JAIC , Volume 39, Number 1, Article 3 (pp. to )
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Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC , Volume 39, Number 1, Article 3 (pp. to )




A simplified timeline of the overall recovery by the major players—the building restoration group, the conservation group, and the curatorial and exhibits areas—is shown in figure 2. This figure illustrates that building cleanup and restoration, which were covered by insurance and assigned to outside firms, began almost immediately after the fire and proceeded unimpeded until it was completed. On the other hand, the museum collection proceeded without a plan, and these recovery activities had to be arranged around the rigid schedule for building recovery. Collection recovery was postponed by the cleanup and refurbishment of the building and by a slow bureaucratic response to recovery, which resulted in staffing delays. The bulk of collection recovery by conservators was further slowed by the necessity to clean a gallery (which included some collection material, but primarily exhibits and replicas) for museum reopening and by the necessity to clean educational and related noncollection museum material to reestablish educational and public programming. Recovery of the collection was able to proceed in earnest after the museum reopened one gallery, but slowed significantly when the fire recovery contract workers left. Although there were still some hundred heavily damaged natural history specimens remaining to be cleaned after week 52, the museum had run out of funds and resources to continue with the cleaning, and the fire recovery was halted.

Fig. 2. Outline of fire recovery at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum


The RSM museum building was owned and managed by a landlord—a government of Saskatchewan property management corporation, which carried private insurance on the building and furnishings. The landlord's project manager, the corporation's insurance adjuster, and a construction manager hired by the insurance adjuster formed a building recovery group and set a plan and schedule for the restoration of the building.

The damage to the interior of the blackened museum building was extensive, although there was little structural damage. The landlord and the insurance adjuster entered into meetings with the museum's original architectural and design firm to analyze details of the museum's structure. The entire building—lobby, auditorium, galleries, and public and office areas—would require thorough cleaning to all surfaces, furnishings, and administrative contents (e.g., furniture, window coverings, files). Of the galleries, the Earth Sciences Gallery, which had been open for only eight months, would require substantial attention: cleaning, new finishings (ceiling tiles, carpet, wall coverings, painting, lighting fixtures, etc.) and preparation for the replacement of exhibit items. In the First Nations Gallery, the gallery under construction where the fire had started, one-third would have to be demolished and reconstructed and prepared for replacement of backdrops and other exhibit materials by museum staff. On the upper level, the Life Sciences Gallery would be dismantled by museum staff, and then the room would be cleaned and restored by building trades to await gallery redevelopment.

The work of the building cleaners and construction trades (e.g., carpenters, painters, electricians, and drywallers) was overseen by the construction manager, who was answerable to the landlord and the insurance adjuster. The insurance adjuster hired the construction manager because of the large and complex nature of the recovery work and the unusual design of the interior of the building. The use of an on-site manager allowed better cost control over the project and ensured quality of work by trades and consistent organization. From the museum's point of view, the presence of a single person responsible for the building recovery had a positive impact on communication between the museum cleanup crews and the building recovery trades. The museum did, however, learn that it could direct the activities of the trades only through the construction manager, since the trades were not responsible to the museum. The construction management company was compensated by the insurance companies for management services with a payment of 10% of the cost of the trades and “cost plus” for construction work carried out. Specifications for the work were written by the landlord, the insurance adjuster, and the construction manager directly following the fire, while museum staff members were still acquainting themselves with the disaster. The museum cleanup committee was able to add specifications regarding the disclosure of materials used in cleaning and renovation (this is normally a standard specification in nonmuseum disaster recoveries as well) and additional specifications to ensure that collections and exhibits would not be harmed chemically or physically by the actions of the cleaners and trades. The importance of these hurriedly written specifications was enormous. As the construction manager noted: “The trades can't spend a dime above bid without approval. They do no more and no less than specified. If the specifications are not specific enough, then you can get into trouble with the increased possibility of inadequate work done” (Johns 1991). The hiring of specific finishing trades was tendered during the first few weeks as the scope of work became known. Price was the overriding factor in the adjuster's selection of favored companies, but the landlord had final say over the final selection of the contractors.

