April 15, 2015      
Northern States Conservation Center Northern States
Conservation Center

The Collections Caretaker e-Newsletter

Collections Care 
Ancient, Historic and Modern   

In This Issue
Regional Workshops
Conferences and Meetings
Submissions and Comments
Textiles and Their Structures
The Field Lab
May 2015 Courses
2015 Online Course Schedule Now Available 
The 2015 museumclasses.org course schedule is now available at
We are working on adding courses to the schedule over the next couple of months, so come back and check for new additions. 
Upcoming Classes
Museum Administration an Introduction
Museum Administration an Introduction
Wondering what a museum director actually does? About to start your first director's job? Looking for guidance in starting up a museum or working with a museum director? Hugh Genoways and Lynne Ireland have taken the mystery out and put common sense and good guidance in. Learn about everything from budgets and strategic planning to human resources and facilities management to collections and programming. Genoways and Ireland also help you tackle legal documents, legal and ethical issues, and challenges for the modern museum. Case studies and exercises throughout help you review and practice what you are learning, and their extensive references will be a welcome resource.
Museum Administration an Introduction  $39.95
Archives Management

Archives include flat paper, photographs, bound pamphlets, books, small 3-dimensional objects, and magnetic media. The Archives Management course covers an introduction to the materials found in archives and typical use of these materials including use patterns, retrieval needs, finding aids, handling and exhibition. The last half of the course details optimum storage options for archival materials. Storage includes furniture, storage techniques, standardized and specialized housing such as folders and boxes and custom-made housings.


Course Outline:

  • Introduction to Archive Management
  • Storage Facilities and Furniture
  • Standardized and Specialized Housing
  • Paper and Media
  • Conclusion
Join Jennifer Edwards to learn  how to manage Archival Collections in our MS234 Archives Management course beginning May 4, 2015.

Jenna Edwards is the Archivist/Records Manager for the USDA National Wildlife Research Center. After completing an MA in Public History at Wright State University located in Dayton, Ohio, she began working for the National Park Service at cultural and environmental heritage sites including the National Archives for Black Women's History and the South Florida Collections Management Center (SFCMC) located in Everglades National Park. She then transitioned to the USDA National Wildlife Research Center, which combined her love of archives and environmental history. Her current projects include digitizing archival materials, the preservation and conservation of data and creation of an electronic records management filing scheme.

Preserving Textiles: A Guide for the Nonspecialist
Preserving Textiles: A Guide for the Nonspecialist

Author: Harold Mailand and Dorothy Stites Alig. This recently revised book is the clearest textile care publication available. Gives an overview of how textiles are damaged and what can be done to stop or slow the damage. In-depth information on cleaning, storing and displaying textiles. Excellent color plates. 92 pp

 Preserving Textiles: A Guide for the Nonspecialist  
Regional Workshops

Where you can find some of our instructors in 2015:

Helen Alten
  • AASLH Collections Management and Practices, Haines, AK, May 14-15, 2015

Stevan P. Layne


American Alliance of Museums Annual Meeting 

  • CIPM Regional Security Management Certification Class, Atlanta, GA, April 29, 2015
  • Management of Aggressive Behavior (MOAB) Introductory Class, Atlanta, GA, April 29, 2015

Gawain Weaver


The Care and Identification of Photographs

Conferences and Meetings


Colorado-Wyoming Association of Museums

Craig, CO

April 16-18, 2015


Association of Academic Museums and Galleries

Atlanta, GA
April 24-26, 2015


American Alliance of Museums

Atlanta, GA

April 26-29, 2015


Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections

Gainesville, FL

May 17-23, 2015


Association of Midwest Museums Conference

Cincinnati, OH

July 19-22, 2015


Society of American Archivists

Cleveland, OH

August 16-22, 2015.


