From western forts to Victorian mansions and pivotal battlegrounds, the Texas Historical Commission's 20 state historic sites exemplify a breadth of Texas history. Come explore the real stories at the real places.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Conserve to Preserve

By Laura DeNormandie-Bass, chief curator of the Historic Sites

You may have noticed that some artifacts are missing from Fort Lancaster and Fort McKavett’s visitor center exhibits. Over the last year, Texas Historical Commission (THC) staff has temporarily removed bottles, coins, buttons, armaments, saddles, and other significant fort objects for conservation. These artifacts were identified by curatorial staff for treatment as they were actively corroding, oxidizing, or degrading.

Before conservation

After conservation

Conservation is the technology by which art and artifacts are preserved. Conservation treatments slow down the inevitable degradation of natural and man-made materials and include electrolysis, desalinization, and dehydration baths and the application of natural and artificial sealants. These processes must take place at a scientific laboratory, and the THC has contracted with the Conservation Research Lab (CRL) at Texas A&M University at College Station to perform treatment on these artifacts. Once stabilized at CRL, all artifacts will be returned and re-installed at each fort’s visitor center.

Before Conservation

After conservation

The photographs below highlight the benefits of conservation. This important artifact is an oval metal identification tag that belonged to James Harris, Company A, 24th regiment. This company was stationed at Fort McKavett between July 1871 and August 1872. The tag is made of sheet metal alloyed with silver. Retrieved from Fort McKavett’s trash dump in the 1970s, the item was put on exhibit in 1978. By 2009, oxidative processes had set in and corrosion had extended over the entire piece, making it illegible.

Before conservation

After conservation
Photograph courtesy of Texas A&M’s Conservation Research Lab of College Station, TX

Conservator Catherine Sincich at CRL removed corrosion from the tag’s surface first by simmering the tag for two months in low voltage electrolysis. After three boiling rinses, Sincich polished the piece with bicarbonate paste and fiberglass, and then sealed it with clear acrylic sealant. Now conserved, the tag is no longer reactive and the intricate eagle motif has regained its depth and texture. As long as the tag receives routine maintenance it could remain chemically stable for decades.

No comments:

Post a Comment