The cleaners and trades were kept to a strict schedule to maintain the pace of cleaning and restoration. Miscellaneous work, such as the building of temporary walls during the building cleaning, was done by the construction firm headed by the construction manager. The trades and the construction manager were dependent upon the curators, the exhibits department, and the maintenance department to present exhibit plans and explain details relating to the construction and finishing of the museum. The staff found researching this information very difficult, since some of the information was not recorded and some was contained in sooty files that had been taken off-site for cleaning. At several points during the recovery of the building, the building recovery group and museum cleanup committee searched for pockets of soot that they could smell but not see. Some of this soot was found trapped between walls erected during years of gallery and museum renovations that were undocumented.

On the seventh day after the fire, the cleaning company descended upon the building in a large crew of approximately 30 workers who worked double shifts and were on site for approximately 16 hours a day. The cleaners followed standard procedures using cleaning materials and sealants designed for building restoration. The various stages of building cleanup were dovetailed with the activities of the building trades (who were contracted for various aspects of refurbishment and reconstruction of the building) in a carefully planned schedule that was overseen by the landlord's construction manager. The manager communicated with the head of the museum cleanup committee, who then coordinated the conservators' collection recovery activities around the building cleaners.

In accordance with standard procedure in the disaster restoration-commercial cleaning industry, the cleaning and refurbishment took place in three general stages. During the first stage of cleaning, all extremely sooty elements (e.g., suspended ceiling tiles) or nonrecoverable building features (e.g., the entire diorama area at the burn site) were removed and discarded. Temporary walls were built at the entry and exit to the galleries to control airflow, and large vacuum hoses were installed to allow for connection to high-powered vacuum compressors mounted outdoors on trucks (fig. 3). All surfaces were cleaned of loose soot, using the vacuums along with brushes and brooms. Ductwork was cleaned by dragging the vacuum hoses through the ducts. When not otherwise in use, the powerful vacuums were left running to draw loose soot from the air and to create a negative pressure in the dirty areas.

Fig. 3. Vacuum hoses emanate through a temporary exterior door into the soot-covered museum exit hallway.

During the second pass, when all demolition had ceased, reconstruction of damaged areas of the building by the construction trades began. Meanwhile, the cleaners carried out a thorough washing and scrubbing of all areas, using cleaning materials designed for fire-damaged buildings. For nonporous surfaces, they used strong detergents in water, primarily a product called GP-2000. Soot-removal sponges were dragged across porous sooty surfaces such as wood and unpainted drywall; soot was absorbed into the rubber sponges and rolled off with the crumbs. The next step in the process was to apply sealant to areas such as ductwork, crawl spaces, and drywall that could not be cleaned or could be only partially cleaned. All of these surfaces received a spray coat of a heavy-bodied oil paint, brand name Kilz, to seal in soot particles and soot smell (fig. 4). The application of this sealant preceded any painting and finishing work. Following the application of this sealant, the walls were painted and new ceilings, carpets, and floors were installed.

Fig. 4. Kilz sealant is sprayed onto the gallery ceiling in front of a draped giant bison diorama.

The last cleaning pass involved a thorough cleaning and polishing. After a final inspection, the building was turned over to museum staff for reoccupancy. By May 28, 1990, the reconstruction and cleaning of the building were completed; on June 23, four months and seven days after the fire, one of the four gallery spaces in the museum was opened to the public.


Following the fire at the RSM, the museum building was boarded up and “out of business.” The administrative, education, and gift shop staff were relocated to other buildings. Staff members moved off-site, and their projects came to a virtual standstill until files and computers were cleaned and returned to them. They did not return to their offices until nine weeks later. Regular administrative and management activities, including a proposal to the government for museum redevelopment, were shelved to undertake the imperative demands of the fire recovery.

