Northern States Conservation Center

Providing collection care, preservation and conservation treatment services to collectors and collecting institutions.

Collections Caretaker

Collections Caretaker (November 20, 2010)
November 20, 2010
Northern States Conservation CenterNorthern States Conservation Center
The Collections Caretaker e-Newsletter
In This Issue
New in 2011
Snakes and Donuts
Connecting to Collections
Conservation Assessment Program
Upcoming Classes

Jan 24, 2011
MS 008: Buy In: Getting Staff to Support Preservation

New in 2011

Next year's museumclasses.
org courses include three new classes covering exhibits topics, three new classes of interest to those with art on paper or archives, a course on gift shop management, a course on poisons in museums, and a new set of security professional certification courses that expand on the overviews we provide in our basic security course. We are also offering three new courses for NATHPO participants. In all, we are adding 13 courses to our line-up for 2011. We hope you enjoy them!

MS228: Care of Paper Artifacts

MS234: Archives Management

MS233: Matting and Framing

MS254: Museum Shop Management for Small Museums

MS255: Dangerous Materials: Chemical Poisons in Collections

MS257: Creating Interactive Exhibits

MS258: Museum Exhibitions on a Dime

MS238: Design and Construction of Exhibit Mounts

MS304: Security I - Certified Institutional Protection Specialist

MS305: Security II - Certified Institutional Protection Specialist


NA214: Collection Management Databases

NA107: Introduction to Museum Security

NA256: Establishing a Tribal Museum
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Northern States Conservation Center

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About Us

Welcome to the Collections Caretaker e-Newsletter from Northern States Conservation Center. It is designed to bring you timely and helpful content that is pertinent to situations we all encounter in our museum and archives work. Feel free to let us know what topics you would like to see featured in Collections Caretaker or even contribute an article.
10% off all 2011 Courses
From November 15 through December 15, 2010, receive 10% off on any 2011 class purchased from
The complete 2011 class list is now available.

Limited Offer

Tri Rod
Tri-rod is used to make snakes and donuts as well.
backer rod
Backer rod makes snakes and donuts.


Snakes and Donuts
               by Helen Alten

Collection storage mounts can be simple and fast to make. The simplest, and most widely applicable, are snakes and donuts.

Snakes are long, thin rods or pillows. Donuts are those same materials formed into a circle. Snakes pad textile folds, or separate items in storage. They work especially well for long, thin items such as flutes and canes. When joined at the ends to make ovoid pockets they are perfect supports for small to medium ship models. Donuts keep round bottomed pots in place, encircle small items in box compartments, or support the sides and interiors of baskets.

Different materials can be used to make snakes and donuts.  The three most common are (1) backer rod
, (2) tri-rod (a backer rod) and (3) 2-inch cotton stockinette stuffed with polyester batting.

Backer rod is made from polyethylene foam, both closed cell and open cell. It is sold for home insulating to fill cracks. Backer rod usually has a round cross-section. One variation developed for log homes, known as tri-rod, has a triangular cross-section. Another variant, called Grip Strip, is trapezoidal in cross-section. It's not widely known in museums (yet). Polyethylene backer rod is usually charcoal gray. Some round backer rod and all tri-rod are white. Closed cell polyethylene foams are usually preferred over open cell polyethylene foams for long-term storage.

Polyethylene foam melts at high temperatures. This property makes it possible to create complex supports with backer rod or tri-rod without using adhesive. A paint stripper hot air gun, available from a hardware store, is hot enough to melt the foam so it can be joined to itself to form a ring. For rings, an angle cut makes for a stronger join than a straight cut across the material. Note that a hair dryer does not get hot enough to melt polyethylene foam.

The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) used tri-rod during its collection move.  Bead bumpers were one example of its use. The Logan Museum at Beloit College, used backer rod supports for round bottomed ceramics during its last storage upgrade.  NMAI also used tri-rod and round backer rod for pottery ring supports. Their article shows how the round backer rod is cut on an angle, for a less stressful join. Note that NMAI used hot glue to join the foams.  This isn't necessary. Hot glue is an additional cost and additional material that can age and potentially damage items. Using hot air to join polyethylene foam is less expensive, faster and cleaner.

