Saturday, July 18, 2009

Preserving the Legacy: Cleaning the Collections

In 2006, USA Life One Insurance (previously Ben-Hur Life)donated a ritual trunk to the museum. The trunk contained over 100 items related to the Supreme Tribe of Ben-Hur fraternal organization, including hats, capes, leggings, pennants, sashes, pins, jackets and robes. When museum staff went to retrieve these items from the basement of the Ben-Hur building in downtown Crawfordsville, they discovered that the contents of the trunk were damp and moldy. At that time, the best thing the museum could do was to dry out the damp pieces and seal them in plastic bags and boxes so the mold would not damage other artifacts in the museum's collection. Through various grants, we were able to purchase a HEPA vacuum and the necessary storage boxes and materials to properly store this part of the collection.

Acting associate director Amanda McGuire and grounds manager Deb King suited up this week to start the process of cleaning the mold, mildew and dirt off of the donated Tribe of Ben-Hur collection. This required them to wear nitrile gloves, face masks and long sleeves to protect them from the mold. The powerful HEPA vacuum works great in removing the dirt and mold from the items, but the process is long and time-consuming. Care has to be taken to prevent damaging the costumes with the powerful suction of the vacuum and every inch of each piece has to be cleaned.

So far, 4 boxes and 1 plastic bag have been cleaned and moved over to archival boxes. There are still 5 more boxes and 2 more bags to sort through. The next step is to catalog each item so we know what we have, give them a number so they can be easily identified and pack them away in archival boxes with acid-free tissue as padding. Stay tuned for before and after pictures!

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