It might seem obvious, but one of the main jobs of a museum is to maintain stable storage for the objects in its collection. And, as nice as it would be to just “set it and forget it,” storage is an ongoing project that has to be actively monitored and adjusted depending on the needs of the objects and the realities of the space in which we are working. Over the last two years, RDC has been striving to hone in and improve the conditions in which the PAS collection is housed. These efforts were bolstered in 2019 and 2020 with a grant from the Allen Whitehill Clowes Charitable Foundation, which operates primarily in the Indianapolis area.
Following is a bit about our main collection storage area, how it was originally built and organized, and some of the changes we’ve recently made both to the space and to the housing of individual objects.
The main collection storage area started off as something of a conundrum when thinking about long-term care of the collection. On the one hand, it was beautiful to be able to walk through the space and see the bulk of the collection facing you. The shelves themselves were grated, so you could see up into the upper shelves, and as you walked down the corridors, it felt at times like there was no end to what you might find if you just looked hard enough. On the other hand, pretty much everything about the safety of the objects themselves was in question: There was no protection of individual objects from changes in temperature or humidity, metal grate shelves are, well, metal and posed a risk to many objects when they needed to be moved, and the shelving arrangement necessitated a single-layer approach to most shelves, which cost a lot of space in the long run.
Over the last few years, the space has changed in a few significant respects. First, a humidifier was installed to maintain consistent relative humidity (in denial of the fact that we’re in the Midwest), which will help to prevent degradation and cracks in wooden objects. Second, many shelves have also been lined with coroplast, an archival-grade corrugated plastic that will allow for easier movement of objects and eliminates the risk posed by the exposed metal grate. The third major improvement was to house objects in the collection in their own boxes that protect from changes in the environment and long-term damage from light exposure.
This last aspect of the project, rehousing the objects in archival quality boxes, required a large amount of time, materials, and setup. While this had been happening in the background, in pretty much any space the staff could occupy, the main push of rehousing objects came in the summer of last year when we were unable to reopen to the public. We set up a work area in the center of the museum and began to group objects, photograph them, and put them into their new homes. The boxes themselves are all made of archival-quality acid-free cardboard, and are a mix of custom sizes and off-the-shelf sizes available in bulk. To date, over 800 objects have found their way into boxes, which covers over 60% of the collection. These boxes have also found their way back onto the shelves in the storage area, all with locations on record, which was another improvement made during this project.
As of now, there are still many objects that will need to be rehoused over the coming months, and we have relocated our once ad hoc workshop to a more permanent location in the green room of the museum. This will allow us to finish rehousing the objects in the current collection and to make this kind of protection part of the process for new objects as they reach us. This project as a whole, including both the improvements to the collection storage area as well as the new levels of protection for individual instruments and objects is laying the groundwork for the next several years at the museum.