39th Annual Meeting – Workshop: Understanding Microclimates, May 31st, Fenella France & Rachael Perkins Arenstein


I want to preface to my first blog with a little bit about me. I am a bench conservator at the Metropolitan Museum, working on the reinstallation of the Islamic Art collection into newly designed galleries and storage space. I do not actively monitor the environment nor participate in the specifications for exhibition cases. My perspective on the workshop, therefore, may differ from a conference participant who actively works in these areas, but like many of my colleagues, I am intrigued by preventive and exhibition conservation. The field is never stagnant and new technologies are arriving all the time. Recently, moreover, there is increasing pressure to provide data on the museum environment in terms of economic concerns and carbon footprint.  The workshop, then, was a great opportunity to hear from two people who are active in this area with extensive experience to share with all of us.

Fenella and Rachael presented their workshop in an over air-conditioned meeting room at the Marriott. I really enjoyed their presentation and I am looking forward to going over the binder full of articles and useful information that they distributed. In the morning Fenella went over a mountain of information pertaining to all aspects of microclimates. I loved how she emphasized that the microclimates are not just sealed boxes but the concept of microclimates can also be a storage cabinet or sealed room. She asked us to consider a broader perspective on microclimates by first stepping back and thinking of the macro to the micro: It is important to consider your building envelope, then your room, and then your microclimates. Ultimately, to control a microclimate, you need to know also understand the environment on the exterior of this space. I also liked how Fenella and Rachael both emphasized the importance of establishing a good relationship with the museum facilities department and how Rachael emphasized the need for mutual understanding between conservation and facilities as to the reason for each one’s approach and what equipment both use.  It is important, in addition, for conservators to be aware of where the facilities department has placed their sensors in comparison to the placement of conservator’s data loggers.

It was fun to see a series of slides presented in alternating fashion from Rachael and then Fenella of exhibition cases and galleries that had problems: as the audience participants –we were to help find the problems. These images were real examples of unnamed institutions that had good intentions but failed due to both predictable and unforeseen errors in their construction. Finally, both Fenella and Rachael illustrated how the treatment history of cultural material must be taken into consideration.

In the afternoon, Rachael shared all her working experience with the many different data loggers she has had the opportunity to get her hands on.  I also thought the Plexiglas case that Fenella used to illustrate case leakage with C02 was very useful and something that I could replicate. I think one thing I would have liked to have seen is a free standing exhibition case where we could examine the use of sealing measures such as Marvelseal and other materials that are used to prevent unwanted pollutants from less than ideal construction materials. I am looking forward to going back to work to share all this information with my colleagues. Thanks to Rachael and Fenella. I would love to hear from other participants.

Demonstrating the psychrometer