JAIC 1978, Volume 18, Number 1, Article 3 (pp. 10 to 18)
JAIC online
Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1978, Volume 18, Number 1, Article 3 (pp. 10 to 18)


Dennis Piechota


1.1 The Need for Improved Storage Methods

THE SAFE STORAGE of museum collections continues to be an area for development in conservation. Conservators should, for instance, explore methods for the low-cost stabilization of the storage environment, as many museums cannot afford even the maintenance costs of a climate control system, let alone the initial investment. If viable, less energy-consuming alternatives could provide museum planners with more latitude in the use of restricted budgets.1 In conjunction with cataloguers and curators, we should develop methods that provide increased accessibility and safe use of stored collections. In large part acquired before the development of modern conservation practices and long before these collections were thought to merit the attention of conservators, anthropological collections in particular are ill-prepared to accomodate the increased interest shown in them today.2 Consequently, the present increased collection use means increased collection damage.

1.2 Mass Treatment: Containerization

OUR TESTS at the Peabody Museum suggest that storage containerization as a mass treatment strategy may be particularly suited to the needs of anthropological collections. The simple process of placing specimens in thoughtfully designed containers can:

  1. eliminate handling while increasing accessibility;
  2. provide increased environmental stability for enclosed specimens;
  3. be accomplished quickly at low cost, largely by technicians.

Certainly this is not a new idea. It is an extension of traditional fine arts containerization: mats, frames and bases given to prints, paintings and mounted sculpture. With anthropological collections, however, there may be an additional reasoning for containerizing. If these collections are to remain an unimpeachable scientific resource, then their chemical integrity should remain as unadulterated by preservative treatments as possible. They should be maintained pristine. In fine arts collecting there is a history of close interaction between the curator/scholar and the conservator or restorer. This has given each an understanding of how to balance the collection research interests against the sometimes competing physical needs of collection preservation. However, in anthropological museums the research potential of the collections is largely untapped and only vaguely recognized.3 There simply has been no tradition of conservation. Therefore, chemically altering treatments (impregnation, consolidation, over-cleaning) must be avoided whenever possible. Many of these specimens have little apparent artistic significance and are now stored on the hope of some future scientific function. For these materials and especially at this time in the early development of anthropological collection analysis, conservators should seek mechanical methods of preservation in preference to chemical and to a greater degree than is deemed necessary for fine arts collections.

Copyright 1978 American Institute of Historic and Artistic Works