Take a look at them, then come back here and give me your best guess on this mystery machine. All will be revealed early next week.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Summer Daze

I've been doing computer work for the past couple days and my eyes hurt from staring at the screen. But it's all for a good cause. Projects underway include making a list of objects we have records for but no recent inventory of, figuring out how many chipped stone pieces we have (answer: about 6500), cleaning up the database, and some good old data entry.

I'm off to give my eyes a rest and work on a couple of issues that cropped up during the chipped stone count. I leave for you a completely unrelated image of small carved whale toggles - photographed and cataloged in 2007.

Carved whale pieces

I'll be back tomorrow with the first Whatzit of summer!

Monday, June 9, 2008

School's out!

"Intellectual control" is a huge concept in museums. It's not to be confused with intellectual property which also happens to be very important. Intellectual control means that a museum can account for its objects, their history, their ownership, and so on and so forth. It's knowing where objects came from and where they are and if they should stay where they are. (By the way, if there are museum professionals out there with a better definition of intellectual control, please share.)

When I came to this museum, I was happy to find that a good level of intellectual control had been established over most of the collection - most objects have numbers which relate them to donors, and the database allows most objects to be easily located.

box of rocks

But nothing's perfect. There are several boxes of rocks, like the one above, mostly geologic specimens and fossil leaf impressions, which have escaped cataloging for the most part. Over the past week or so, I've been working in one of the store rooms beginning to sort out these specimens. I've set up a mobile command center at which I can sit and listen to my local NPR news station while I catalog, measure, and photograph these objects.

makeshift office

I'll be honest; these rocks are a challenge. Many of them have duplicate numbers. That is, they have the same catalog number as a different sort of object entirely. Some of them were labeled with a number on a sticker and the sticker has fallen off. It's my task to figure out how to identify these objects in our records. Before I make that decision, I am determining the extent of the duplicate issue. The two primary options that I see at this time are to 1) add a letter after the catalog number (duplicate 8-57 might become 8-57G (G for geology?)), or 2) assign new numbers which would come after the last catalog number for the accession. Both seem plausible. Option 2 seems reasonable given that most of the labels are not applied directly - they're on stickers which are falling off already.

No matter what I ultimately decide to do (and I am open to opinions and alternatives), I am going to document the heck out of it. Part of intellectual control is knowing the history of the object to the greatest extent possible. So if 8-57 is reassigned the number 8-514, for example, I would record that on both the paper catalog card which exists, and in our PastPerfect database. This way future collections managers will be able to avoid potential confusion.

On the flip side of the duplicate number issue is the missing objects issue. Going through these boxes have revealed many objects which were earlier unrecorded in the database and had been presumed missing. So for these objects, it's a happy ending straight away!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Maya objects?

The museum has a handful of what may or may not be Mayan artifacts. Or maybe Aztec. The transfer documents say Aztec. Pictured below are a cylinder seal and a figural whistle (click on them to see larger versions). Problem is, I don't know much about these artifacts. And I would like to know more. Can anyone out there in internet-land recommend a good resource on Mayan and/or Aztec ceramics? Bonus points if it addresses the issue of reproductions and fakes, since this is a distinct possibility.

Mayan artifacts?
That orange pigment appears to be much more modern than the rest of the object.

Mayan artifacts?
Although I am not a subject expert, the markings on this cylinder do not look like the Maya hieroglyphs with which I am familiar, but the overall look of the piece is aged.

Even if it turns out that some or all of our Mayan/Aztec/unknown pieces are fakes and reproductions, they are very neat and may have some useful value as "antique fakes" (which is a term I just made up, meaning reproductions from several decades ago).