The two-week response period immediately following the fire was one of heightened emotions and rushed meetings. It was decided that all artifacts would have to stay in the building during the recovery because it would be impossible to move them before the building cleaning company moved in. The artifacts on display were deemed immobile because they were large, semipermanently mounted, or enclosed within display cases. Museum staff and volunteers did, however, move all administration and program contents (files, educational material, resource library, etc.) to off-site storage areas for further cleaning. Within the first week following the fire, these items were quickly packed into boxes that were stacked by the hundreds on shelves hastily erected in the museum hallways; later the boxes were removed by a moving company to temporary offices and warehouses. In some cases, staff members cleaned soot from their own files and administrative materials, a task that took a significant amount of time from their schedules. Due to a lack of funds for recovery, some files and other administrative material could not be cleaned and were discarded.

The museum administration was completely unprepared for the emergency and did not have a disaster plan. The areas of communications, hiring, and large budget expenditures were normally managed by other government departments, and the wheels of bureaucracy turned slowly in these vital areas. Without the benefit of a disaster plan, which would have outlined a plan and personnel for communications, the museum was unable to implement any effective communications measures.

The gift shop inventory was badly damaged, and most of it was discarded. Gift shop staff and volunteers spent the recovery time restocking the gift shop and directing the restoration of the gift shop areas. Education staff members were forced to cancel educational programming well past the time that the museum reopened, as they awaited first the restoration of the educational rooms and then the cleaning of the educational materials (deaccessioned artifacts and teaching aids). With the aid of volunteer docents, the education department was able to take a modified education program into local schools. Educational programming in the museum itself did not resume until seven months after the fire.

The museum management and curatorial staff devoted an enormous amount of time investigating the building's architectural and design features for rehabilitation of the building and attending meetings with government officials. The exhibit staff, and to a lesser extent the curatorial staff, had to fit previously planned projects around the work of rehabilitating the museum's exhibits. Exhibit staff disassembled and reassembled dioramas and displays for cleaning in the sooty Earth Sciences Gallery and researched the materials required for restoring the gallery area (paint colors, carpets, lighting, etc.). Large areas of the First Nations Gallery required redesign and reconstruction by the exhibit staff. Gallery redevelopment schedules were extended because staff members were not only required to redevelop existing exhibits but also lost the ability to work on regularly scheduled gallery redevelopment projects. The government offered the museum very little in the way of new money for recovery, and its position was reflected in diminished funds for the museum's gallery redevelopment and further delays in the redevelopment schedule. The Life Sciences Gallery, the last gallery to be restored after the fire, is currently being redeveloped and is expected to reopen in 2001.


The museum was self-insured by the government and therefore was responsible for recovery of the collection, educational materials, and displays. The museum could not afford to hire a commercial cleaning company to clean noncollection museum material (such as replicas, dioramas, and display material), leaving the staff conservators with responsibility for cleaning this material as well as the collection. Although the cleaning of noncollection materials was an enormous task, it provided an opportunity for the conservators to develop procedures for soot removal that could be used for cleaning the collection later in the recovery phase.

Before the building cleaners undertook their first pass, they were asked to complete the first and second cleaning passes in the washrooms and in three rooms that could be used as “clean rooms” for the museum's recovery activities. One of these rooms (the museum boardroom) was used to store kits of soot cleanup clothing and cleaning materials and supplies and was also used as a staff room and change room. The second and third rooms were designated to receive the first of the salvaged displays and artifacts that would be removed from storage and exhibit areas. In most cases, this salvage included direct application of a vacuum cleaner nozzle to remove soot before the objects were handled. These displays and specimens were moved back into place after the building cleaners and the building trades had completed cleaning of the rooms and galleries.

Since conservation cleaning was undertaken in the building while it was being cleaned and restored, careful attention was required to protect uncleaned artifacts and displays. Before demolition and building cleanup, artifacts and displays were protected with draping of polyethylene film and by temporary plywood barriers. The protective draping was replaced as each area was cleaned at the end of each day to minimize soot and construction products from the air landing on the cleaned surfaces.

