Last week the museum was closed for our annual cleaning. Though we hate to turn away potential museum visitors, some regular cleaning and maintenance are necessary to keep the museum running! In addition to the cleaning, I usually have some gallery projects to complete at this time. There are simply some projects which are best completed when the museum is empty. My two big projects this year were painting an exhibit case and relabeling all of the light tracks in the galleries.
The light tracks have been an issue for me for some time. The tracks were originally labeled with their breaker numbers on small pieces of masking tape. However some of these tape labels have started to curl to the point that I can’t read the numbers. While changing light bulbs and moving light cans, I have also discovered that some of the tracks are mislabeled. And while I certainly got some good exercise running between the two floors while trying to guess which breaker I needed, it was taking up too much of my time. The mislabeled tracks made my job more difficult, and they were a safety hazard.
Here’s one of the old masking tape labels which has curled over time. Good luck trying to read the number on that one!
So, I enlisted the help of some of my coworkers to relabel all the light tracks. Susan was with me to hold the ladder and help with the new labels, and Tom and Riley took turns manning the breaker boxes. We had a set of radios to communicate with each other, and we turned off the tracks one at a time to determine which breakers were connected to which tracks. Though most of them were correct, we did have to hunt for the right numbers for a few of them.
Nope, this track wasn’t really number seven, it was actually number four. I removed that old label so that there’s no confusion about this track in the future.
It was a tedious job, especially for the people who got stuck standing by the breaker boxes and listening for instructions to flip switches. I greatly appreciate all the help I had with this job!
Tom knows the breaker boxes very well now!
Now I can clearly see all the labels, and I know they are correct.
My other project involved painting the back of one of our exhibit cases.
We call this the “Flag Case” because of the large flag in the back of the case. It is a wool hospital flag that flew over a Civil War hospital at City Point, Virginia. Originally the flag’s background was canary yellow and the ‘H’ was a dark green, but you can see that the colors have faded so that the flag is mostly tan in color. The faded color pretty much blended into the background color of the exhibit case, so visitors didn’t always notice the flag. It doesn’t do much good to display an artifact that people don’t notice!
The first issue was choosing an appropriate paint. With artifacts involved, I didn’t just have the color to consider. Drying paint can off-gas substances which are damaging to artifacts. So, I used a latex paint that was low odor with zero volatile organic compounds (VOC). This greatly reduces the amount of artifact-damaging substances which can be off-gassed from the paint.
I removed the artifacts from the case before painting, of course. The flag stayed because it is sealed inside its own protective case, and because it would have been difficult to remove from the wall.
I chose a green color which complimented the risers in the display. I was also hoping it would help bring out the little bit of green that’s left in the flag.
I painted the case on the first of our cleaning days, in order to let the paint cure for as long as possible before returning the artifacts to the case. I also kept the doors to the case open as much as possible while the case was empty. Even with zero VOC, there will be some off-gassing from the drying paint. I kept the artifacts upstairs in a safe area while the paint dried.
I’m pleased with the final result. The flag is much more noticeable now.
The museum is looking better now, and is open for visitors again!
Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.
You can view my entire blog at www.guardianoftheartifacts.blogspot.com.