American Association for State and Local History

Louisville, KY
September 16-19, 2015


Mountain-Plains Museums Association

Wichita, KS

September 27 - October 1, 2015


Southeastern Museums Conference

Jacksonville, FL

October 12 - 14, 2015


Western Museums Association

San Jose, CA

October 24-27, 2015.


New England Museum Association

Portland, ME

November 4-6, 2015


NAI National Workshop

Virginia Beach, VA
November 10-14, 2015 

Submissions and Comments


How to submit an article or upcoming workshops for inclusion in the Newsletter:  

If you would like to submit an article, notice of an organizational meeting or upcoming workshop for an upcoming Collections Caretaker Newsletter, send your submission to peggy@collectioncare.org.  


We are always looking for contributions to this newsletter. Submission deadline is the 10th of each month. 


Have a comment or suggestion?   


Send it to peggy@collectioncare.org

Join Our Mailing List
Quick Links
Welcome to the Collections Caretaker e-Newsletter from Northern States Conservation Center. The newsletter is designed to bring you timely and helpful content that is pertinent to situations we all encounter in our museum and archives work. Feel free to let us know what topics you would like to see featured in Collections Caretaker or even contribute an article.

Textiles and Their Structures

By Ann Coppinger


We cannot control the fact that organic materials deteriorate, but we can slow the process. An excellent way to understand the causes and ways in which you can control deterioration is to study the nature of the object or textile.


For the most part, historic textile collections are made from organic materials. The first synthetic manufactured fiber was Nylon, which dates to approximately 1939. All other textile materials prior to that are from either natural sources or beginning in the late Nineteenth Century are from regenerated materials. In lay terms this means natural materials reformed with the addition of chemicals.


The smallest element of a textile is the fiber itself. They can be a finite length (staple) or a seemingly infinite length (filament). Most fibers are spun or twisted together to form a long, continuous strand called a yarn. An exception is felted textiles, whereby fibers are joined in the presence of heat, moisture and agitation to form a mat-like textile usually made from wool. Yarns can be used as singled strands or plied with another yarn to give it increased strength or dimensional uniformity. The yarns are then woven or knitted into whole cloth or purposefully shaped based on the final intended cloth object.


Textiles can be colored or decorated with the application of dyes, pigments and special finishes. Textiles can also be embellished with embroidered stitches, beads or sequins, as well as metallic elements. Textiles can be dyed at the fiber, yarn or whole cloth stages. Dyes chemically unite with the textile while pigments simply sit on top of the textile substrate. Textile finishes can be achieved by either mechanical or chemical processing. All of this processing and the added features serve to make the care of textiles a sometimes precarious situation.


Natural fibers can be divided into two distinct groups, those that come from animals and those that are plant based. Cotton and linen (generally referred to as flax in its fiber form) come from plants and are composed mainly of cellulose. Silk and wool (for the sake of simplicity, I will use this term to refer to all animal hair) are from animals and are composed of proteins. All of these fibers, in their natural state, need water or moisture to grow and survive. Their physical structure is such that it is conducive to transporting moisture for survival.


That's the good news when they are part of living organisms. This continues to be a positive attribute when fibers are turned into utilitarian textile objects. Most natural textiles are valued for their ability to absorb liquids, feel comfortable against the skin and retain warmth.


However, when textiles enter museum collections they are no longer used except for study as objects that tell a story. More than likely, they are compromised and weakened from their previous owner's care and use. That once positive attribute now becomes an inherent vice, making textiles one of the more fragile objects a museum can have in its collection. Textile fibers will still retain their ability to absorb and lose moisture. Therefore textile objects respond to humidity fluctuations in their environment, causing slight physical movements to the fibers as they take in and release moisture. Constant expansion and compression within the fiber's structure serves to severely weaken the textile overall. This is one of the primary reasons a stable environment is critical to good textile care.


Textile fibers are spun together to make long, continuous strands called yarns. Fibers that are spun in a counterclockwise rotation are said to have a Z twist or right twist, the most common. Yarns that are spun in a clockwise direction have an S twist or left twist. Fibers can be spun by either rolling the fibers down the spinner's thigh, using a spindle, using a spinning wheel, or by mechanized spinning equipment.