The museum recovery effort required careful organization. The work was carried out by a crew composed of the two staff conservators, other staff members as they were available (one permanent assistant was assigned from the exhibit staff), four technical staff (hired three months after the fire), and several volunteers. They worked in many locations throughout the museum and in a warehouse. A master binder with test results was stored in the lobby, and short, written procedures were posted to aid technicians and volunteers. Conservators made concise notes on the materials, methods, and time that were taken for each object or area being recovered and for each refurbishment project and kept a daily log of overall recovery activities that were taking place. Volunteers logged their hours and duties on a sign-in sheet in the lobby. The conservators came to rely on a portable chart noting what objects and areas had been cleaned, or partially cleaned, at the end of each day, since the work often had to be abandoned to make way for commercial cleaners or construction workers and then resumed some days later.

Fire cleanup gear was kept in the staff meeting–changing room. Table 1 lists the basic supplies that were used by conservators during the fire recovery. Requisite fire cleanup clothing for the commercial cleaners and for museum workers was white disposable coveralls. Although an air analysis performed the third day following the fire revealed the presence of no toxic substances, some cleaners chose to wear solvent vapor masks in the early part of the recovery, but later only particulate masks were used. It was necessary to wear old shoes and clothing, since after only one day they would become blackened and take on a bitter soot smell that could not easily be removed. Cleaning supplies and equipment were kept in this room and in other small locked closets as closets were cleaned and readied by the commercial cleaners. Smaller quantities of supplies were kept in plastic carry kits and on carts so that they could be used in various parts of the museum.

Table 1. BASIC Fire Recovery Supplies and Equiopment Used by Conservators at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum
Equipment Dry Cleaners∗ Solvent Mixtures Protective Clothing Misc. Supplies 
HEPA Vacuums Soot sponges Deionized water White disposable coveralls Plastic pails— small and large 
Vacuum wand (see section 4.3.2) Groom/Stick Orvus in water (1–2%) Organic vapor masks Polyethylene and glass bottles—many sizes 
Shop vacuum with attachments Cotton swabs Aerosol OT in water (2–4%) Dust/particulate masks Spray bottles for aqueous mixtures 
Minivacuum attachments, circular, attachment (adapted from hair dryer diffuser) and flexible tubing Scum - x Ammonia in water (1–4% Cotton gloves Household sponges cut into pieces 
Plastic carrying caddies Erasers—vinyl, art gum 3% sodium perobrate in water Latex gloves Polyethylene film 
Camera Tac cloths 10% ethanol in water  Adhesive tape 
Portable lighting Brushes—Hake, etc. 50:50 ethanol: water  Staple guns 
Scaffolding Applicator sticks 100% ethanol  Scissors and cutting knives 
  Trichloroethylene Mineral spirits  Ziploc bags Plastic photograph trays 
  Diammonium citrate in water (2–3%)  Plastic bins 
    Disposable wet wipes 
    Prepared form/paper/pencils/clipboards 

∗ Dry cleaners refer to dry surface cleaners

2.3.1 2.3.1 Cleaning Collection and Noncollection Materials

The museum conservators began to conduct cleaning tests on the fourth day following the fire, using portable lights to compensate for the lack of lighting and a kit consisting of cleaning tools, prepared solutions, and dry surface cleaners. They also carried with them a chart to document test results and estimate the time that would be required for each area.

The extent of the spread of the soot was astonishing. Soot was everywhere, on horizontal surfaces as well as on ceilings and walls. It had penetrated every hairline opening into display cases and inside drawers and cabinets. On some surfaces the soot had deposited evenly with an almost undetectable pigmentation, making an assessment of the damage even more complicated. In these instances, the presence of the thinner layers of soot could only be detected using a finger, a wad of Groom/Stick, or an absorbent cotton pad. Bird specimens, stored in closed cabinets far from the fire, often did not appear sooty, but, when they were removed, clean areas remained on the shelves. The sprinkling of soot on the shelves became a gray oily smear when a finger was dragged over the surface. The conservators decided to clean all artifacts and displays, even those with very little detectable soot. The decision turned out to be a wise one since the cleaning led to a much brighter overall appearance, even when the soot was barely detectable on the surface.

