Northern States Conservation Center

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

Collections Caretaker

Collections Caretaker (September 30, 2011)
September 30, 2011  
Northern States Conservation CenterNorthern States Conservation Center

The Collections Caretaker e-Newsletter

Protecting Staff and Collections     
In This Issue
The Aesthetic and Protective Nature of Framing
Pesticide Contamination and Museums
Human Health and Safety after a Disaster
Regional Workshops
Upcoming Classes


October 3, 2011:


MS 101: Introduction to Museums  


MS 106: Exhibit Fundamentals: Ideas to Installation  


MS 205/6: Disaster Plan Research and Writing  


MS 210: Integrated Pest Management for Museums, Libraries and Archivess 


MS 214: Collection Management Databases   


MS 215: Care of Archaeological Artifacts From the Field to the Lab  


MS 222: Care of Photographs 


MS 224: Care of Leather and Skin Materials  


MS 233: Matting and Framing   


MS 255: Dangerous Materials: Chemical Poisons in Collections


MS 302: Fundraising for Collections Care

October 10, 2011:


MS 012: Keeping Small Animals on Exhibit    


October 17, 2011:


MS 010: Condition Assessments


MS 011: Gallery Guides

November 7, 2011:


MS 204: Materials for Storage and Display   


MS 212: Care of Textiles   


MS 218: Collection Inventories   


MS 225: Care of Baskets 


MS 234: Archives Management 


MS 242: Museum Microclimates  


November 14, 2011:


MS 007: The Mission Statement: Is it really that important?     


MS 211: Preservation Environments 

The Aesthetic and Protective Nature of Framing
by Susan Duhl

Matting and framing provides both protective and aesthetic contributions to works on paper. Matting and framing is usually used for 'flat' works on paper, such as documents, drawings, prints, and watercolors. However, three-dimensional works, like folding fans or composite collages, are aesthetically and physically reinforced by frames.


Using standard-sized mats, frames, and storage containers (such as bins and/or boxes)  streamlines storage and reduces costs. Use standard-sized frames  to rotate works to be exhibited, minimizing the number of frames to be purchased. Not all works should be popped in and out of standard-sized frames. Some items may need to remain framed (such as those in original historic frames).


Matting and framing can be done in-house or sent to a framer. Some standard-sized mats and frames may be purchased through conservation suppliers.

Microclimates  and Materials 

The inside of the frame creates a micro-climate that can either improve or damage a sensitive work on paper. (This is also true inside a 'housing' or 'enclosure,' such as folders and boxes, used in paper storage). Avoid materials that could add damaging fumes or other problems inside this enclosed environment. 


Good quality materials, such as rag mat boards, significantly improve the long-term preservation of framed items. Similarly, appropriate hinging, and ultraviolet filtering glazing help improve long-term preservation of framed works.     

Conservation quality rag mats are made from 100% rag or alpha cellulose fibers. Boards are commonly made alkaline, or buffered, to approximately pH 8.3. The alkaline pH buffers acidic deterioration. Alkaline mats are recommended for most works on paper with the exception of photographs, blue prints, and silks. Use neutral (pH 7.0 - 7.5) mats for these alkaline-sensitive collection materials.


Poor quality framing materials physically and chemically damage works on paper.  Acids in low quality mats and wood backing materials leach and emit gasses that deteriorate and discolor paper.


Window Mats 

Window mats separate the artwork from the frame glazing. The space created, between the paper and the glazing, protects sensitive paper from condensation and physical damage.

Hinges and photo-corners, made of the correct materials and properly adhered, protect the paper from problems that could result from the paper's expected expansion and contraction with climate changes.  


Excerpt from MS233: Matting and Framing taught by Susan Duhl.


Susan Duhl is an Art Conservator in private practice specializing in art on paper and archival collections. Susan completed her Master of Art degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Art Conservation from the State University College at Buffalo Art Conservation Program. She is a Professional Associate of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works (AIC) and founding member of the Art Conservators Alliance. 
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Welcome to the Collections Caretaker e-Newsletter from Northern States Conservation Center. The newsletter 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.
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Pesticide Contamination and Museums

by Nancy Odegaard   


For more than a century, chemical poisons have been applied to museum collections to prevent them from being damaged by insects, rodents, and other pests. These poisons, known as pesticides, include herbicides, which kill plants, fungicides, which kill molds, and various other substances. They have been used to prevent, destroy, repel, or mitigate pests. Under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), federally recognized American Indian tribes can take back certain items from museums and federal agencies. Many of these cultural items have been contaminated with pesticides. Because these items are being handled and used in traditional ways, pesticide contamination is an urgent and serious concern. In addition, pesticide contamination can be an influential factor for tribes when deciding whether to repatriate certain items through NAGPRA. Also, pesticides have been routinely used in game mounts. Many museums have, for example, mounted deer, elk, or buffalo on display that may have been contaminated with arsenic or other pesticides harmful to people.  


What are Pesticides?  
Pesticides are chemicals used to kill organisms that are considered pests. Pesticides enter an organism's body through the skin (dermal), mouth (oral), or lungs (inhalation). Repeated applications are often considered necessary because the effects of many chemical pesticides are temporary. On the other hand, some chemicals referred to as residuals remain active, and applications made many years ago are still effective today.


What Are the Signs of Pesticide Contamination?  
There are a few indications that an item has probably been treated with pesticides. Look for the following:

  • Immediately suspect an item of contamination if it is in markedly better condition than other similar items of the same materials, age, and storage conditions.  
  • Sometimes items that have been treated have a poison tag attached to them.  
  • Be suspicious of any fine white dust you see on an item even though this could be just dirt.  
  • Beware of crystals or colored efflorescence on an item.  
  • Suspect anything you cannot identify. 

