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).