Yarns are woven, knitted, plaited or knotted to form various textile structures. The most common structure is created by weaving, defined as the interlacing of warp and weft yarns on a loom. There are three basic weave structures; plain, twill and satin. All woven textiles are made using one or more variations of these weaves.


Textiles are then decorated by dyeing, finishing and/or various applied elements. All of these factors serve to compound the nature of the textile. For example, an embroidered sampler may consist of a linen ground cloth that has been embroidered with silk threads. The textile is composed of both cellulosic (linen) and protenaceous (silk) materials. The linen may not have been dyed, but the colored silk threads would have been. Depending on the dye, the silk threads will deteriorate at different rates; generally the browns will go first. And to further complicate the situation, the inks used to draw the patterning on the linen also add to the degradation process.


Textiles go through a great deal of processing from their raw state to the finished, utilitarian product. They are then used and cared for by their owners. All of these factors contribute to the history of the object and its eventual destruction. So hopefully at this point it has become a bit clearer why they should be handled with extraordinary care when they are part of a collection.


Excerpt from MS212: Care of Textiles beginning May 4, 2015.


Ann Coppinger runs the conservation department and teaches conservation at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. She has a master's in museum studies specializing in costume and textile conservation from FIT. She is a former NEA master apprentice at the Textile Conservation Workshop. Ms. Coppinger previously worked for 22 years in fashion in New York City. She has degrees in both fashion design and pattern making from FIT. 

The Field Lab

By Diana Komejan


Activities in the field lab

Think about your typical archaeological site. The vast majority of archaeologists work in primitive conditions. The same is true of most field conservation labs. As a result, identifying, registering, packing and performing simple treatments are the most you can hope to accomplish in a field lab.


Cleaning should be minimal. Limit activities to soft brushing to remove loose dirt, possibly with gentle encouragement from a bamboo skewer or wood applicator stick. If more cleaning is required, then you should have a conservator staffing the field lab.


Registration assigns a number to each find. This number ties the paperwork - the records you create - to the find. Usually the site registrar is responsible for primary record keeping.


Record keeping requires that you tell as much as possible about the piece in the field. It's also important to include condition photographs and simple condition reports - something a conservator might complete. In the records, also note pieces that could benefit from X-rays. The conservator ensures condition and treatment records are linked to the registrar's records using appropriate site numbers.


Drying. You may be able to dry some artifacts, such as certain stable ceramics or glass. Always test dry a sample artifact to make sure no changes occur. Metals, from "dry" sites should be air-dried before packing and kept dry in sealed boxes with dry silica gel. Antler and bone from dry sites can usually be air-dried, too. However, the unheated site lab humidity may still be much higher than the storage area that is centrally heated. Taking material from the field to storage can be problematic. Organic materials should go through a conservation facility first.


Packing. All artifacts should be packed for safe shipment back to the research facility. Further examination and conservation would occur there.


In some instances, there is no research facility or main laboratory where artifacts will receive further treatment. In those cases, your field lab must provide more in depth treatments, bringing the artifacts to a stable state for long-term preservation. This will require more staff, more time and more materials. Even then, some objects might be temporarily stabilized and stored for continued work in a following season.


Role of the Conservator

Large archaeological excavations where many artifacts will be found are best served by having a conservator on site. A conservator can identify materials, assess artifact conditions, and deal with potential site problems such as excavation of fragile artifacts using block lifts or separating layered materials, such as paintings on stone walls.


Conservators also can make decisions about long-term storage and treatment that will be of great assistance when the artifact gets back to the research facility. Conservators can do basic treatments and pack artifacts for transport.


