Herbarium specimens and ichthyology specimens differ greatly in their preservation.  In preparing the specimens for collection one must be dried out completely in a plant press for its preservation while the other must be jarred and placed into a solution so that it may stay wet completely for its preservation.  Missteps in the preparation of these specimens to stabilize for collection could be harmful to both of these specimens.  Not freezing the specimens could lead to some catastrophic contamination with pests as both natural living beings normally have parasites or insects that attach themselves to the specimens in their natural environments. 

Once preserved and quarantined for collection other shared agents of deterioration for both of these kinds of specimens would be: physical forces, dissociation, light and fire.  Physical forces could easily damage a plant specimen through crushing and could destroy a fish specimen through falling and damage done to the container. Light can discolor and make brittle dried plants but for jarred organic specimens it could discolor as well and raise the temperature of the jar altering the environment within.  Dissociation could be harmful to both and all museum objects as it can lead to mishandling, misplacing and many other harmful actions with many harmful effects.  Fire is damaging to pretty much everything and it would certainly be interesting to find a museum object that isn’t deteriorated by fire!

Differing agents of deterioration would be things like: pests, relative humidity, water and incorrect temperature.  Due to the nature of jarred specimens where they live in a micro environment within their jar and solution there seems to be many things that could not really penetrate that jar micro environment. As such things like pests, relative humidity, water and temperature differences may not have the drastic or catastrophic effects on it as it would for a dried and pressed herbarium specimen.  For pressed and dried plants pests could consume the specimen, relative humidity could encourage mold growth as could the presence of water and incorrect temperature could lead to making the specimen brittle and discolored. 

Providing a safe environment for these specimens away from these agents would require active monitoring, appropriate housing, knowledgeable caretaking and accurate environmental monitoring equipment.  For the herbarium specimen I feel that most dangers come from pests and maintaining environmental stability, so for that specimen I would take active care to make sure that the collection area is pest free and that the environment there is stable with active monitoring to make sure that the RH levels, temperature, light and water presence do not go into harmful ranges.  For the ichthyology specimen I think that the most damaging thing that could occur along with falling is that it gets prepared and stored in a cheap or inappropriate solution, so to in order to avoid those agents of deterioration I would make sure to use an appropriate and quality storage solution and make sure that the specimen jar is stored in housing that have guard rails/stabilizing brackets to prevent falls or tipping.  

This certainly seem like a lot of work to keep these specimens in their favored forms for collection, if I were going to preserve a fireweed I would try to suspend it in resin and for the pike I would tan the fish skin and clean the skeleton but these techniques would only make/preserve the materials/visuals of the specimen!


Q: Are there things that you would donate to a museum collection? Or seek advice for care for?


 I unfortunately missed the class meeting this week but I watched the recorded zoom and had some questions regarding preventive conservation.

With this large amount of knowledge about the work needed to preserve objects in museum collections I was wondering if this information is shared through workshop or guidebook with the public who may have objects within their personal collections they might want to protect, I am particularly thinking of Indigenous artists who do hide work and skin sewing, would the museum share information on materials care for seal skin, moose hide or porcupine quills?  And along those lines of thinking does something like a leather balm assist in the preservation of used leather objects? Is that something that might be recommended?  I understand that this could very easily get complicated and legal issues could arise but I am curious and am wondering if museums give advice to individuals who may be interested. Quyana!

3 Thoughts to “Quppiqutaq naaggaqaa Siilik (fireweed or pike)”

  1. Angela Linn

    Nice job on covering the many agents of deterioration that would impact these two items of natural history. Given the location of museums in Alaska the threat of earthquakes to cause damage to our collections is HIGH so it’s just as important to make sure those carefully-preserved items are also safe when they go into their curation space. Great job recognizing that barriers on shelving is essential! Remembering to keep the fluid topped off inside those jars is important also as that preservation solution will evaporate and put the specimens at risk. Just like how cultural collections need to be aware of the acidification of our boxes and other mounts for collections over time, there are ongoing maintenance issues you have to keep on top of for the long-term care of collections.

    Great question about sharing information – the short answer is YES! Museum personnel love to share our knowledge as it’s part of our professional & ethical responsibility to stay on top of the current trends. Typically there are things available for general knowledge, like my page on the agents of deterioration (https://uaf.edu/museum/collections/ethno/caring/) but recently Ellen Carrlee, the Conservator at the Alaska State Museum, has created a great resource that goes beyond this basic introduction: https://lam.alaska.gov/deterioration-agents. As a conservator, Ellen is highly trained in helping to stabilize objects impacted by these AoD as well as working to avoid them! I highly recommend finding a copy of the Conservation Wise Guide, also produced by the Alaska State Museum. There used to be a PDF available for download though it looks like you can buy a copy for $5 (https://museums.alaska.gov/books.html – under Papers). I also recommend following Ellen’s blog: https://ellencarrlee.wordpress.com/. She’s got a ton of valuable resources there.

    Specifically regarding leather balm, here’s a post where she addresses cleaning leather and why museums don’t use leather treatments: https://ellencarrlee.wordpress.com/2018/01/29/cleaning-native-leather-in-use/. Enjoy!

  2. Barbara Long

    Good Evening,

    Great post! In response to your question, I cannot think of anything that I would donate at this time. However, I would seek advice on how to care for animal skins and/or pelts for the long-term preservation, as well as public viewing limits of my pelts. I know that fur loss, fading and bugs are a problem, as well as drying/cracking overtime. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Michael Hubert

    I do have a some items that I would donate. one comes to mind is I have a piece of the barb wire from the DMZ zone that separates the South Korea from North Korea, every few years they replace it and I was lucky enough to be there when it was done and able to clip a piece of it off. some concerns is that it would just rust to the point of it being gone.

    great read

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