Samples of soot from various parts of the museum were sent to the Canadian Conservation Institute for analysis (CCI 1990). Scientists analyzed the soot using Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) and found that all the samples had identical FTIR spectra. The soot was comprised primarily of carbon with some oily or tarry pyrolysis products from the polyester (fiberglass resin) and some pyrolysis products from the polyurethane (insulation foam) absorbed onto the carbon. When a sample of soot was clamped between filter papers, no exudation from the soot was noted, but soot particles became entrapped in the fibers of the paper. Aqueous extracts of the soot were acidic between pH 4 and 4.5. Under the microscope, the soot was seen to be in the form of different size agglomerations. These aggregates had been segregated due to flotation effects, finer particles being located farther from the fire and inside museum cases. Organic solvents (e.g., hexane and acetone) were found to extract from the soot yellow oily components containing esters, aromatic benzene rings (and perhaps polynuclear aromatics), and long-chain alkyl groups. The soot was easily wetted by these solvents and dispersed well but settled quickly. Water did not wet the soot and extracted nothing. Soot analysis carried out by CCI indicated that mechanical and dry methods promised the best cleaning results and that surfactants would be required if aqueous solvents were used. Organic solvents, which would extract colored products, were to be avoided if possible. Practical on-site cleaning tests by RSM conservators confirmed these findings.

The conservators' first assignment was to clean one gallery (the Earth Sciences Gallery) so that the museum could reopen as quickly as possible. On the third week following the fire, building cleaners had completed their first and second cleaning passes, and it was possible for the conservation crew to begin the tedious task of cleaning all of the collection and display material in the gallery (fig. 5). Portable lights were still required during the cleaning because lighting could not be installed until after construction in the gallery was completed. Installation of lighting fixtures was one of the last stages of the construction.

Fig. 5. A replica giant bison skeleton is vacuumed with the aid of a Hake brush to remove soot from crevices

The procedures used in cleaning the Earth Sciences gallery became the basis for the development of procedures for soot removal that were used throughout the recovery. Although different surfaces responded very differently to cleaning depending on the degree of soot coverage and the material the artifact was made of, all surfaces responded best to a strict progressive cleaning procedure that involved direct vacuum (which had already been done during initial salvage but was often repeated again in recovery to remove more soot), dry-surface-cleaning techniques, and then wet-cleaning, if necessary. For example, a painted acrylic canvas backdrop marouflaged to Gyproc board was cleaned by direct vacuuming (twice); then soot sponges were used to pull off almost all of the remaining soot, and wet-cleaning was not necessary. A glacier exhibit constructed of varnished acrylic paint on a canvas backdrop and a molded plastic base was cleaned by direct vacuum followed by the use of soot sponges and wet-cleaning with 1% ammonium hydroxide in water applied on sponges with a water rinse to the backdrop (fig. 6). A fossil concretion received two direct vacuums (the second using an attachment of a thin plastic tubing to reach into interstices), was dry-surface-cleaned with Groom/Stick applied by hand and on the end of a paintbrush, and then required wet-cleaning using 2% Orvus (v/v) foam on swabs with a water rinse (fig. 7).

Fig. 6. The last stage of soot removal from a glacier exhibit using 2% Orvus on sponges
Fig. 7. A fossil concretion is cleaned using Groom/Stick on the end of a small paintbrush handle.

In general, vacuuming and dry-surface-cleaning removed the largest quantities of soot, and wet-cleaning (normally detergent or surfactant in water) was used sparingly to remove the soot that was intricately tied with the surface. “Bulk” cleaning techniques were used in some circumstances. Large amounts of plastic foliage in dioramas were removed, placed in the back of a truck, and put through a commercial car wash. Other foliage was hand dipped and sponged in large plastic garbage cans filled with a dilute solution of Orvus in water, and then rinsed. Replica tree trunks were cleaned out of doors using Orvus in water and a garden hose. The 7,800 sq. ft. Earth Sciences Gallery was recovered in 93 days; this aspect of the project involved cleaning the gallery, displays, and artifacts, painting the gallery walls, and replacing some exhibit and nonexhibit elements, such as ceiling, carpet, and lighting fixtures. Table 2 summarizes some of the materials that were used to clean various surfaces. Table 3 compares the treatment time required for displays of various museum objects.