If you do not have a conservator, assign one person to assess the condition of artifacts and to pack them for storage. That person also may be capable to perform basic conservation tasks such as simple cleaning and stabilizing. This person should have enough field expertise and common sense to know what is feasible and what is not. It's also important that this person work closely with the site registrar to develop a work plan that ensures smooth processing of artifacts.


For sites with a large amount of material, a triage may be necessary. Sort the finds by priority - some need immediate attention, some can be stored and worked on over the next few decades. Consider reburial as an option. If you are finding material that you are not equipped to handle, cover that area back up and return later when you have the expertise to excavate that material and care for it properly. Even on sites with a conservator, problem objects will be reburied, giving the conservator time to assemble supplies and develop a treatment approach.


Excerpt from MS 215: Care of Archaeological Artifacts from the Field to the Lab beginning May 4, 2015


Diana Komejan graduated from Sir Sandford Fleming Colleges Art Conservation Techniques program in 1980. She has worked for Parks Canada; Kelsey Museum, University of Michigan; Heritage Branch Yukon Territorial Government; National Gallery of Canada; Canadian Museum of Nature; Yukon Archives and the Antarctic Heritage Trust and is currently teaching Conservation Techniques in the Applied Museum Studies Program at Algonquin College in Ottawa. In 1995 she was accredited in Mixes Collection with The Canadian Association of Professional Conservators. Her work as a conservator has been quite broad in scope, having worked with historic sites, archaeological excavations and museums. In addition to lab treatments, Diana has broad archaeological experience, including the excavation of mammoths and dinosaur tracks.

May 2015 Courses


MS 011: Gallery Guides

May 4 to 15, 2015

Instructor:  Karin Hostetter


Self-guided brochures, exhibit labels, docent led tours, guest speakers, and audio tours are only a few of the methods available to guide visitors through an exhibit. Explore the strengths and challenges of many different methods and garner resources for further information. Learn how to determine which method works best with which exhibits and how to provide variety to enhance the visitor experience.


MS 109: Museum Management

May 4 to June 5, 2015

Instructor:  Sue Near


Sound business practices are critical for a museum to fulfill its mission. Sounds like vegetables, right? Museum management is complex. A museum exists to preserve collections and educate, but it is also an institution that must employ sound business practices while being accountable to the public as a non-profit organization. Instructor Sue Near teaches participants how to administer a successful museum efficiently and effectively. Participants will engage in discussions about the changing cultural climate and its effect on museum operations.


MS 202: Museum Storage Facilities and Furniture

May 4 to 29, 2015

Instructor:  Helen Alten


If you are building a new storage facility or retrofitting an old one, this course provides the blueprint for how to approach architects and engineers as well as redesigning your facility yourself. The course covers the philosophy of storage, the construction requirements, security, fire and water prevention, types of furniture, and how to plan for collections growth.

The course will start with a refresher on the agents of deterioration and environmental issues to assure that the students have a common base to begin.


After this introduction, topics include determining storage and defining space, architectural design considerations and issues such as lighting, security and planning. We will discuss general information about storage furniture types and storage materials, how to modify existing cabinets and information on homemade storage systems. The last section includes specific information from a variety of vendors, specifics on writing a Request for Proposal (RFP), and what to consider when making a decision on a furniture type and vendor.


MS 211: Preservation Environments

May 4 to 29, 2015

Instructor:  Ernest Conrad


The museum's brick exterior wall is crumbling. The powder coated metal storage shelves have active rust under the foam padding. Objects in fur storage are covered in mold. It is raining in the exhibit hall. This is the damage that occurs to museum buildings or collection when staff do not understand preservation environments. Preservation Environments is essential knowledge for any collecting institution. Everyone should understand how humidity and temperature are controlled by a building and its mechanical system. For museum staff considering a new building - and any institution planning to expand or rebuild an existing one - Preservation Environments provide important information for calculating whether the proposed improvements will actually improve the environmental control of your protective enclosure. Participants learn the advantages and disadvantages of numerous methods of temperature and humidity control. Preservation Environments does not try to turn museum professionals into engineers. Rather, it arms them with the knowledge they need to work with engineers and maintenance professionals. And helps explain why damaged occurred and how to keep it from happening again.


