The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
- Help the Smithsonian ID a Houston city marshal from the 1870s in the picture on the right.
- The extremely flammable nitrocellulose film used before 1951 led to an estimated 80 percent of silent films being destroyed by fire. Now a site called Lost Films is working with museums and the public with a Wiki approach to ID unidentified films that have been found. [via Slate.com]
- What do you do when you have too much paper, but too little time? A new Facebook page run by records management folks gives lots of advice. [via Jennifer Wright, SIA]
- A speech recognition software company has compiled a huge archive of human voices and speech patterns in order to improve the accuracy of their product. [via Marvin Heiferman, SIA]
- Think living in a museum would be cool? Our own historian, Pam Henson, dishes on two former National Museum of Natural History employees who made the museum their home!
- The Smithsonian’s collections search center, collections.si.edu, is now smart phone friendly, so you can browse away on the go!
- Was anyone else an Egyptology-obsessed little kid like me? Well, get excited: an archive of “wondrous things,” from Tutankhamun’s tomb excavated by archaeologist Howard Carter, is nearing completion online. Read more about the project at The Guardian.
- The British Monarchy now have their own Flickr stream.
- You probably know of our love of brave female scientists. So, I was thrilled to see the National Archives’ (a wonderful place, but not to be confused with the Smithsonian Institution Archives :) ) magazine feature and related YouTube videos which include this 1920s video of little-known Arctic explorer Louise Boyd:
This piece is part one in a series of posts about Smithsonian Institution Archives’ (SIA) paper conservator and interns working on stabilizing a 1921 panoramic photo of air mail pilots and crews that is being moved to the National Air and Space Museum’s (NASM) Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. You can see Part II here.
In addition to being the Paper Conservator for the Smithsonian Institution Archive’s own collections, I run the Smithsonian Center for Archives Conservation, serving our many archival units throughout the Institution.
As a part of my work, I receive various requests for help. For example, this object, a panoramic portrait photograph of air mail pilots, crews, and their planes, is just one of some twenty-five items prioritized for immediate stabilizing intervention by my colleague Jordan Ferraro of the National Air and Space Museum Archives (NASM), before their collections move to their companion facility located near Dulles Airport—the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Because the object was so big and unwieldy, I thought it would make a perfect training exercise for both Jordan (NASM Archives’ collection manager) and two of our summer interns to work side-by-side with me.
The object was received from the donor loosely curled in a cardboard box, and in a rather unusual frame. Due to long-term storage in that box, the framed photo and backing retain a significant amount of distortion or curl that made the object hard to examine, store, and safely move. The photograph was loosely enclosed over mat or poster board, with an overlay of an unknown transparent plastic, and sealed at the edges with an overwrap of self-adhesive vinyl brick-face wallpaper (aka contact paper). Wow—this was a little scary, because pressure-sensitive adhesives can release a lot of oxidizing and oily compounds that can stain and deteriorate the photograph, and can remain tacky over time. If the picture had slid into and gotten stuck to the exposed adhesive of the vinyl tape, we would be looking at a painstakingly involved treatment rather than a simple rehousing. We were lucky in that the photo was not actually stuck to any tape although it had gotten quite close. In addition, the outside of the package was very soiled; we wanted to prevent that from getting on the photograph’s surface, so we gently wiped both front and back surfaces using our famous white cotton gloves before laying the object on the clean work surface. We also took care to note and document anything would be significantly changed by our intervention, such as the grease penciled outline and x’s over the figures on the surface of the plastic covering material. Who did that and what do the marks signify? We don’t know, but it might be a clue that someone else could recognize in the future.
Extreme caution was taken to slit and remove tape while limiting the exposure of sticky undersides, and getting them away from the object as far and quickly as possible. Once the tape was slit, because the backing was joined of two pieces and the object was in two main fragments due to a tear in the middle, we were able to work on the two halves separately for both efficiency and safety. Close teamwork was needed to position the curled object so that we were working on the flat, rather than up in the air. In just a couple of hours, we were able to free the object and safely rehouse it, making for a very satisfying preservation intervention. The interns’ perspective will follow in this blog, part 2, and see also Jordan Ferraro’s companion blog feature!
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