The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 14, Number 3
Jun 1990


A Few High Points from the NARA Conference on Exhibitions

The problem with reporting conferences is that it takes almost as much time to write up a good report of one as to attend one. Yet if a conference was important, it is hard to keep from trying to tell people about it. The custom in the Abbey Newsletter's conference reports has been to communicate only what was most interesting, without bothering to provide context or speaker unless it was convenient to do so. This makes the best use of limited time. Here is such a report of the conference on "Exhibits and Conservation: A Delicate Balance," held at the National Archives in March.

First of all, the proceedings will be published in Restaurator. So this will not be the only report. Also, the handouts were good, and are probably available individually on request:

National Archives Facilities Report (for the borrowing institution to fill out)

National Archives Loan Review Form

"Trouble in Store," by Tim Padfield, David Erhardt and Walter Hopwood (IIC Preprints, 1982)

Selected Bibliography on Museum Pollution-Sources, Prevention, and Abatement, by David Erhardt

NYPL Exhibitions Program Office Mission Statement "Rules for Handling Works of Art," by Eric Rowlinson (Museum News, April 1975)

Information on supplies and equipment for exhibitions (Charcoal Cloth, Lexan, etc.)

Checklist for Display (an exhibit of various kinds of facsimiles & reproductions)

NARA Exhibition Standards for Archival Materials "Conservation and Exhibitions," by Nathan Stolow

The Declaration of Independence was an display for 35 years near a window in the Patent Office Building, before it came to the National Archives. This was in response to the public demand to see the originals; but the public has no way of understanding the damage caused by unrestricted display. Robert Feller's guideline for exposure to light for artifacts is 5000 foot-candle-hours per year. At NARA, their limit is 10,000 fch/year, but then the artifact must It rest" for 10 years. Some item cannot be made safe for exhibition. The registrar at NARA, who described himself as the middleman between curators and exhibitors, said Steve Michalski says older visitors may need twice as much light as younger ones: an argument against extremely low light levels. At the Folger Library, they keep the exhibit history on an acid-free flag in the book.

It is important to protect the exhibited item from fluctuations in relative humidity and from harmful gases while it is travelling or on display. Some institutions only lend items sealed with Artsorb RH absorber or activated carbon. For monitoring RH, cobalt paper strips are preferred: they don't have to be calibrated, they are accurate, and they can be laid inconspicuously near the object. The effectiveness of pollution absorbers like activated carbon depends on their area and their distance from the object. Calcium carbonate (to absorb acidic gases) should be used with activated carbon. Silica gel and Nikka pellets are both good, but silica gel is cheaper if you buy it from W. R. Grace at $1.50/lb. To condition it, use a polyethylene tent, drying rack, humidifier and trays. Don't use the colored silica gel, just a few crystals of it with the colorless crystals. The best size is 3-5 m. Potassium permanganate is more expensive, not an all-purpose absorber.

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