Rebecca Summerour presented on-going technical analysis of two mid-twentieth century Southwestern Nigeria Yoruba egungun masquerade ensembles from the collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art (NMAA). Her co-author and supervisor is Dana Moffett, Object conservator at the NMAA. We were introduced to egunguns with images of these multi-layered assemblages as they are worn in ceremony, and mounted for displayed. Egungun invoke honor, and embody lineage ancestors during yearly festivals. Rebecca is working not only to analyze the varied materials used in their fabrication; she also is investigating their cultural context and the values placed on textiles in Yoruba culture through consultations with Yoruba scholars. She explored the origins of the materials used, and their importance as elements of the whole. These egunguns were collected with minimal provenience. (Image from Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, africa.si.edu)
Egunguns consist of multiple layers of colorful, mostly commercial, pieced fabric lappets with serrated edges over a wooden support that “swirl when danced.” Egunguns represent individual or collective ancestors. The ensembles are not made for a specific dancer. They are worn for generations and are repaired before each use. During repairs materials may be added or removed, making it difficult to pinpoint a date. Some of the components are pre-assembled by market tailors and later incorporated into the assemblage and sanctified. A striped fabric (knotted or crochet) sits at center, obscuring the face of the wearer, but allows him to see. The egungun interiors are lined with handwoven oke, a highly valued prestige fabric. Oke is also used for burial shrouds, which Rebecca pointed out is a symbolic link to the ancestors who are invoked during performances in the egungun. The color red is used extensively to divert evil. Rebecca identified highly valued velvets, needle point, ecclesiastical textiles, Europe satins and cotton prints made expressly for the African market, and Adeara Uraba, a Yoruba indigo cloth that is tie dyed or patterned with a starch resist. Also present were metal pin back political buttons.
Rebecca has examined over 600 different textiles, many of them are African wax (or fancy prints) designed in Europe and produced in Manchester England and Holland to imitate late nineteenth century Indonesian batiks. After decolonization similar prints were manufactured in Africa and East Asia. Rebecca contacted the Manchester School of Art ABC Archive, which has many examples of these fabrics. Initially this gave her great hope of tracing some of the manufacturers of the prints and locking in dates of manufacture, but she was informed that only by chance would one find a match. The prints are too similar to easily identify. She mentioned it as an opportunity for her future study.
Technical analysis included X-radiography, X-ray fluorescence, Raman spectrometry, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, and polarized light microscopy, of the various materials present such as wood, cotton, rayon, pitch, adhesives, metal, elastomeric films, PVC and other plastics.
Rebecca has future research trips planned for this summer and will see eleven other engunguns. She is working to identify the materials in these egungun to construct a time line of what materials were available in Nigeria in the twentieth century. She feels that the whole story will never be know as there are limits to the amount of research that can be carried out, and mid twentieth century fabric trade was complex. The goals of her study are to contribute to the overall “biographies” of these objects, inform future plans for the costumes long-term care, and expand on the available published studies.
The Tip Session was the final presentation of the Textile Specialty Group. If you missed this session, you missed scads, mountains, and heaps of useful mounting information from six knowledgeable presenters. They shared techniques, and sources for materials and mounting supplies. The presentations were so rich with information, I could not hope to scratch the surface in this post.
The first presenter was Robin Hanson, Associate Conservator of Textiles, with the Cleveland Museum of Art. Her presentation was titled “Modular Mount for pre-Columbian Tunics.” The subject was a display method she developed along with mount makers Carlo Maggiora and Philip Brutz. This tube mount for support and display of multiple pre-Columbian tunics, for a traveling exhibition, had custom fabricated end caps of cylindrical aluminum rod, and custom padded inserts made for each tunic. It is versatile. Variations of the mount were made for inclined wall mounts and for display in the round. The mount reduces handling of the fragile tunics, and can remain in the garment for shipping and in storage. We are in luck, because her poster of the technique will be posted.
