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Objects Conservation

If you need to ship a ship then Dee Pipik, Conservation Technician, has some pointers for creating an archival storage box to house a metal decanter. The 1920 pewter decanter, which is in the shape of an old sailing ship, was given to John Philip Sousa on his 70th birthday in response to the beginning of prohibition in America.

The decanter was recently treated by Thomas Podnar, Senior Conservator of Sculpture, Monuments, and Fountains. In this case, the conservation treatment of the metal decanter ship was just one part of the overall treatment; the second part included creating an archival box that could support the delicate ship. The client also requested that the archival housing withstand travel, long-term storage, and repeated packing and unpacking.

Art packaging and transport is one of the art conservation services offered by McKay Lodge Conservation Laboratory, Inc. Providing archival storage is an area of expertise all on its own. Sometimes intricate planning and art rigging is required, while shipping and transport for some historic and artistic works, such as the pewter decanter, are on a much smaller scale. Regardless of how small, large, simple, or complex the object might be, conservation professionals must consider many factors when packing a work of art for storage or transport. These factors include but are not limited to the size, weight, materials and condition of the object. In addition, a conservation professional must stay abreast of museum standards and practices. Other important considerations include durability and archival quality of packing materials, handling requirements, and travel and storage conditions to name a few.

After treatment, the decanter was once again in ship-shape, and it was ready to be packed for its safe return to the client. Pipik worked with Conservator Podnar to construct an archival storage box which suited the needs of the object and client. A housing for such an odd-shaped object must be created from the inside to the outside. First, a structure is built to support the object, cushioning is added, and finally an exterior shell or box is created using the outer dimension of the cushioning.

To better understand how the housing was assembled, nautical terms to describe the parts of a ship are used below, which if you really give a ship, you can learn some of the those terms here.

For the pewter ship, archival polyethylene foam (Ethafoam) blocks were carved to cradle the hull of the ship, much like a dry dock, taking pressure off the delicate base. The polyethylene foam blocks were attached to a thin piece of wood which could slide out from the drop front box, drawn by straps of linen tape looped through holes in the wood. Additional strings of linen tape ran across the decks through the polyethylene foam mooring the entire structure to its new packaging. Soft felt was attached to the polyethylene foam and linen tape wherever contact was made with the ship to prevent any damage to the surface of the metal.

One-inch planks of polyethylene foam were then cut to fit the length and height of the ship to port and starboard. A double-corrugated acid-free and lignin-free board was used for its strength, lightness, and durability for the outer box. Self-adhesive hook-and-loop closures were added to the flaps of the box, and finger holes were cut into the fore and aft sides providing easy handling.

As a result of the conservation treatment and creation of a reusable archival housing, the homeward journey for this reconditioned ship should be smooth sailing!

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