Wednesday, 6 May 2015

IT'S SPRING CLEANING TIME, AND THERE IS A NEW SHERIFF IN TOWN

CONSERVATION TIPS & TRICKS

BY: NIKITA JOHNSTON

Well, spring has sprung…

... And now, warm weather is upon us. Along with everyone else, it is time for this girl to do some serious spring-cleaning. For collections managers and conservators working in a heritage village, spring-cleaning may often feel a little bit like a cheesy detective novel, or an old western movie in which the good guy - or gal, in my case - is required to locate and eradicate the vermin (literally!).

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This summer, I have the privilege to once again return to one of my favourite places, Grey Roots Museum & Archives, located just south of my hometown of Owen Sound. My first task as the Collections Conservation Assistant is to get Moreston Heritage Village ready for school tours and the summer season. "What does this entail?" you may ask. Well, for the most part, as with any typical spring cleaning, it includes: dusting, sweeping, vacuuming, mopping floors, washing windows, and cleaning out the cobwebs. However, some tasks are a little more unusual, such as blackening the cast iron stoves.

It's a dirty job but someone's got to do it!
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In addition, a major priority is taking inventory of the objects kept in the buildings over the winter, and figuring out what items need to be brought out from storage and put out on display.

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Of course working with heritage buildings there are always additional considerations that have to be made, such as avoiding the use of chemical cleaners, and only mopping on warm, dry days with a good breeze so the wood floors do not smell musty.

So where does the old western, sheriff vs. outlaw theme come into play?

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Let me introduce you to those vermin I mentioned previously, or what I like to refer to as my "Most Not-Wanted" list. Say "howdy" to my top 3 outlaws...

WANTED

Clothes Moths (a.k.a. The Case Maker)

The Case Maker is one bad bug, but surprisingly, it is the larvae that cause the most damage. Larvae are known to feed on feather material, woollens, rugs, felts, hair and furs, and it has been reported that they will also feed on spices, tobacco, hemp and skins. Clothes moths can be difficult to see because the larvae make cases, which they later pupate in, from the material they eat. Unfortunately, by the time they are detected they are often already in their adult stage and the damage has been done.

Standard pest management controls and treatment methods for museum pests will generally control this vermin. However, in a heritage village where staff and volunteers cook and eat food, store dried herbs, and display a variety of textiles to create an authentic experience for visitors, controls cannot always be guaranteed. In such cases, ensuring that staff and volunteers monitor collections on display, follow a regular housekeeping schedule, and adhere to an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program are all musts.


Moulds (a.k.a. The Un-Fungi)

Fungi are no fun! Unfortunately, moulds are numerous and everywhere. It is the hyphae of fungi that cause destruction to objects. Hyphae stain or digest collections, and in the process weaken objects and attract other insect pests. 

For the most part, mould growth is stopped if collections are maintained below 70% relative humidity (RH), with ideal RH levels being at 50% for mixed collection in storage. However, when working with heritage buildings where climate control is non-existent, high levels of RH do occur. Of my three most un-wanted, mould is the one I dread the most, mainly because fungi also pose a health risk to humans, requiring me to suit up in my personal protective equipment (PPE).


Mitigating the growth of mould is a challenge, however objects that are likely to be damaged or provide suitable environments for mould (e.g. wooden bowls and other organics) can be relocated inside during the winter and spring months, or moved away from exterior walls, establishing a buffer zone. If mould is present, most often the solution is the physical removal of the mould using a natural fibre brush, and a vacuum with a HEPA filter, while wearing my PPE. 


Mice (a.k.a. The Nibbler)

The Nibbler out of all three can cause the most damage to collections and can do so relatively quickly. A single mouse can chew through fabric, wood, leather, or other materials to get to food or create a nest in only a few minutes, causing irreparable damage. The presence of foodstuff as well as many attractive materials for nesting make heritage buildings ideal environments for mice, particularly over the winter season when buildings are closed to the public and are visited infrequently by staff.

Notorious signs of mouse activity include: gnaw marks, fecal pellets, urine stains, oil rub marks, or nests. Mouse urine produces a noticeable odour and damage to collections generally comes from urine and fecal staining as well as gnawing and removal of material to make nests.

When dealing with mice, detection is key, and during spring-cleaning I look for all the signs noted above. In addition, prevention and mitigation takes the form of an established IPM program, and ensuring proper housekeeping and the removal of all potential food sources in the fall. Additionally, it is important particularly with heritage buildings, which may not be well sealed, to locate and ensure that any potential entry points for mice and other rodents are properly sealed.

I'm looking for you!
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At the end of the day these outlaws better be wary because I am on the hunt, and with an IPM program in place they won't get away. Dead or alive, this sheriff always gets her pest! Especially, when I have my mantra to keep me vigilant and strong...

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1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed the Western theme, Nikita! Very effective, especially as you're working in a historic village. I get the impression that every institution has it's own "top three most wanted" pests. Thank you for sharing your list and experience cleaning our the historic buildings at Grey Roots - I'm sure they're very appreciative of your expertise (the staff, not the pests!).

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