Have Museum Workers Been Poisoned by Pesticides?
There is no doubt that pesticides have affected many museum workers. These effects generally occurred during the days of unprotected and unregulated pesticide applications when exposures to large concentrated amounts of chemicals were possible. Since the introduction of professional conservation and collections care practices, there has been an increase in the use of personal protective equipment (gloves, smocks or lab coats, and particle masks), restrictions regarding the use of pesticides, and regulations affecting the application of pesticides. Also, because mqseum workers do not return items to cultural use (traditional handling or wearing or ceremonial interactions), the points of entry (mouth, skin, nose) on their bodies have not had prolonged or repeated exposure to pesticide residues. Various studies done on agricultural workers and more recently on museum workers illustrate the value of personal protective equipment.   

What Can You Do?
Consider the following procedures for pesticide-contaminated items. Preservation professionals may be able to help you with these procedures. Do not attempt any of the cleaning methods until you have been trained by a conservator. Many could harm artifacts.
  • Replacement: removal of the entire item and replacement of it with a duplicate, reproduction, or alternate item.
  • Containment: application of covers or coatings that isolate the hazardous material from human exposure.
  • Washing: removal of contaminants by water, laundering, or solvent wiping.
  • Physical removal: removal by manual scraping, vacuum suction, laser blast, or exposure to high heat or ultra1'iolet light.
  • Chemical removal: removal by the application of chemical processes.
  • Biological removal: removal by the application of specialized microorganisms. 

Excerpts from Chapter 10 of Caring for American Indian Objects, reprinted with permission from Dr. Nancy Odegaard.


Old Poisons, New Problems
Old Poisons, New Problems

Dr. Nancy Odegaard is the Conservator and Head of the Preservation Division for the Arizona State Museum and a Professor in the Department of Anthropology. Nancy holds a Ph.D. in Applied Science through the Conservation and Cultural Heritage Science Studies Department of the University of Canberra, Australia. She earned her M.A. in Museum Studies/Anthropology at the George Washington University with a Certificate in Ethnographic and Archaeological Conservation from the Smithsonian Institution. Nancy specializes in the conservation of archaeological and ethnographic objects. She is the author of the 2005 publication Old Poisons, New Problems about pesticides on Native museum objects. She teaches the online class MS 255: Dangerous Materials: Chemical Poisons in Collections.

Human Health and Safety after a Disaster 

by Terri Schindel   


During a disaster, human health and safety are everyone's responsibility. There are many steps you can take during planning to promote preventive and common sense measures. Understanding the roles and responsibilities of the first responders (usually fire or police) as well as the roles of your staff, will be essential in implementing all safety issues. You need to consider the emotional well being of the people who respond and what to expect from the survivors.


Know your staff and volunteers
If your institution has a security department, ask for job descriptions and titles of each staff person. Know who is trained in health and safety issues, medical procedures, CPR and first aid. Know if any of your volunteers are certified for first aid or CPR. If your institution does not have a security department, assign roles to staff and volunteers. You may call upon people from your community to be on the disaster preparedness team. Make sure none of these people are community first responders. (One museum in Alaska, while formulating its disaster plan, realized that everyone on staff was a community first responder. In a large emergency, the museum would be empty, with no one around to implement a disaster plan!)

Know the people who will be called as first responders   

First RespondersDuring planning, identify the first responders in your community. These include the fire chief, law enforcement officers and emergency medical technicians. Invite them for a tour of your museum. They should be familiar with your operations. They will be making all decisions in the first 24 hours (or longer) of many emergencies. They will not relinquish leadership to the museum until the emergency is under control. The first responders will monitor health and safety issues. Remember, human safety comes first and building structure/contents second. The fire chief determines what risks exist to human life and safety. He or she determines when the building is safe to reenter. It could be days before you can return to your building. If your institution is part of a larger organization, such as a university or county government, your own institution's security and law enforcement will be next in the chain of command and should be included in planning. During an emergency, museum staff will provide requested information, but will not be part of the first response team. Information about conditions inside the building will be relayed to the incident command post.     


If you have an emergency that does not require emergency services and can be dealt with in-house, all team members will need to be aware of standard health and safety risks and know how to respond. A clear chain of command should be established for in-house emergencies. The order for initial in-house contacts should be listed on your telephone tree. 


When an in-house emergency becomes too much for the staff or volunteers to handle, call 911 and activate the entire telephone tree immediately. The health and safety officer has a key role in any emergency and to be an effective leader, staff or volunteers must be willing to trust his or her judgment.  


Excerpt from MS205: Disaster Plan Reseach and Writing.  


To become a part of your community's response network, consider CERT training. The Community Emergency Response Team concept was developed by the Los Angeles City Fire Department in 1985. Because area-wide disasters make it difficult to impossible for trained response personnel to reach communities, CERT trains civilians to meet their immediate needs.  


Terri Schindel graduated from the Courtauld Art Institute, University of London with a concentration in textile conservation. Since 1988 she has taught collections care and preventive conservation to museum staff. She has assisted museums in writing disaster plans for more than a decade and helped develop national standards for disaster-preparedness materials. Ms. Schindel specializes in collection care and preventive conservation and works regularly with small, rural and tribal museums. She is familiar with the many challenges and lack of resources facing these institutions. Ms. Schindel is committed to maintaining the uniqueness of each museum while ensuring that they serve as a resource for future generations. She teaches the online course MS205: Disaster Plan Reseach and Writing

Regional Workshops  

Where you can find some of our instructors this fall.


Terri Schindel in the MTN Mobile Lab
  • October 2011: Disaster Preparedness Planning and Response, Level II, Carbon County Museum, Rawlins, WY.
  • October 2011: Collections Care/Core Curriculum, Laramie Peaks Museum, Wheatland, WY.
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