When performing inventory and maintenance in the museum galleries, the collections and conservation staff sometimes discover things which are questionable museum practices.
This month while working in The Sod House exhibit, we discovered some artefacts had a substance resembling adhesive on the bottom of them. After discussions with senior staff it was found that in the 1970s when the exhibit had originally been an open exhibit, not enclosed behind a Plexiglas door, artefacts were glued to surfaces to prevent them from being stolen. Obviously, this was an act executed long ago, possibly by a non-collections staff member, as we are all now aware this is not an appropriate method for securing or mounting artefacts in an exhibit. Conservation knowledge and theory have advanced and changed significantly since this exhibit was installed in the 1970s; we would not glue things down this way today.
Next steps included removing the artefacts from the exhibit and taking them to the conservation lab and, after condition reporting and taking photographs, trying to remove the adhesive without damaging the artefacts. Luckily, as a significant amount of time had passed, the adhesive had dried out and lost its “sticky” properties and with a hammer and chisel (not what we usually consider cleaning tools in conservation), we were able to chip the adhesive off with no damage to the artefacts.
The artefacts were then returned to exhibit and collections and conservation staff continue to perform inventory and maintenance in the galleries, hoping not to find too many other unwanted surprises!
– Lisa May, Conservator