Oklahoma's number one blog for natural and cultural history.
Maybe you have your grandmother’s wedding dress, your great-great grandfather’s pocket watch or a scrapbook of old family photographs. We all have family treasures, heirlooms and other objects we want to preserve for our children and grandchildren, but how do we do that?
Well, for the ethnology collection, we take several factors into account. Regardless of where they came from or how old they are, many objects are made from materials that are highly susceptible to deterioration from light, relative humidity, temperature, air pollution, microorganisms (like mold), insects and rodents. Our goal is to provide a stable and protective environment for these objects that will safeguard them from harmful forces.
Quilt made by Julia Alexander in 1850
For example, this beautiful quilt was handmade by a Kentucky woman named Julia Alexander in 1850. Over 150 years, this quilt has not only seen a lot of history, but it has also experienced some damage. It has stains, tears and is fraying along a couple of edges. While we can’t turn back time and prevent this damage from occurring, we can help prevent it from getting any worse.
We have cushioned the quilt with acid-free tissue paper, and instead of folding it and putting it in a box, we have rolled it onto a long acid-free cardboard tube. Rolling large textiles like this quilt prevents creases from occurring and also prevents tears from getting any worse. We then sewed a cover for the quilt out of basic unbleached and un-dyed muslin fabric, which prevents dust and light from getting at the object. After carefully tying on the cover, we have stored the rolled-up quilt on a storage rack on the wall in a cool dry room.
Keeping the quilt off the floor prevents anyone from accidentally stepping on or tripping over the object but also helps keep damaging bugs away from the historic quilt. Keeping the storage room cool and dry prevents mold from growing and prevents any damage from heat (such as dye transfer). This quilt is only one of the thousands of incredible and fascinating objects the ethnology collection is responsible for preserving. For more information on preserving your family treasures, check out this Connecting to Collections Online Resource.
Rolled textiles stored in the ethnology collection
A Few Fast Facts for Preserving Objects:
But wait, there’s more! Learn about other ways to preserve your family treasures at our upcoming adult workshop “Preserving Family Treasures” on November 1 from 10 a.m. to noon. Registration is required, and participants will not be able to register on-site for this program. To enroll, click here or call (405) 325-1008. Don’t let your family heirlooms suffer—sign up today!
Top 10 Endangered Artifacts program
Back in May, the Sam Noble Museum released a most exciting announcement on our blog, detailing a prestigious contest for conservation. We diligently urged our followers and fans to vote for our deteriorating treasure, a swatch of Native American lace from the 1400s, and promised to keep our faithful readers updated with the latest news.
The Spiro lace
For two months, the museum’s staff sat on pins and needles, eager to claim the attention and aid that could accompany a place in the 10. After long days of waiting for that fateful email, the results finally arrived on August 6.
The Oklahoma Cultural Heritage Trust recognized the Sam Noble Museum as having one of Oklahoma’s top 10 endangered artifacts. In addition to receiving the Cultural Heritage Stewardship Award for earlier campaign progress, the Sam Noble Museum will receive free lodging to attend the Oklahoma Museums Association Annual Conference in Enid, Oklahoma. The museum will also be recognized at the OMA Awards Program on Friday, September 27.
Top 25 finalists receiving the Cultural Heritage Stewardship Award
As you recall from our first post, the Spiro lace, from 1400 AD, was discovered buried beneath Craig Mound at the historic Native American Spiro Mound site in eastern Oklahoma by a University of Oklahoma excavation team operating under the Works Progress Administration in the late 1930s. The Spiro Mounds are known as one of the most significant ceremonial sites in North America and were actively used from 800 to 1450 AD.
The Spiro Mounds
Since then, many cultural artifacts have been recovered from beneath the mounds, including cups, pottery, tools and textiles like the Spiro lace. The lace survived in part because of its proximity to copper plates beneath the mound, whose metallic properties served as a preservation tool for hundreds of years.
“It looks like they [Oklahoma Native Americans] had many clothing and elaborate costumes we know nothing about,” said Elsbeth Dowd, the former collection manager of the Sam Noble Museum’s archaeology department and current museum registrar.
According to Dr. Dowd, this fragment of lace survives as Oklahoma’s oldest textile and offers previously unknown information about the way Native Americans lived centuries ago. Unfortunately, when this piece was discovered many decades ago, as a good-intentioned effort to prevent further deterioration and tearing, the lace was glued to a yellow matboard.
The lace glued to matboard
Current preservation efforts are geared at safely removing the lace from the matboard, as the acidic properties of the board will gradually wear on the lace and inflict further damage. Additionally, with the lace removed, archaeologists like Dowd would be able to conduct a more informative analysis of the lace using methods such as fiber analysis and 3D scanning.
“Being able to conserve this to give people access to the lace would really be great for research,” Dowd confirmed.
Thanks to your votes, the museum is one step closer to obtaining the preservation care so desperately needed. Through the Top 10 Endangered Artifacts Program, the Sam Noble Museum hopes to gain further recognition and support for its conversation efforts. It is evident that Oklahomans care deeply for their rich history, which is precisely why the museum is dedicated to preserving it for generations to come.
If you would like to support the Sam Noble Museum’s preservation efforts or any of its other programs, operations, and development of exhibits, click the donate button on the museum’s homepage.