Flag conservation

Flag conservation
Textile conservator, Gwen Spicer of Spicer Art Conservation at work

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What to do with Three-Dimensional archival objects?

By Gwen Spicer 

The majority of our posts this month (aka: "October is Archives Month") have focused on storage relating to flags which also fit in nicely with the NAVA annual meeting which took place October 11-13. It is true that flags can be found in Archives, however, the typical material that Archivists handle and need to store are flat materials consisting of documents, historical records, and photographs. These materials fit neatly within the standard document box, or smaller version: the document case.

Many museums or historical societies use document boxes or cases for storage, simply because they are standard sized, or perhaps it is the type of box which they have the most need for, or maybe it fits best within their storage area.

museum storage solutions, archival materials, document boxes, art conservator survey
Row upon row of Storage Cases - the smaller, upright, top-loading style of the document box.

Several years ago I was asked to speak to an Archives group regarding 3D artifacts. (Yes, 3-Dimensional items are archival items). Flat items are the typical materials to be found, but certainly 3D items need an archival home as well. In preparation for the workshop, I created solutions for possible 3D materials that could fit within standard document case packaging found in an archives storage facility. Below is a short video highlighting the retrofitting of a document storage case to hold 3D objects, as well as 2D objects, because yes, sometimes they can live together in one tidy storage case.


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Many of the archivists present at the workshop mentioned that their archives would not be complete without the 3D items in their collections and that these items rounded out the document collections in that they gave depth to exhibits, making them more eye-catching. And sometimes the documentation exhibited required the 3D objects to illustrate more clearly the display, for example, one archivist had extensive textiles and bottles to accompany the documentation of early medical training at a nursing college.

art conservator survey of museum storage space utilization. collection care
Archival boxes, also referred to as document boxes, in the storage area.

The most valuable part of utilizing a document container as multi-dimensional storage, is making sure that the transformation of the box was easy to do and would involve only the tools and materials any archivist or conservator would have on hand, and use a technique that would be easily known (i.e. cutting mat board, acid free materials like twill tape)

The multi-dimensional document box/case storage provides excellent accessibility, while significantly limiting excessive handling, as each item can be removed independently of the others. Many workshop participants appreciated the concern for handling, as reduced handling of archival items is crucial to their integrity. Yet, having access is to archival items is key.

In the prior post, How to Store Your Flag Part 2 - The Sink-Mat, the sink-mat can be used to great effect. Remember that smaller sink mats can be placed horizontally by stacking them inside the box, while remaining flat. For this particular solution, a specific document box is required - the clam-shell or print box, with a drop front. Available through all archival suppliers, these boxes are meant to lay flat on the shelf, and when the lid is lifted, the front side of the box drops forward, thereby allowing full access into the box without moving the box - it is truly the perfect archival home for a sink mat!

We hope you have enjoyed October, and all of our posts about archival storage, as much as we have.  Look for more videos from SAC in the coming months, our next video will cover how to properly roll textiles.

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Gwen Spicer is a textile conservator in private practice.  Spicer Art Conservation specializes in textile conservation, object conservation, and the conservation of works on paper.  Gwen's innovative treatment and mounting of flags and textiles is unrivaled.   To contact her, please visit her website.

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