JAIC , Volume 39, Number 1, Article 7 (pp. to )
JAIC online
Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC , Volume 39, Number 1, Article 7 (pp. to )





The emergency response was conducted in the mold-infested storage area. It was impractical to consider moving 51,000 objects to another venue and impossible to implement the standard disaster response principles of prioritizing by addressing the most serious damage and the most significant artifacts or isolating affected materials from nonaffected materials. All artifacts in storage had experienced this collection-wide incident. Shelving was filled to capacity. There was no place to move the artifacts within the storage area, except to the workstations. Each artifact had to be examined, cleaned, documented, and rehoused.

The storage area consisted of two rooms. The north room had open clothing racks, open 24 in. or 36 in. wide enameled-metal shelving, a few closed enameled-metal cabinets and map drawers, and one wall of large enameled-metal open pallet shelving. The south room had some 24 in. or 36 in. wide enameled-metal shelving and a few closed enameled-metal cabinets. The majority of the space was filled with 7 ft. high, 4 ft. deep enameled-metal open pallet shelving units, placed back to back. Half of the crew began at the far end of each room, working toward the middle of the storage area, in a pincer movement. Moving shelf by shelf through the storage area was the best strategy.

Shelving units were emptied, starting with the top shelf, and artifacts were brought to the workstations. Rubbermaid service carts were used for transit. Tables brought from other Historic Fort Wayne sites were washed down with 70% isopropyl alcohol, covered with Tyvek, and used as holding surfaces.

As emptied, shelving units, hanging racks, map drawer units, or metal cabinets were washed with 70% isopropyl alcohol. Cleaned shelves and drawers were covered with 1/8 in. Ethafoam sheeting tied to the unit with torn strips of washed and dried muslin. All moisture-distorted, paper-based storage boxes and tissue were discarded. Boxes had to be vacuumed before being removed from the storage area for disposal. All wire hangers and tissue were placed in garbage bags and discarded. New polystyrene hangers were padded with polyester batting and covered with Tyvek, and new storage boxes were prepared.

No wet-cleaning methods were used on artifacts. Brushing into the screened vacuum cleaner attachment or vacuuming costume and textiles directly through flat screening were the dry methods used. Many surfaces were difficult to clean and required extra time, such as costume, elaborate three-dimensional surfaces, tightly woven basketry and textiles, beadwork, jewelry, and holiday decorations. It is unlikely that any artifact in the collection is entirely free of mold spores—hence the urgency of managing the collection environment.

Each artifact was cleaned, documented, labeled, rehoused as necessary, and its new location recorded. It was then returned to a shelf, hanging rack, map drawer, or cabinet. The museum registrar, the social history curator, and the assistant project manager assisted the crew as documentation questions arose.


As Native American artifacts were addressed, items deemed culturally sensitive, such as ceremonial or sacred objects, were located within the storage area in what was considered appropriate orientation. These materials were handled by one specific crew member. The documentation was prepared in consultation with the museum registrar to facilitate future work with the Native American materials.


During the artifact-by-artifact examination, a number of unidentified substances were discovered. Unknown fluids or chemicals were documented, decanted, and removed from the collection for appropriate disposal. Potentially hazardous materials, such as radium clock dials, were flagged. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality technicians visited the storage site. Their report was placed in the project records. They recommended no special procedures beyond appropriate housing and cautionary labeling.


A quantity of unrecorded cellulose nitrate materials was found throughout the collection. Each possible cellulose nitrate artifact or component found was cleaned and placed in a holding mode for testing. The project conservator established a diphenylamine testing station and trained one crew member to conduct the testing (Williams 1994). Documentation of sampling and testing was placed with the inventory form for each item sampled. Deteriorated cellulose nitrate was sequestered. Undeteriorated cellulose nitrate was cleaned as necessary, documented and labeled, and placed in five-sided, open mesh polypropylene, industrial-quality crates, lined with Tyvek. These crates were flagged as containing cellulose nitrate materials and stored on open metal shelving units some distance from all other storage shelves, in an area of good air circulation. Artifacts with cellulose nitrate components were identified, labeled, and stored with their artifact category (Reilly 1991, 1997). The cellulose nitrate materials should be inspected annually. Research is currently being done on a cellulose deterioration indicator system (Fenn 1995) that might be incorporated in the storage crates. Cellulose nitrate film was disposed of or bagged, labeled, and placed in the chest freezer for storage.