Thursday, 23 March 2017




If you work in a small museum or small heritage organization (or even medium-sized) you might be a little strapped for space. Maybe desks serve 2 or 3 different purposes; maybe a meeting space is also an exhibit building workshop, or an office is also a lab.

Maybe you're wondering how you can utilize your space to create an organized and efficient conservation "lab"? (I use quotation marks because, let's be real, a full on heavy duty lab is sometimes a far off dream!). Based on my past experience, I hope I can give you a few tips on what you'll need and what you should aim to do to create this space!

NOTE: the best thing about creating your own conservation lab area is that it has to be what works best for you. Not everything I'll talk about is necessary for you and maybe I miss some items you think are super important. There's the beauty. Make it work for you! I just hope to give you a few guidelines to ease the overwhelming feeling of having to try and buy/find conservation tools, products, etc. that can come with the early research.

ANOTHER NOTE: It's totally fine to use a space for more than one purpose; I understand the issue of space! However, I recommend that over time whatever becomes your conservation space slowly turns into just that in order to limit contamination and increase organization and familiarity.

1. Furniture

-table -- big enough not only for what you're working on but your tools and possibly paperwork
-outlets! (not really furniture but close enough)
-lamp, preferably one meant for conservation like these. If that is not possible, any kind of high powered lamp that helps you see fine detail works.
-be near a sink, if possible.

2. Tools

-HEPA vacuum
-microscope or those cool head mounted ones like the first one on this list
-small brushes/fine-tipped brushes
-syringes with specialty tips
-fine trim tweezers
-stainless steel micro spatula
-small sharp scissors
-bone folder or something equivalent to help scoring to make boxes, etc.
-bamboo skewer (to make cotton swabs)
-consolidants: this can vary incredibly depending on the objects you have in your collection. I'll leave that information up to you (there are a ton of great resources out there!), but just know you should -have some (and a beaker to mix it in) just in case!
-your own tools: sometimes you will have to make your own quirky tools and that's totally fine. In fact, it's awesome and should be shared with the rest of us for inspiration!

A cool tool of note is a porcupine quill, known to give the right pressure for cleaning off buildup on artifacts! Who would have known...

PS: and some kind of shelving or organizational box to hold it all!

3. Documentation Procedures

-lab safety documents (should be read by ALL people using the space)
-condition reports (should be filled out everytime an item is worked on)
-conservation policy (should be read by all staff and volunteers)
-conservation procedures (it is vitally important to make a how-to document for each type of material, artifact, etc. so that if someone is working on an artifact that is new, they know the general protocol of the institution and won't rely on Google for a method that perhaps the museum does not approve of).

4. Photography Space

Whenever an artifact is cleaned, conserved, glued together, or worked on, it should be photographed! In this way, you keep the work visually up to date and create an archive of sorts of the progression of conservation done on the object. This doesn't have to necessarily be in the same space but should be nearby.

5. Storage

This is the organizational box or shelving I mentioned earlier. It is super important to have all of your tools organized but also (most likely) able to move out of the way in case the space needs to be used for other things. I have seen different methods, but here are some general ideas:

-rolling set of drawers (usually those plastic ones) that can be tucked discreetly into corners
-plastic clip boxes that can be labeled and piled on top of each other on the corner of the desk; think giant pencil boxes from our youth
-if you have the space, put a shelf up above the table and store your items there!
-However you choose, an important thing to remember is to label and keep it organized.

That's it! Those are some easy beginning steps to a conservation space. Some last minute tips:

  • Make sure it is clean!
  • Make sure it is large enough for majority of artifacts!
  • Put down some kind of base so that artifacts and your table top don't interact directly/add some cushioning. It's easy to buy a roll of ethafoam and then cut a piece that fits your table perfectly!


Conservation Wiki: Archaeological Conservation

Conservation Wiki: Setting Up a Conservation Lab

Penn Museum: Artifact Lab Toolkit

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