A slight communications glitch caused the group from the Indiana State Museum Tour to start without the group that was only doing the Indiana Historical Society tour; we knew that they were supposed to rendesvous with us, but they didn’t know that we existed.
We finally caught up with the other half of our tour group in the Isolation Area of the Indiana Historical Society building, where Paper Conservator Ramona Duncan-Huse was explaining how they set aside a purpose-built space to quarantine, inspect, and treat incoming collections. Because the Historical Society actively acquires entire pallets of archive boxes, staff cannot examine every single item as it enters the collection. This holding room gives the Conservation Department the opportunity to detect insect evidence or mold and prevent cross-contamination with other collections. The room was the envy of many on the tour who could only dream about a room with such great features: negative pressure, floor drains, industrial freezers, etc. The Historical Society’s mold treatment room was a smaller room contained within the Isolation Area that had polyethylene sheeting over its entrance, easily-cleaned tile walls, and its own negative pressure air handler, designed to prevent the outflow of airborne particles through doorways.
After being “wowed” by both the size and quality of the contaminated holding area, the tour moved on to the conservation exhibit. The “History Lab” is a delightful, interactive, kid-friendly installation in a second-floor gallery adjacent to the conservation lab. The exhibits’ objective is to explain what conservation is and what conservators do. The exhibit has been popular with audiences and funders, so the Conservation Department will be undertaking a renovation and expansion of the exhibit and the Conservation Lab. Facilitator Nancy Thomas oversees the hands-on paper mending practice area in the current exhibit. There are also computer-based interactive exercises.
Romona Duncan-Huse turned over the next part of the tour to Sarah Anderson, the designer who is helping to transform the History Lab in its next phase, scheduled to open in September. She showed storyboards for the new exhibit and explained its objectives. The current exhibit is very popular with school groups and families, but some visitors see it as a children’s exhibit and walk right past it. There will be “before and after” objects, and lots of touchable materials, as well as touchscreen computer-based items. Duncan-Huse maintains a conservation Pinterest page, so they plan to incorporate that into the new exhibit. The new exhibit will explore more of the “why” and “how” of conservation treatment decisions, and it will be a lighter, more open design (think Brookstone or Sharper Image meets Apple Store meets Williams-Sonoma); it still incorporates hands-on interactive activities, but with a more sophisticated feel than the old exhibit.
With the new gallery construction slated to begin in June, the impending removal of some walls of the conservation lab meant that there were no treatments in progress during our visit. Conservation staff were happy to describe some of their recent activities to us. Tamara Hemerlein, the Local History Services Officer, explained the IMLS Statewide Connecting the Collections (C2C) project, which includes a traveling conservation panel exhibit, “Endangered Heritage.” The project also includes training for volunteers and museum boards around the state, and she has done 85 site visits to collecting institutions. In late August, they plan to release Deterioria and the Agents of Destruction, a conservation graphic novel. They let us see advance proofs, and it is AWESOME! Several members of the tour (including me) were involved with C2C, so we were all jealous. I asked if they had plans for conservator action figures.
After the lab tour, we had the opportunity to visit the galleries on our own. I went back to the conservation exhibit to get a closer look and to take a few pictures. I want to thank Ramona Duncan-Huse and everyone at the Indiana Historical Society for such an interesting tour.