Table 2. Methods Used to Remove Soot from various Materials
Surface Dry-Surface Cleaning Methods Wet-Cleaning Methods∗∗ 
Arborite Vacuum; soot sponge, or no dry cleaning 2% Orvus in water (on sponges) 
Plastic replica materials Vacuum; Groom/Stick; soot sponge, or no dry cleaning∗∗∗ 2% Orvus in water; 4% ammonia in water; 50:50 ethanol: water; ehtanol (on sponges or cotton batting pads) 
Diorama paintings—acrylic on can vas; acrylic varnish vacuum; soot sponge 2% ammonia in water (on sponges) 
Diorama paintings—acrylic on canvas; no varnish vacuum; soot sponge 1% ammonia in water; 1% Orvus in water (on sponges); non 
Diorama paintings—tempera and oil directly on wall Vacuum; soot sponge 2% and 4% ammonia in water (on sponges) 
Rocks, minerals, fossils Vacuum; Groom/Stick or Webril None 
Bone and ivory Vacuum; Groom/Stick 50:50 ethanol:water 
Paper documents Scum-X None 
Books Vacuum; Scum-X; Groom/Stick; Webril 2% Orvus foam in water on some bindings (on cotton pads); none 
Wood—unfinished Vacuum; Groom/Stick None 
Wood—finished Vacuum; soot sponge; Webril 2% Orvus in water 
Bird and animal feet and eyes, etc.—light to heavy soot Groom/Stick Ethanol; 2% Orvus in water; water (on swabs) 
Bird feathers—heavy soot Vacuum wand; Groom/Stick; Webril Ethanol; trichloroethylene; 1% Vulpex∗ in trichloroethylene (on pads of cotton batting) 
Bird feathers—light soot Owl wing; Webril; vacuum wand (if time permits) None 
Animal fur (short)—heavy soot Vacuum; glass beads applied by gloved hand Ethanol on some 
Animal fur (long)—light to heavy soot Vacuum Ethanol; trichloroethylene (on pads of cotton batting) 
Textiles—light soot Vacuum 2% Orvus; commercial dry cleaning 
Semitanned hide—light soot Vacuum; Scum-X; Groom/Stick; soot sponge None 

∗ Use of Vulpex is not recommended on this material

∗∗ All solution-based cleaning was rinsed

∗∗∗ Dry cleaning refers to dry-surface cleaning

Table 3. Cleaning Times for Various Exhibits and Objects
Exhibit or Object Material Amount of Soot Procedure Treatment difficulty Dimension Treatment Time Treatment Time per Unit 
Mastodon diorama Replica materials—acrylic paint on polyester resin-fiber-glass casts, plastic foliage Moderate Dismantle, vacuum, dry- and wet- clean, reinstall on base Moderate 10 � 10 � 9.7 ft. 115 hr. 7 min./cub. ft. 
Eagle diorama Acrylic on canvas, backdrop, sculptured rock face, mounted eagle specimen moderate heavy Vacuum, dry- and wet-clean Moderate 16 � 8 � 9 ft. 78 hr. 4 min./cub. ft. 
Glacier diorama Acrylic paint on canvas backdrop, varnished; heavily varnished paint media on molded acrylic base Heavy Vacuum, dry- and wet-clean for backdrop and base Simple; backdrop moderate 8 � 8 + 7 � 16 ft. 10 hr. + 22 hr. 3.5 min./sq. ft.for base, 11.8 min./sq. ft. for backdrop 
Backdrop wall painting Oil paint on canvas—varnished Light-moderate Vacuum, dry-clean Simple 8 � 16 ft. 18 hr. 8.4 min./sq. ft. 
Intricate fossil Fossil with textured/pitted surface Heavy Vacuum, dry- and wet-clean Difficult 16 in. diameter 12 hr. 
Fossil freshwater turtle specimen Replica turtle mounted on sand-covered base Heavy Vacuum, dry- and wet-clean Difficult 16 in. diameter 12 hr. 
Bird specimen Snow goose—white phase Light Vacuum, dry-clean Moderate 18 in. high, 25-38 in. 20 min. 
Bird specimen Snow goose—white phase Heavy Vacuum, dry-clean Difficult 11 in. high, 25-38 in. long 4 hr. 
Animal mount—long hair Weasel Heavy Vacuum, dry- and wet-clean Difficult 14 in. high, 26 in. long 6 hr. 
Book—exterior Cloth-covered Light-moderate Vacuum, dry-clean Simple 8.5 � 5.5 � 1.5 in. 3 min. 