Shelly Uhlir is an Exhibits Specialist and Mount Maker at the National Museum of the American Indian. Her presentation, “Joints and Connections: Attempts at Locking Motion,” was divided into three categories for the creation of arm to torso connections: pinned, keyed, and magnetic. Shelly wanted us to keep in mind that shoulder joints are best when they are easy to find and release. Shelly proposed the idea of a collaborative arm connection / mannequin joint wiki-page. I hope that her clever solutions will be posted soon.
Laura Mina, Associate Conservator from the Costume Institute of The Metropolitan Museum of Art presented “Hats for Egg Heads.” Laura shared how to support and secure hats while they are perched on highly polished, featureless egg-shaped mounts. She used felt, and double stick tape as well as small constructed forms of Volara, polyester batting, twill tape, and silk. They were a clean and simple solution for display.
Susan Heald, Textile Conservator at the National Museum of the American Indian, presented “Adjustable Angle, reusable slant boards for mounting hides and textiles with magnets.” Susan explained the evolution of the slant boards for hides and textiles used at NMAI. She described how they went from being custom cut to the shape of a hide, to light weight reusable aluminum honeycomb boards with larger handling margins. She shared their construction, materials used, types and size of magnet, sleeve options for the back of textiles, and her choice of sueded polyester to cover magnets used to secure hides to the slant boards.
Denise Krieger Migdail, Textile Conservator at the Asian Art Museum presented “A new 3M: Minimal Magnet Mounts.” Denise pointed out that magnetic mounts can be beautiful, functional, and of infinite variety. Her talk was packed with information about the ways she has used magnets for mounts. She had two categories: strip fasteners with magnets embedded into various types of board to spread the pressure evenly along the length of an object; and as point fasteners when magnets are used singly. She shared storage and separation techniques, such as keeping the magnets interleaved with twill tape, and using a stronger magnet as an aid for separation.
Our last speaker was Joy Gardiner, Assistant Director of Conservation, at the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library. Her presentation was titled “To Avoid Further Piercings: The Mounting of a 1795 Sampler with Original Paper Backing via a Paper Conservation Hinging Method.” The technique that Joy adapted to keep the backing intact was found in the realm of paper conservation in the article by Hugh Phibbs, “Recent Developments in Works on Paper” published in The Book and Paper Group Annual, Volume 24, 2005. Japanese tissue paper hinges were attached to the sampler backing. The hinges were then passed through slits in a four-ply board, and then adhered to the back of that board without disturbing (or piercing) the sampler or the backing.
The session finished with Q & A followed by time with the speakers, and their examples and handouts.
What a wonderful way to begin the conference. We boarded a small motor boat directly behind the conference hotel and headed down the Miami River. The day was sunny and balmy as the boat glided past the river art walk with its mosaics and palm trees. We passed yachts and skyscrapers, traveling between a Tequesta Indian stone circle and an ongoing archeological excavation site to meet the Biscayne Bay. Historian Dr. Paul George entertained us with local lore all along the way. As we left the mouth of the river, the captain opened up the engines, the breeze and spray picked up and it felt like a vacation. We quickly arrived at Stiltsville, with its houses on pilings above the water of Biscayne Bay and the Miami city skyline in the background. The first Stiltsville building was an off shore gambling shack, Crawfish Eddie’s, established in 1933. By the 1940s and 1950s there were fishing, boating, and “social clubs” that were frequented by the well-heeled, and connected. In the 1960s the Bikini Club was offering free drinks to anyone wearing a bikini. These places were suspected of, and often investigated for “vices.” We were told that Teddy Kennedy had his Bachelor party in one of the houses. At its height Stiltsville had 27 buildings, today 7 remain, hurricanes having done what they could to wipe it away. The Stiltsville Trust was established in 2003. The structures are now part of the National Park Service.
The other main attraction of the tour was the Miami Marine Stadium, the subject of a paper in the opening session of the conference. It is a Modernist building designed in 1963 by Hilario Candela. It features a cantilevered concrete roof, and no walls to speak of with seating facing the water. It was originally constructed for watching powerboat racing, later becoming a concert venue. The structure has been coated with graffiti. It is in disrepair, both beautiful and sad.