Cotton stockinette comes in a range of sizes. The 2 inch diameter (5 cm) is most useful for making snakes, donuts and other supports such as padded hangers.  50/50 cotton/polyester stockinette may be substituted for the all-cotton stockinette, which is harder to find. Available from medical suppliers, the cotton stockinette is filled with needle-punched polyester quilt batting for a soft snake.  Cut the batting to width, then fold or roll it and slide the stockinette over the batting.  Scrunching the stockinette up between the thumbs and forefingers of both hands, similar to a lady putting on a stocking, makes it easier to put the stockinette onto the rolled batting and then pull it into place. The ends of the stockinette can be tucked (easiest), knotted, or sewn (hardest) shut. Knotted ends might damage some artifacts, and should be used judiciously. The Logan Museum used stockinette snakes between objects packed to move. The NMAI made a variant, using tyvek and polyethylene beads to make clean "sand bag" snakes that lay between objects.

Once learned, using these simple support mounts becomes a fast way to preserve your collection in storage, exhibit or during a move.

The Logan Museum Collections Accessibility Project: Phase III
The National Museum of the American Indian Move Project
Moving the Mountain, Science Museum of Minnesota
Moving the Museum, Spurlock Museum

Helen Alten, is the Director of Northern States Conservation Center and its chief Objects Conservator. For nearly 30 years she has been involved in objects conservation, storage upgrades, and staff training. Her degree in Archaeological Conservation and Materials Science from the Institute of Archaeology at the University of London in England gave her an understanding of a wide range of materials and how they deteriorate and can be conserved. She has built and run conservation laboratories in Bulgaria, Montana, Greece, Alaska, Minnesota and West Virginia.
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Connecting to Collections
December 15 Grant Deadline for Statewide Initiatives

Using the procedures and goals set out in earlier planning grants as a blueprint for their work, statewide applicants must demonstrate how their planning process evolved and developed, and how the proposed project addresses findings of that planning process. Awards of up to $250,000 will be made to projects that can serve as models for states that have begun their own planning process, helping other institutions achieve the recommendations of the Heritage Health Index through an appropriate and achievable plan for action.

Five Statewide Implementation Grants have already been awarded - in California, Connecticut, Delaware, North Carolina, and Rhode Island. To

In large states, online training paired with on-site workshops is an excellent way to get the most training to the largest group of people. These $250,000, two-year projects are a perfect way to bring online training and on-site workshops to all the museums, libraries and archives in your state, to meet your area's needs.
The Conservation Assessment Program
Deadline January 21, 2011

The Conservation Assessment Program (CAP) is a federal grant administered by Heritage Preservation for the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Applying is easy and grants area awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. The small grant provides funds to bring a conservator to your site to assess your collection and assist you in establishing care priorities. If you are in an historic building, the grant will pay for an architect and a conservator. Once you have an assessment, you can use the report to apply for other grants to address the needs identified in the report. The assessment visit often serves as a way to educate staff and board members on the needs of the collection and the importance of good care.

CAP provides small to mid-sized museums of all types, from art museums to zoos, with a general conservation assessment of their collections, environmental conditions, and facilities. Forms for applying to CAP are now available at An online form version of the application is also available, at The postmark deadline for submitting applications is midnight, January 21, 2011.

Program participants may start planning their assessments as early as January 1, 2011, making it possible for museums to get feedback on their collections and historic structures without delay. For more information, call Sara Gonzales, CAP Coordinator at 202-233-0831 or 202-233-0800 or email

Heritage Preservation's CAP is supported through a cooperative agreement with the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Northern States Conservation Center (NSCC) provides training, collection care, preservation and conservation treatment services. NSCC offers online museum studies classes at in Collections Management & Care, Museum Administration & Management, Exhibit Practices and Museum Facilities Management.
Helen Alten, Director
Brad Bredehoft, Sales and Technology Manager

P.O. Box 8081, St. Paul, MN 55108   Phone: (651) 659-9420

© 2002 Northern States Conservation Center

Updated 11 May 2002