After technical staff were hired, it was possible to expand the museum recovery efforts to other areas of the gallery and into warehouses and to begin cleaning the noncollection material that had been removed from the building. Cleaning took place in the First Nations Gallery on those displays that would not be replaced. In one case, a diorama backdrop near the fire was thoroughly cleaned with direct vacuum and soot sponges (fig. 8). The lower half, which was only moderately sooty, was solvent-cleaned using 2% ammonium hydroxide in water applied on sponges with a water rinse. The upper half, which was black with soot, was washed down with paint thinner on sponges and then prepared with layers of gesso for repainting by the artist. Foreground material was removed from the Life Sciences Gallery in countless trips using wheelbarrows to discard the material outside. The stripped dioramas were left with sooty animals and backdrops, which were cleaned with the direct application of a vacuum nozzle until they could be cleaned more thoroughly.

Fig. 8. A sweat lodge diorama painting is cleaned using a soot sponge.

Boxes of education material and other items were cleaned by technicians in an off-site warehouse (fig. 9). To remove soot from these noncollection materials, bulk cleaning treatments were carried out, involving the use of conservation and household cleaning materials. All objects were first vacuumed and then cleaned in the quickest possible fashion. For example, paper objects were cleaned in a tray holding a small layer of eraser powder so that the objects could be rubbed with the powder in assembly-line fashion, and then removed from the tray so that the powder could be brushed and vacuumed away.

Fig. 9. Technicians clean noncollection education and research material at a warehouse.

A much-used resource library was also cleaned. Technical staff were shown how to clean the limited variety of surfaces and proceeded in an assembly-line fashion. Due to the tight packing of books on the shelves, soot had not generally filtered between the pages. Book covers were direct-vacuumed, and then the text blocks were vacuumed while holding the covers tightly to avoid soot penetration into the pages. Dry-surface-cleaning techniques were then applied: the text block was cleaned with erasers or soot sponges, and the cover was wiped with Webril Wipes or soot sponges. Small pamphlets were direct-vacuumed and then carefully cleaned by rubbing with eraser powder in a shallow plastic tray or paint tray that held a small amount of eraser powder. The powder was then brushed and vacuumed away.

2.3.2 2.3.2 Removal of Soot from Birds

The bird mount collection of 1,500 specimens, stored in closed cabinets in rooms far from the fire, had only a dusting of soot. The birds were cleaned using a variety of tools, but time constraints precluded use of vacuum in most cases. Wood bases were cleaned with a Hake brush, soot sponge, and Groom/Stick. Using an old taxidermy trick, an owl wing was waved through the air in a whisking motion to blow loose particles free from feathers. The owl wing was then brushed gently over the surface of the object. Webril Wipe, cut into 1 in. wide strips, was rolled several layers thick onto a wooden stick and brushed gently over the feathers. Soiled Webril was removed one layer at a time (fig. 10). Tweezers and dental tools were used for some feather realignment. Eyes, feet, and legs were cleaned as needed with Groom/Stick, ethanol, 2% Orvus (v/v) in a water rinse, or distilled water.

