Friday, August 24, 2012

A Career in Collections?

This past June, I volunteered at the Pueblo Grande Museum with the collections staff (Laura, Lindsey, and Holly) in hopes of learning something about how a museum cares for their collections and seeing if it might be something I would like to pursue in my future. Over the few weeks of my volunteer experience at PGM, these women taught me all about the different aspects of cataloging artifacts once the museum receives a collection. I worked specifically on the Blue Wash collection. The items I worked with consisted of a variety of ceramic pots, shell jewelry, projectile points, and other various stone tools. Many of the artifacts had been broken and reconstructed using unknown adhesives.


The beginning of the cataloging process begins with assigning each artifact its own accession number, a unique designation given to each artifact to help keep track of them all. To do this, I organized objects according to their use and then labeled each directly with an individual number using Rhoplex AC-33. This specific glue is used because it is easy to wash off with water; it is important that any changes made to an artifact be reversible, to the extent possible, so as to maintain the original quality and attributes of the artifact.


After labeling each object, the next step was to log them into the computer database individually and by accession number. This process entailed briefly describing the object in relation to color, general size, use, and condition (i.e. complete, essentially complete, incomplete, etc.) as well as recording any information that was given to the museum when the collection was brought in, such as the location an object was found in, who collected the artifact, and on what date it was found. Later, I created a more detailed description by first measuring each objects weight, length, width, height and any other distinguishing attributes such as any notches, cracks, divots, etc. of notable size and then adding them to the object description in the database.

 Another task that had to be completed was photographing the artifacts individually. This is done so that when an object needs to be looked at for any reason, it can be done without the need to disturb the physical collection. This protects the quality of the fragile artifacts by eliminating touching or moving of them unnecessarily, which could result in damage.

Finally, the artifacts that were not going to be exhibited needed to be put into storage. All artifacts must be stored in a room with controlled temperature, humidity, and limited lighting as too much heat or moisture can cause certain objects to corrode or certain adhesives to melt. Objects that are round or prone to rolling are stored so that movement is minimized. For example, I helped store some clay samples that were round and had to separate each sample to prevent them banging against one another and surrounded each sample with acid free tissue paper for support. Other objects that were to be stored in drawers were placed on microfoam and again situated so that each had enough space to prevent them knocking against one another. Larger objects had to be stored on open shelves due to their size. Each was wrapped individually in a plastic bag so as to protect the object from dust and/or bugs. For all objects, the accession number was reprinted in a larger font size and placed with its corresponding object so that it could be seen without disturbing the artifact.

My time at Pueblo Grande Museum was great; it taught me all about what goes into the proper care and storage of artifacts as well as something about the way the collections section works in general. I had a lot of fun working with Laura, Lindsey, and Holly. I’m very grateful that they took the time to teach me the ins and outs of curation and that they trusted me enough to allow me to do so much hands-on work with the artifacts. I really enjoyed the time I spent there and the experience has definitely affirmed my desire to someday work in a museum, as long as it’s with the collections!

Posted By Veronica R., Collections Intern

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