An example of a lampada. Flickr/Ivan T
In the museum world, the most “precious” metals aren’t necessarily gold and silver. There’s also copper, lead, bronze, and alloys of those materials. Even more precious is the insight that those objects give us into the past, and so preserving them also preserves that information.
The Alutiiq Museum’s Curator of Collections, Marnie Leist, says one of the museum’s biggest collections is metals, and the artifacts come from Kodiak’s Russian and American periods.
“We have actually a lot of really interesting things. We have a handmade lead icon. We care for lampadas, Russian-orthodox lamps that used to hang in churches around Alaska. And then of course we do have the spikes and nails, and other things that you would associate with historic collections. Watch fobs and all kinds of interesting little tidbits.”
She says the Alutiiq Museum just received a $782 grant from the Museums Alaska Collections Management Fund to clean and inventory metal objects in the museum’s care.
Leist says the grant is small, but will have a big impact.
“Every material that you’re working with has different requirements for its care. So, photographs, they like to be stored one way in a certain environmental condition, but metal, they like to be stored in microenvironments often and then in colder, drier environments. So, you know, we have one big collections room, and although it’s climatized, we can’t make it special for every single object type.”
She says they need to do conservation assessments so that they can identify which objects need a microclimate. They also need to go through the artifacts drawer by drawer and determine how the people who excavated them treated them upon discovery.
“So, one metal artifact was not treated at all. Maybe a Russian axe is totally falling apart. It’s iron. It flakes. And other artifacts – another Russian axe from a different site collected ten years later was preserved in acrosol, which is kind of like an adhesive, so it’s crisp and shiny. So, that’s part of the assessment as well.”
Leist says they’ll also order some new supplies. For instance, she learned about corrosion intercept bags when she attended the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums conference in Washington D.C. this September.
“I just had never heard of them before. It’s a shiny bag. You put a metal object in it, and instead of all the tarnish and all the things that would develop on the object, it sticks to the bag. So, it just prevents corrosion in essence. And also again, placing things in a sealed bag in a microclimate is always a more stable environment for objects.”
She says they’ll also work with their contemporary jewelry collection, with pieces from various Alutiiq artists. Leist says she’ll train the Alutiiq Museum’s Assistant in how to remove tarnish from those articles in addition to teaching her other methods of treating metal.