Bugs, Rust and Dust Bunnies

We hope you enjoyed Easter. While some no doubt commemorated the religious festival, others will have seen the long weekend as an excuse to gorge on chocolate.

Like Christmas, Easter doesn’t seem to make any sense to those who live in the Southern hemisphere. It’s all so topsy-turvy.

Easter in the Northern hemisphere heralds spring, while we here in New Zealand can feel the autumn chill and complain that the nights are getting shorter.

While Christmas invokes images of cold and staying inside, Easter is abounding with bright and colourful images of rabbits, chickens, and eggs.

2. A mid-twentieth century sachet of unknown substance, used to prevent creepy crawlies getting in to treasures.jpg

It is the connection with spring and new life that explains why chickens, eggs and fast-breeding rabbits are so numerous in secular Easter imagery.

Last year at the Ashburton Museum we too were thinking about rabbits – or at least dust bunnies.

We embarked on an innovative and interactive exhibition programme entitled ‘Bugs, Rust and Dust Bunnies’. (For those who don’t know, a dust bunny  is a collection of fluff, hair and other debris, found in corners or under beds.)

3. a very old acidic envelope, now replaced, once used to store treasures.jpg

Our exhibition intended to inform people in how best to care for their treasures- from photographs and wedding dresses to medals and tools, and everything in-between.

It was a visual journey, taking ‘stuff’ from a typical ‘dads shed’ and ending up with it being cleaned, boxed and well stored.

1. A rusty tin from the Ashburton Musuem collection..jpg

Your questions

Museum staff have taken a guess at the main types of items people may want to look after. We also think we know the most commonly asked questions people have.

However, we are keen to help as many people as possible, so if you have a question or an object you especially want help with let us know.

As part of the exhibition we displayed materials, including acid-free boxes, envelopes and bags, that we suggest people invest in, to properly house their collection.

4. A before image of a mounted photograph, showing nurses.jpg

Often people spend a lot of money and time in doing what they believe to be the best for their photos, dresses and old letters but we have the unhappy task of informing them that they were mistaken.

A common situation I find, is when someone has taken all their original photos and put them in those sticky photo albums that, thankfully, seem less popular now, but once were all the rage. I then have to spend hours prising them from the pages as the acid in the pages is simply eating away the image, and at risk of detaching, changing colour or simply disappearing altogether.

Another oft-heard statement, especially with textiles, is that the items needs to be cleaned before it can be donated. We can’t stress enough that throwing any harsh cleaner, such as napisan, or worse still, chlorine bleach, at grandmas wedding dress is never a good idea!

5. After - The photo of nurses removed, showing effect of light damage on the acidic backing.jpg

One of the biggest hurdles for some people, is that to preserve the item one needs to look at it as something special, and different from the original use the item was meant for.

For example, to preserve for the long term, clothing shouldn’t be worn, letters shouldn’t be unfolded, folded, read and reread, framed images and photos really shouldn’t be hung on the wall to be looked at every day in strong sunlight. Doing so will shorten the objects life. We can, however, provide ideas on how you can care for and enjoy these treasure but still be able to access the garment, information or image, now and in the future.

In museums, archives and similar institutions, we hope to be able to store and make accessible items for at least a few hundred years, if not much longer.
With the evenings drawing in it will be an ideal time to get into the shed, back room or under the bed and see what, besides bugs, rust and dust bunnies, you have.

By Kathleen Stringer

Captions

  1. A rusty tin from the Ashburton Museum collection.
  2. A mid-twentieth century sachet of unknown substance, used to prevent creepy crawlies getting in to treasures.
  3. Avery old acidic envelope, now replaced, once used to store treasures.
  4. A before image of a mounted photograph, showing nurses outside the nurses home at Ashburton Hostpital.
  5. After – The photo of nurses removed, showing effect of light damage on the acidic backing.

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