Tag Archives: museum

113: Mother of Pearl Veneer

The inspiration for this week’s post is Carry A. Nation, the famous barroom smasher.   Carry believed that alcohol was the root of all society’s evils, and she  took hatchet to things she didn’t like (namely bars, whisky bottles and paintings of scantily clad ladies).  Though some called her mad, her barroom appearances had the strange effect of *increasing* business for tavern owners, so much so they often invited her to smash up the joint.  Carry didn’t mind, as her message was still being heard.  She was also a shrewd marketer, and sold merchandise to support her cause.  She lived comfortably and even ran a home for women and children whose lives had been effected by alcohol.

Given that I’m actually enjoying a Not Your Father’s Root Beer while writing this post, you can assume I will not be taking up the cause of temperance.  The museum I work for is doing a fabulous fundraiser set in a 1910s saloon, which will feature none other than Carry Nation, as portrayed by my mentor Ellie Carlson of Ellie Presents.   (Happily, our event is sold out, otherwise I’d be selling you tickets too.)  Ellie owns an original Carry Nation hatchet pin, and was commenting that she couldn’t get anything like it to sell in character.  Cue the laser.

Original Carry A Nation pin, as worn by Ellie Carlson
Original Carry A Nation pin, as worn by Ellie Carlson

Ellie’s pin is a brass hatchet that features a mother of pearl head, which cleverly stops just short of the edge of the brass to make it look like it has a wicked sharp blade.  Brushed gold make a nice substitute for the brass, and I finally got to experiment with mother of pearl veneer.

We first played around with mother of pearl in the laser when we tested engraving on different bead materials back in Week 32.  The beads turned out beautifully (if a little sooty.  But that just made the engraving stand out better.)

Shell beads, vector on the left, raster on the right
Shell beads, vector on the left, raster on the right from Week 32

dsc01005Because our event was coming up in short order, I ordered a “pressure sensitive” (aka peel and stick) sheet of mother of pearl veneer off Amazon.  at $25 for a 9×6 inch sheet, it’s not cheap, and I should ave read the reviews better.  The reviews were poor for this seller, and upon opening the package, I found my sheet had the same issues.  Oops.  The iridescence, created by the nacre on the inside of the shell, was inconsistent.  The package was flimsy, just a soft box and a sheet of styrofoam, so the surface was a spider web of cracks.  Lesson learned – find a reputable seller.  Timing and budget didn’t allow for a second sheet to be purchased.

Disappointing
Disappointing
Cutting was a breeze
Cutting was a breeze

The hatchets were small enough, I figured I could find a good spot on the sheet to cut them out.  I went with a full hatchet head design rather than the one with the short back, like Ellie’s pin, mostly for ease in aligning the mother of pearl to the base.  Carry Nation herself had a lot of different styles of pins, so I figured I could take the liberties.  For laser settings, we gave it a little more power than card stock.  It sliced through quickly and easily, though the edges were a little sooty, like the beads.  Not unexpected for organic materials.  (I later learned that when cutting mother of pearl with a knife you should cut from back to front.  It’s a very brittle material – I’m not sure if it would have made a difference on the laser, though.)

The backing came off surprisingly easy
The backing came off surprisingly easy.  I was expecting it to be a little difficult, especially with the cracking on the veneer, the but the sheets held together surprisingly well.
Incredibly translucent
Incredibly translucent

After I peeled the backing off the cut veneer, I had another disappointment.  I didn’t expect the mother of pearl to be so sheer!  I could read through it.  I expected more body, so it would standout from the brushed gold acrylic.  Honestly, it was difficult to even see it was there at a glace.    As a test, I cut out a silver version of the ax.  The veneer stood out slightly better on it, but not enough to make a difference.

dsc01026
This photo was taken at the perfect angle to catch the iridescence. It looks better in photos.
The flaws are still kind of noticeable on the finished piece.
The flaws are still kind of noticeable on the finished piece.

In the end, Ellie and I decided it was better to do the pins without the mother of pearl.  This of course, isn’t a radical departure from Carry Nation herself – she sold a cheaper version of the pin without the mother of pearl as well.   I want to try using the mother of pearl again, perhaps on earrings or accents, where the perfection of the sheet doesn’t matter as much.  But I’m not sure it’s something I would order again.

Because I couldn't resist, I also made up a pin based on this much larger cast iron piece. The laser's half toning capabilities made transferring the image of Mrs Nation's face a breeze!
Because I couldn’t resist, I also made up a pin based on this much larger cast iron piece. The laser’s half toning capabilities (more visible on the left) made transferring the image of Mrs Nation’s face a breeze!

93: Specialized Museum Storage Trays

When working at a local history museum, the collections encompass a very wide variety of materials.  As awesome as we strive to be, no one person can be an expert in all materials.  This is how the Aurora Historical Society’s hairpin graveyard came to be.

Back in 1991, a very professional and well intentioned curator (that I’m still friends with today!) packed up a box of haircombs in a traditional way – wrapping each individual piece safely in acid free tissue, and closing them up in an archival box.  Now imagine my dismay when 20 years later I opened the box to find the tissue is all slick and oily and partially disintegrating, some combs oozing, all the metal corroded beyond recognition and the bottom of the box littered with gummy and shattered combs remnants.  The culprit?  Celluloid Nitrate, aka Celluloid.

Hair comb graveyard
Hair comb graveyard.

A little history on Celluloid – it is considered the very first thermoplastic, and was invented by Alexander Parkes  in 1856.  It was a good and cheap substitution of ivory and horn, and by 1870 was used to make haircombs.  Celluloid was discovered to be highly flammable, and if you even LOOK at it wrong it will start to degrade. Wikipedia has a very good explanation on what happens to the celluloid with age and exposure to environments.  Plastics, in general, are a very unstable lot.