Fig. 10. Dry-surface-cleaning of a lightly sooted mounted bird using a strip of Webril Wipe wound around a wood stick

Bird and animal mounts on display in the RSM upper-level Life Sciences Gallery were covered with a heavy soot layer. Extensive cleaning tests were done in the conservation laboratory, and results were evaluated by visual examination through a binocular operating microscope. Under microscopic examination, it was evident that the intricate structure of the feathers had trapped soot on the surface, between the barbules of the top feathers. In some cases, the soot had migrated through the uppermost feather mat onto feathers below. To avoid breaking up soot agglomerations and driving soot deep into the feather mat, a Plexiglas wand vacuum nozzle was developed. The design of the wand was based on the design of a dental evacuator that had been reported in the literature for the effective cleaning of feathers (Green and Storch 1982).

The wand, shown in figure 11, was constructed from a hollow Plexiglas cylinder capped at the top end with a piece of Plexiglas. The cylinder has two rows of extraction holes drilled along the side of the wand near the tip, allowing free movement over curved parts of birds of any size. A piece of nylon butterfly-net fabric was welded into a tube using a hot point slipped over the wand, positioned between two recessed rubber O-rings. The netting rotates freely over the extraction holes to prevent feathers from being drawn into the wand holes. The bottom of the wand is connected by flexible hose tubing to a vacuum cleaner equipped with a high-efficiency particle air (HEPA) filter. Suction is varied by covering and uncovering a large suction control hole. Figure 12 shows the vacuum wand being used to remove heavy soot layers from a Canada goose. The wand removed about 85% of visible soot (viewed through a binocular microscope) from feathers, with no disruption to the structure. A photographic detail of the vacuum wand being used to clean a snow goose is shown in figure 13.

Fig. 11. Vacuum wand for soot removal from feathers
Fig. 12. Use of a vacuum wand to remove soot from a Canada goose
Fig. 13. Detail during soot removal from the back of a snow goose showing original soot coverage at the left and feathers cleaned with a vacuum wand on the right

Dry-surface-cleaning methods were tested to remove further soot from the feathers. The most successful methods were the use of Groom/Stick applied by hand or on the end of an applicator stick, and Webril Wipe wound in 1 in. wide strips onto a long wood applicator stick.

Next, wet-cleaning agents were tested for use. They were applied barely dampened on a pad of Webril along the direction of feather growth. Water-based solutions were unsuccessful because they left a lightly gray appearance, excessive tide lines, moderate to severe disarticulation, and some matting of feather barbs. Alkaline solutions caused yellowing of the feathers. The most effective cleaning solution was 1% Vulpex in trichloroethylene, which removed approximately 60% of remaining soot (assessed visually under a binocular operating microscope) with little effect on feather structure. The proven ability of this solvent to remove natural constituents from the feathers and skin must, however, be taken into account (Fuchs 1980). Ethanol and pure trichloroethylene removed approximately 50% of the soot remaining after vacuuming; ethanol left no coloration on the swab, indicating that the soot may have been pulled toward the evaporating edges (tide lines could be minimized through careful technique). As Vulpex is no longer recommended for feather cleaning, pure solvents may be used instead.

2.3.3 2.3.3 Removal of Soot from Mammals

Removal of heavy soot from mammal specimens and furs was much more difficult than anticipated. The problem was that agglomerations of soot broke into fine particles as they filtered through the fur and deposited on the large and textured surface represented by thousands of hair shafts. Many of the furs had slightly oily surfaces that attracted and held soot particles.

To clean shorter-haired mammals with a light soot coating, direct vacuuming with a crevice tool on a vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter removed almost all visible soot. For heavier soot layers, this vacuuming was followed by the use of dry-surface-cleaning, using 13 gauge glass beads dusted onto the fur, rubbed in to collect soot particles, and then vacuumed off (following a technique suggested by Hawks 1990). For long-haired mammals, only 10% of the visible soot could be removed by vacuuming with a crevice tool; the use of glass beads and other dry cleaners was not possible given the length of the fur. Wet-cleaning agents were tested using several solvents with and without detergents and surfactants as well as commercial mount-cleaning preparations. Ethanol and trichloroethylene were the most effective solvents and were used to slightly dampen a Webril pad, which was stroked along the fur in the direction of growth.