This post is part of the “From the Bench” series celebrating the work of conservators. Part scientist, part detective, they work to preserve the past for the future. This series features the voices of conservators who are working on IMLS-supported projects in museums across the United States. For more information about IMLS funding for museums see www.imls.gov/applicants/available_grants.aspx.
By Lynn A. Grant, Head Conservator, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
Our IMLS-funded post-graduate fellows, Ainslie Harrison and Fran Baas (collectively known as ‘Frainslie’) have, in one short year, totally transformed the circumstances for Penn Museum’s collections of textiles and ceramics from Pachacamac, Peru. This group of extremely important archaeological materials, excavated by Max Uhle in the 1890s, had languished due to overcrowded storage, inadequate documentation, and difficulties in access. Fran and Ainslie carried out detailed conservation surveys of 3,600 objects and moved them into better storage locations. They created customized storage solutions so the artifacts can be easily accessed and studied. They added over 10,000 images to the museum’s publicly accessible database. And they were able to treat the approximately 60 artifacts most in need of stabilization. In addition to all of this, Fran and Ainslie also blogged about the project and gave frequent specialized tours for students and museum patrons.
To have accomplished all this in such a short time is amazing. Perhaps more amazing is how they did it. ‘Frainslie’ recruited, trained, supervised, and nurtured a large cadre of volunteers, work-study students, and pre-program interns to assist them with the process. “Team Pachacamac,” as they became known, was extraordinarily productive and seemed to really enjoy the work. For two recently graduated conservators to assemble and oversee this kind of effort and to inspire near fanatical devotion to the project was incredibly gratifying in an institution that has long prided itself on its contributions to conservation education.
Their work has made a tremendous impact. As Fran wrote in her last blog post, “The primary goal of the grant was to increase researcher access, and I can proudly say that this goal was reached … Many research questions can now be answered just by searching the collections database online through the museum’s website, saving time for the curator, the collection staff, and researchers miles away. Access to the digital documentation also has an important preservation aspect since it minimizes the handling of the object. If a question can’t be answered by viewing its color digital photograph or by reading the newly added collection information gathered during the survey, the piece can be easily retrieved safely and quickly.” We wish Ainslie and Fran well as they move on to new professional challenges. Kudos to Team Pachacamac and to IMLS for making this work possible.