MS 212: Care of Textiles

May 4 to 29, 2015

Instructor:  Ann Coppinger

Caring for textiles demands an understanding of how and why they deteriorate. This course offers a simplified explanation of the origin and structure of textile fibers as well as the finished textile object; be it either a piece of whole cloth or a finished garment. Care of Textiles teaches students to identify fibers, fabric structures and finishes, write condition reports, and understand the agents of deterioration that are harmful to various fabrics both in storage on exhibit. Topics include preparing textiles for storage and exhibit, the use of archival materials with textiles, and three dimensional supports.


MS 215: Care of Archaeological Artifacts from the Field to the Lab

New Dates: May 4 to 29, 2015

Instructor:  Diana Komejan

Archaeological finds come out of the ground fragile - and they often stay that way. Yet archaeologists and museum professionals have few clear guidelines for handling, moving, storing and displaying such materials. Participants in Care of Archaeological Artifacts From the Field to the Lab learn techniques for safely lifting and packing artifacts, safe transportation and temporary and permanent storage. The course also covers a broad range of excavation environments, including the Arctic, wet sites, tropical and temperate. Though Care of Archaeological Artifacts is not intended to train archaeological conservators, it is designed to help participants understand what can and can't be done to save the artifacts they unearth.


MS 224: Care of Leather and Skin Materials

New Dates: May 4 to June 12, 2015

Instructor: Helen Alten


Prior to the invention of plastics, skin materials were the flexible covering used for most objects - from bellows to books, carriages to desktops. Furs and skins are in almost every museum's collection, be it Natural History, History or Art. Caring for leather and skin materials demands an understanding of how and why they deteriorate. Care of Leather and Skin Materials offers a simplified explanation of the origin, chemistry and structure of leathers and skins. Students learn to identify leathers and surface finishes, determine their extent of deterioration, write condition reports, and understand the agents of deterioration that are harmful to leather and skins both in storage and on exhibit. Topics include preparing hide and skin materials for storage and exhibit, the use of archival materials and which ones might harm skin proteins, housekeeping techniques for large objects or books on open display, and three-dimensional supports for leather and skin to keep them from distorting. Integrated pest management and historical treatments will be covered, with a unit on hazardous materials applied to older skins and leather that might prove a danger to staff.


MS 226: Care of Furniture

May 4 to 29, 2015

Instructor:  Diana Komejan


Caring for furniture and wood artifacts demands an understanding of how and why wood deteriorates. This course offers a simplified explanation of the chemistry and structure of wood as well as the finished wooden object; be it either a totem pole, plow or a French polished table. Care of Furniture and Wood Artifacts teaches students to identify woods, finishes and furniture styles, write condition reports, and understand the agents of deterioration that are harmful to wood both in storage and on exhibit. Topics include preparing wood artifacts for storage and exhibit, the use of archival materials with wood artifacts, housekeeping techniques for furniture and large objects on open display, basic repairs and three dimensional supports for storage or exhibit.


MS 234: Archives Management

May 4 to 29, 2015

Instructor:  Jennifer Edwards


Archives include flat paper, photographs, bound pamphlets, books, small 3-dimensional objects, and magnetic media. The Archives Management course covers an introduction to the materials found in archives and typical use of these materials including use patterns, retrieval needs, finding aids, handling and exhibition. The last half of the course details optimum storage options for archival materials. Storage includes furniture, storage techniques, standardized and specialized housing such as folders and boxes and custom-made housings.  

Northern States Conservation Center (NSCC) provides training, collection care, preservation and conservation treatment services. NSCC offers online museum studies classes at www.museumclasses.org in Collections Management & Care, Museum Administration & Management, Exhibit Practices and Museum Facilities Management.


Helen Alten, Director

Peggy Schaller, Publications Manager