Medium 9781442267589

Collections Vol 2 N3

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"Collections: A Journal for Museum and Archives Professionals" is a multi-disciplinary peer-reviewed journal dedicated to the discussion of all aspects of handling, preserving, researching, and organizing collections. Curators, archivists, collections managers, preparators, registrars, educators, students, and others contribute.

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Guest Editor’s Foreword

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Over the past half century the conservation field has focused on research and analysis that have resulted in an impressive and increasingly complex knowledge base. Yet degrees of uncertainty remain, despite the scientific and scholarly work. Unfortunately, in the effort to present research and uncertainty to an audience beyond ourselves, conservators have sometimes glossed over both, and implied that the preservation of cultural property relies on a zero-tolerance approach to meeting a set of specific criteria. The all too obvious corollary is that if the criteria are patently impossible or untenable, there really is no reason to attempt to meet them. In creating what might be called a “conservation mythology” we have often stymied compromise and unwittingly stifled new ideas that could help conservators and other museum professionals work toward sound collection care.

A museum can make no better case for wasting resources than any other institution. The belief that museums cannot protect collections unless they operate energy-inefficient systems is a myth that has driven many heritage properties to near bankruptcy. The utility bills for governmental institutions are passed along to taxpayers, however; the majority of collecting institutions in the United States are private, not-for-profits. Privately funded museums are constantly confronted with energy costs that are unlikely to be covered by grants or donations, and consume an increasingly large portion of gate receipts or other income. It takes effort to adopt new ideas and to adapt those ideas to old problems. Roberta Faul-Zeitler has long championed the concept of sustainable design in preservation. Her article, “Green Museum Design: Is it Good for Collections?,” effectively argues the benefits of “green” concepts for museum buildings. Some museums have accepted the challenge of adopting and adapting sustainable design for new construction or renovation of old systems and structures. Among these is the Field Museum, which is striving for LEED® (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification for its new Collections Resource Center. Sustainable design projects also are underway in historic structures around the country. This is a movement that can bring lasting benefits to the environment, to the custodians of cultural property, and to our collected heritage.

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Green Museum Design: Is It Good for Collections?

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Roberta Faul-Zeitler

Museum Consultant, 8904 Colesville Road, Silver Spring MD 20910 (e-mail: faulzeitler@starpower. net).

AbstractGreen building design and construction is a form of stewardship compatible with most conservation practices in collections-holding institutions. Green design is based on deep respect for the natural environment, the need to reduce consumption, and use of renewable and reusable resources. It offers a new framework and set of practices for museum renovation, expansion, and new construction, with the expectation that high-performance systems, environmental monitoring, air filtration, and non-toxic interiors will be cost-efficient and good for collections as well as people. Special needs of collections can be met by adapting some green-building practices, while overall monitoring of air quality, measuring fluctuations in temperature and humidity, and filtering against pollutants are highly compatible in green building. A generation of so-called green museums—ranging from replacement of mechanical systems to all-new buildings—will provide performance data over time on whether high-performance buildings reduce energy use, are cost-effective, and contribute to the health of collections.

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The Museum Environment: Adverse Consequences of Well-Intentioned Solutions

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Steven Weintraub

Environmental Consultant, Art Preservation Services, 315 East 89th Street, New York, NY 10128 (e-mail: sw@apsnyc.org).

AbstractThe museum environment is a complex subject that cannot be reduced to a simple set of requirements. The enforcement of prescriptive and rigid environmental specifications can result in unintended and adverse consequences, both to the collection and to the overall institution. Although there are practical reasons why guidelines have transformed into rigid specifications, the emphasis needs to shift back to flexible performance-based guidelines.

The successful application of performance-based environmental standards can only be accomplished if conflict is avoided within the planning process. This can be achieved through improved communication and collaboration, which must be initiated at the outset of the process. Also, improvements in how the museum environment is taught are necessary, with an emphasis on the planning process, risk management, and an extensive technical understanding of how environmental control is achieved.

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Managing Conservation without a Conservator on Staff

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Katharine Untch

Conservator, Architectural Resources Group, Pier 9 The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94111 (email: katy@argsf.com).

AbstractMuseums that do not have a conservator on staff can still achieve a high standard of conservation care. Basic steps to achieve this goal include: consulting with conservators, conducting assessments, prioritizing tasks, writing a plan, finding funding, and conducting improvements in phases. A brief overview of roles, responsibilities, and qualifications aids in understanding when it is advantageous to engage conservation services. Examples of common pitfalls, such as forgoing conservation consultations or mismatching experience and tasks, serve to guide the reader toward sound standards of conservation management. Common conservation myths are addressed in three case studies to elucidate common challenges and how they may be addressed. The basic model presented should serve well to improve conservation management, conservation project design, and improve a museum’s success in attracting external funding for conservation related projects.

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The History of Taxidermy: Clues for Preservation

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Amandine Péquignot

Conservation Scientist, CRCDG (FRE 2743), Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Grande Galerie de l’Évolution / CP 22, 57 rue Cuvier, 75005 Paris, France (email: apeq@mnhn.fr).

AbstractTaxidermy is a general term describing the different methods of skinning and preserving vertebrate skins by stuffing or mounting them over an artificial armature. Using old taxidermy handbooks and documents, we can follow the history of taxidermy, the evolution of tanning recipes, and stuffing/mounting techniques over three centuries. In addition, when all the historical preservation information is collected, it can give us some clues toward understanding the current conservation status of this type of collection.

The world taxidermy derives from the Greek “taxis” meaning arrangement and “derma” meaning skin. The first French definition of the word appeared in an article written by Louis Dufresne published in the Nouveau dictionnaire d’histoire naturelle (1803-1804). Little is known of the real beginnings of taxidermy for ornament or for scientific purposes. Some authors, such as Browne (1879) place it as beginning in old Egypt with the methods of embalmment. Recent authors such as Larsen (1945) and Didier and Boudarel (1981) state that mummification is the oldest technique of conservation. However, the mummies of the ancient Egyptians should not be regarded as taxidermy. True taxidermy attempts to capture forms, expressions, and animal attitudes in a lifelike manner. Mummies were created in a religious context, unlike taxidermy, which developed from a curiosity about nature. For that purpose, it utilized skinning, tanning, stuffing, and mounting techniques that are completely different from mummification (Péquignot 2002).

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DNA Preservation Research: The Downside and Upside of an Enigma

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Stephen L. Williams and Margaret E. Malone

Department of Museums Studies, Baylor University, Waco, Texas 76798-7154 (e-mail:).

AbstractResearch leading to a better understanding of the deterioration and preservation processes of DNA could provide a favorable future for natural history collections by reducing unnecessary destructive sampling and by increasing collection use for modern molecular studies. More information is needed to assess the value of existing collections for DNA investigations. Equally important is the need to improve preservation strategies at multiple levels so that future specimens can better accommodate such investigations. On the downside, only a few researchers have touched upon these needs over the past two decades; on the upside, there are currently good opportunities for developing this type of research program. To demonstrate these opportunities, four areas of preservation research are proposed, followed with comments regarding resources.

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