The nice thing about curators is that they are every helpful, and everyone know someone that can help.  Sam Gruber, plastics curator and Peter Verheyen, lead conservator, both at the Syracuse University Libraries, were very knowledgeable about my problem.  Unfortunately, the damage to the combs in our collection is not reversible.  And this “Nitrate poisoning” is contagious – the gasses (acetates – think vinegar) and moisture seepage from one accelerates the instability of combs in close contact.

As the first step to long term care, we documented and removed all infected combs.  The loss of historic objects you could tell were once beautiful is a bit gut wrenching for a curator.  We carefully cleaned and dried the remaining combs, and laid them out with plenty of ventilation.  I periodically checked on them over the past few years to see if there was any further damage – thankfully there was none.  Since they were stable, they needed a permanent, safe home.  I realized it was a perfect 52 Lasers post!

According to our experts, plastic storage should be out of sunlight and heat.  They cannot touch each other.  And the key to proper storage is that plastics need to be well ventilated so that gas and moisture can not build up around them.  Wrapping the pieces is right out.

I still needed to box the combs for their protection – unstable materials aside, they are delicate artifacts with many small teeth and decorations.  Luckily, acetates are heavier then air, and settle in the bottom of boxes – hence why the combs and the bottom were in worse condition than the top.

My storage plan:

  • laser cut several holes along the bottom edge of the sides of the archival storage box, to let air escape
  • Install spacers at the bottom of the box, to hold the tray at least a half inch over the bottom
  • Make trays that have airholes in the bottom to allow heavy gasses to sink
  • Cut appropriately placed holes to tie the unique combs in place with cotton twill tape, keeping them in place without padding or wrapping.
Always make a prototype!
Always make a prototype!

I ran out of time to box our entire haircomb collection (which will likely take at least 8 trays to do), but the two trays I did do show the plan works!  I created a tray design based on the one by Nancy Davis at the website “Storage Techniques for Art, Science and History” or more cleverly STASH.  I liked their tray design as it incorporated lip at the top so you could safely stack trays and have a good space for marking tray contents and location.

Laser bed
Laser bed
Chip clips (clean) worked well holding it while the linen tape was drying.
Chip clips (clean) worked well holding it while the linen tape was drying.

It was easy to vectorize and customize the basic tray design for my size needs.  We did a few kiss cuts to make the fold lines. The holes are all 1/8 inch, including the ones on the sides to loop in handles.  The cardboard is archival e-flute and the corners are connected with pre-gummed acid free linen tape.

Tools of the trade.
Tools of the trade.

I customized the tray layouts by adding appropriate holes to tie the combs in place.  They are designed to work with the the specific comb shape, therefore they are not interchangeable.  This makes a permanent home for the comb, a statement that warms this curator’s heart.  I marked the tray underneath each comb in pencil with their unique object ID number, and on the lip of the tray as well so they are easily identifiable without removing them.

Comb placement
Comb placement
It holds right side up!
It holds right side up!
It holds upside down!
It holds upside down!

 

The cotton ties are placed in such a way the comb sits snugly and can not move or hit the sides when the box is jostled, or in worst case scenarios, dropped.  I’m confident they are going to be safer than they have been in years.  This was a very satisfying project – I love when things are properly numbered, cataloged and stored!

Snug as a bug in a rug.
Snug as a bug in a rug.  These combs are huge, and aren’t celluloid, but the storage solution works well for them as well.
Tray in the bigger storage box. Happy ending!
Tray in the bigger storage box. Happy ending!

80: Katana Stand

This past Sunday, I presented the 3rd Annual “Art in the Parlor” presentation with Art conservator Scott Sherwood. (For those not in the know, my day job is curator for the Aurora Historical Society, in Aurora, Illinois.)  It’s one of my favorite presentations all year.  The format is that we choose 4-5 “objects d’ art” from the collection, I talk about the provenance and its place in the collection, Scott talks about art techniques and restoration.  This year, we shook things up by choosing to present a WWII era Japanese katana.

Sword Stand (2 of 36)

This sword has been in the collection since 1948, and was a gift from Alvin Wienold.  It is a type 98 Shin-Gunto, ot new military sword, made after 1938.  It is a  well made piece that belonged to an Army officer.

Scott Sherwood, Art conservator.  He's unsheathed the sword in one motion, as is proper for a katana.
Scott Sherwood, Art conservator. He’s unsheathed the sword in one motion, as is proper for a katana. Photo by Mary Clark Ormond.

As part of the presentation, we set up the artwork in the front of the room, and unveil it as we talk about it.  I really needed a sword stand, and don’t really have it in the budget to drop $30 for one that wouldn’t work well for the museum.  Which made it a perfect 52 Lasers project!

Ryan has been experimenting lately with 1/4″ thick clear cast acrylic.  It’s heavy duty compared to what I’m used to, and it was perfect for an unobtrusive sword stand.  I did a quick google search to see if there were any other laser cut sword stands out there, and Brian Chan, a sword smith, had designed a laser cut sword stand, which you can see on his website.

View of how it sits in the cradle
View of how it sits in the cradle

Our stand used Brian Chan’s base measurements for a start, but for my purposes I wanted something more utilitarian.  I only needed to display a single sword, so we made the sides a simple wedge, with a slightly higher lip in the back than the front.  I also shortened it up so it would fit better in a case that had a lid.  Thanks to Ryan’s tests on the material, the 3 pieces (two sides and a base) slotted together beautifully!  It is a beautiful, and archivally sound, display for years to come!