In our last R!DC post, I described our main storage area, its development over the last few years, and the rehousing efforts that are ongoing at Rhythm! Discovery Center. This month, I want to zoom into the task of making boxes for the collection.
As part of our rehousing effort, one skill we’ve been developing is building custom boxes for objects that were previously sitting naked on shelves. Creating boxes for individual objects or groups of objects helps to work toward a few different goals for collection storage. First, it creates an environmental buffer for each object that slows any major changes in temperature or humidity the collection storage area sees. Each season in Indiana offers different environmental concerns, but boxes help mitigate small day-to-day shifts. Second, it helps isolate objects by material composition, which means that any process of decay or off-gassing, as can be common with plastics, wood finishes, or glue, will be similar in kind. This leads to more stable storage conditions over the course of years, and helps to prevent any unforeseen reactions between objects whose breakdown processes are different. Lastly, in many cases, consolidating similar objects helps us use shelf space more effectively and will increase our storage capacity over the long term.
While some percussion instruments are certainly oddly shaped for boxing, one of the main drivers for needing to make boxes in house is the limited number of sizes available for boxes made of archival-grade cardboard. In the original plan for the rehousing project, we made a determination of which objects would need to be boxed in this way and which ones would fit into “off-the-shelf” sizes. Most of the premade boxes were used in the first push of rehousing, which was shown in last month’s entry.
The materials we use for boxes are all archival grade, and include b-flute cardboard, ethafoam, and hot glue. (Yes, they do make archival hot glue, and it is worth every penny if you’ve ever run across plastic that has started to decompose.) We have large sheets of cardboard that are cut down to match the footprint of the instrument being boxed. In the accompanying images, you can see Elizabeth measuring the object (a set of bongos), and breaking down one of the larger sheets of cardboard to an appropriate size. Large scraps are kept for future needs.
Once the footprint is measured and the piece for the box is cut, lines are drawn to indicate the cuts and folds needed to form the box. There are sections cut out that are unneeded and the cardboard is then folded up into the loose form of a box.
After the footprint is checked and all of the cuts and folds are made, the ends of the box are glued into place, and the box is set upright.
Following this process, we will set the instrument back into the box, and verify the space we have between the side of the object and the wall of the box. Ethafoam is then cut to size in order to create barriers that will limit movement within the box and protect the sides of the objects. In this case we used simple pillars in the corners.
The last phase of making a box is the lid. The lid is measured, cut and glued in much the same manner at the bottom of the box, except it is placed over the box during gluing to ensure a proper fit.
After this entire process is complete, the box is placed on a shelf and its location is added into the inventory.
Making boxes in this way is one of the many skills we’ve picked up while improving museum operations over the last few years. Next month, I’ll be going into our public reopening, concerns and changes implemented due to COVID, and what it was like to actually see other people in the museum for the first time in a year.