We passed beneath several draw bridges, past tug boats, and beside restaurants leaking delicious smells to finally be brought back to our hotel happy, windblown and with more knowledge of the area.
This session included three presentations on Integrated Pest Management (IPM). The first speaker, Bernice Morris, is the IPM coordinator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA.) Bernice said that IPM began in earnest at the PMA in 1990. She has built on this foundation, developing an IPM system consisting of dividing the museum into risk zones, the use of barcoded (numbered) blunder traps (with pheromone lures as needed), and iPhones outfitted with barcode readers. The iPhones scan the bar code on each trap. The pest type and count are entered, and the data is sent to a computer, becoming a row on a spreadsheet. This makes the gathered data accessible for analysis. The number of traps and the frequency of monitoring are dependent on zone type. In addition, all museum staff are now aware of the importance of prevention and vigilance. The staff has a “bug hotline,” and Internet reporting for pest sightings. It is a very low cost system with the exception of the iPhones, and for those with moth problems the pheromone lures are expensive but worth the investment. The textiles in the collection are most vulnerable while moving in and out of the galleries, and the museum. New acquisitions and loans come into the museum wrapped in plastic. They are isolated and examined, and if evidence of infestation is found the objects are treated with low temperature treatment or anoxia treatment to kill all insect life stages of the infestation.
Patricia Silence is the Conservator of Museum Exhibitions and Historic Interiors at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (CW). As she said it is “the oldest and largest outdoor living history museum in the United States.” CW had always depended on outside pest management professionals. She and her colleagues developed a vision of what a successful IPM plan would accomplish: “prevent harm to people, collections, and buildings, use minimal pesticides, and foster a sense of ownership of the IPM program in the foundation employees.” Due to the complicated interconnected nature of the collection, architecture, landscaping, livestock, commercial entities, and residences, it was determined that it is would be best to have someone who was on the CW staff to manage the IPM. Ryan Jones was hired as the integrated pest management specialist. The IPM has been so successful the program has expanded to include monitoring and treatment of termites. He and an army of other staff members have certification for pesticide application, but housekeeping, routine trap monitoring, and building inspections and maintenance reduce the need for pesticides. A holding room, and freezing and anoxic treatments are used for objects with infestations. The staff can report pest sightings via intranet; identification sheets with common pests are made available with a pest specific follow-up sheet sent after identification. Patricia has taken a holistic approach.
Rachael Arenstein is currently the conservator at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, Israel. However, as a former conservator in private practice she spoke about some of the challenges she noticed with smaller museums that lack IPM plans. She felt that the biggest problem was most often that pest damage is not recognized and is thought to be the natural effects of age or light damage. Rachael pointed out that all museums have some kind of pest problem. Small museum are understaffed, under-resourced, collections are crowded, and if there is an infestation the staff is just “grossed out.” Mistakes are made using inappropriate products and procedures. Rachael is a member of the IPM Working Group, which grew out of colleagues banding together to learn how to deal with infestations. Over the past ten years Rachael and these colleagues have created an invaluable resource, Museumpest.net. It is everything one might want or need to know about IPM: prevention, monitoring, identification, treatment solutions, and implementation of an IPM plan, and more. Through the site you can join the Pestlist, an e-mail distribution list that allows members to ask questions, and receive answers and advice from museum and preservation professionals, entomologists, and other practitioners.
The speakers opened the floor to questions and discussion. The first question was concerned with how to get the staff to “buy into” the importance of protecting the collection. The reply to this was that presentations to staff showing damage, or potential damage were helpful. Unfortunately, it often takes a major infestation to drive home the importance of IPM. Other questions were asked about pheromone traps, how to handle a museum wide dermestid infestation, if there were any lasting effects from the use of Vikane fumigation, and “are crack and crevice” treatments of any use. The answers were helpful, but too lengthy to address here. All roads lead to http://museumpests.net (and housekeeping.)
The speakers have posted their presentations on the Museum Pest web-site: