Since we are in a Conservation Class, it was only fitting that we visited a Conservation Lab! And what better place to visit than the Minnesota Historical Society.
Instead of getting a tour of the installations (which any paying visitor can see!) we got to see how those installations are conserved. You know it was special when our Conservationist ‘tour guide’ needs to scan his badge at the doors just to get in to the labs.
First we got a tour of the storage rooms – which is actually a lot more interesting than what you’re probably thinking. There were two main rooms that we saw – one for furniture (and other wooden items such as Jukeboxes, old timey televisions, etc.) and one for textiles, metals, and papers. Each room (and the metal lockers in the rooms) were set to a specific temperature so as to not invite mold. They were also sealed up against bug intruders and the lights were normally turned off.
After our walk through the storage area, we visited a textiles room where Linda (no picture of this, sorry!) was delicately attaching a flag to a board for display.
Next was a romp through the paper lab – we were being shown an old map of St. Paul in this picture. The map, which showed the original streets of St. Paul, was rescued from a dumpster behind a law firm. It was so old that “Minnesota” was spelled incorrectly because the state hadn’t agreed on a way to spell it yet! I believe it was “Minisota” on the map.
Next stop was a tour through the Wooden Artifacts Lab – and they had set aside a table they were working on just for us! No we didn’t get to work on it, but we certainly got to talk to the conservators about what they were doing. The table pictured below was black with Linseed oil and had veneer popping up everywhere. Through solvent testing, some museum approvals, and some patience, they were able to clean the top off (to show a lovely burl wood underneath!) and reattach the bubbling veneer.
The shiny part you see on your right side of the table is a clear piece of mylar. They traced the features of the table (for easy realignment) and traced the trouble areas of the table. A water spot here, missing veneer there, etc.
It was great to see how a real conservation lab worked. It was even better to talk to the conservators to see their process as well as their justification for what they do. Thanks Minnesota Historical Society!