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Monday, January 31, 2011

Conserved Artifacts Arrive at Fort McKavett

by Cody Mobley, Fort McKavett State Historic Site curator

On December 28, 2010, Fort McKavett State Historic Site received a late Christmas present—68 recently conserved artifacts. These artifacts were removed from Fort McKavett at the request of curatorial staff and taken to the Conservation and Research Laboratory at Texas A&M in College Station over the past two years. Kerri Wilhelm, Curator of Archeology for the THC, arrived with five boxes of conserved artifacts in tow.

Site curatorial staff began the mount-making process after the new year. Using acrylic for the mounts, as well as techniques learned through a one day workshop with the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum’s mount-making department, the staff of Fort McKavett got to work. The goal is to have all the restored artifacts in place by Fort McKavett’s West Texas Heritage Days celebration on March 25–26.

The following photos demonstrate the necessary steps to make a mount for one of the artifacts in our museum. This particular artifact is especially unique, as not only is it positively identified as belonging to a soldier stationed at Fort McKavett during the 1870s, it belonged to a soldier in the 24th U.S. Infantry—a Buffalo Soldier. This identification tag is of a design created during the Civil War for use on personal luggage. Its patriotic motif was popular with soldiers and civilians alike. Whether Pvt. James Harris used this tag on his personal baggage or on his person as a pseudo “dog tag” is unknown.

First, the original mount for the artifact is removed from the wall in the museum and the substrate is reused with the new mount.

Apparent in this photograph is the wax used to mount the identification tag when it was initially installed by Texas Parks & Wildlife during the 1970s. The grayscale image will be removed from the substrate and a color photo of the conserved identification tag will be inserted in its place.

The new acrylic mount must be designed to support the conserved artifact without being too obtrusive. Measurements and sketches are made with this in mind.

The overall shape of the tag is traced onto archival quality, acid-free paper. This tracing will be used in the mount-making process to shape the acrylic.

The acrylic is cut with a band saw into the basic rectangle shape, the sides are squared up on a belt sander, and the strip is heated and shaped using a heat gun. Once the acrylic has cooled, the profile of the tag is traced onto the acrylic and shaped with a belt sander. The “shelf” the artifact will rest upon is cut out of the acrylic sheet, sanded square, heated with the heat gun, and molded to the profile of the tag. All the sanded edges of the mount are then treated with a torch to clean up the sanding marks and improve the clarity of the edge of the acrylic.

Finally, the artifact and mount are re-installed in the Fort McKavett museum.

Visit Fort McKavett State Historic Site to see the results of the THC's conservation efforts, not only in the museum, but outside as well. Site staff recently finished whitewashing the buildings and are currently giving the woodwork a new coat of paint.

Fort McKavett is located west of Menard on FM 864 in the Texas Forts Trail Region.

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