Thursday, October 8, 2009

Dirty Feathers: What to do?

By: Eva Fognell, Curator of the Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of American Indian Art
Following up with an update on the conservation treatments for the Thaw objects slated to travel. First let us go to the Seminole bag Shaun was cleaning last time I blogged on this topic. What has happened to it? I am thrilled with the way this piece looks today. Gwen and Shaun decided to fill in the gaps in the fabric on the shoulder strap with material of almost the same color. There was quite a bit of red stroud missing and it made the applied beads very vulnerable and unsecured. That was one of the reasons for adding the material. What I had not counted on was the change in how the eye reads the pattern beaded on the strap. Before when you looked at the strap the missing fabric became the focus and the beadwork blended. Now, voila’ – the added red fabric lets the eye see the beadwork as the focal point and now the fact that the strap carries two patterns becomes obvious and stands out. I have been visiting the bag almost daily in awe over the difference in appearance.

Another miracle work performed is cleaning the dirty eagle feathers on the full headdress in the collection. Shaun has cleaned each feather individually with a solution applied with a small brush. The dirt is absorbed by a cotton pad that is placed behind the feather being treated and when the feather dries it is clean. Guess it’s a bit like when the feather was attached to the bird. Rains outside – wet bird, stops raining - the bird dries. Seems pretty simple or what? However – not so when you are dealing with a museum artifact. I have to admit to frail nerves when they started to wet the first feather and of course as long as the feather was wet it looked like a drenched cat. Not good for a curators’ nervous system. What have I done, what did I approve?? What if it never looks like a feather again? It is ruined!! Not so, the feathered headdress is looking its stunning self. The dark coating is off the delicate feathers and although we are not trying to make things look new – it looks refreshed and once again more detail can be seen.

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