Post by Jenna Klassen, Assistant Curator
Although the outdoor village has closed for the season and activity at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) has quieted down, the winter season signals a busy time for our curatorial department.
From early in the new year to late winter we will be giving our Gerhard Ens Gallery a much-needed facelift, repairing and repainting walls, fixing and updating our exhibit cases, and adding electrical capacity to the gallery. We are very grateful for the funding we have received for this project from the Heritage Grants Program of the Province of Manitoba and also from the MHV Auxiliary, without which a project like this would be impossible. After these renovations, we will also be developing and installing our 2018 exhibit, featuring Mennonite clocks, in the Gerhard Ens Gallery.
Aside from these big projects, our focus during the winter is on maintaining our artefacts. This includes cataloguing donations received throughout the year, improving the way we store artefacts, and – perhaps our favourite part – cleaning!
Cleaning artefacts and the spaces where they are stored or exhibited is a crucial part of preventative conservation, or in other words, ensuring our artefacts remain in great condition. Other aspects of preventative conservation are maintaining specific temperatures and humidity levels where we keep artefacts, checking bug traps to make sure artefacts are not exposed to dangerous pests, and storing artefacts properly in our storage room (e.g., storing paper documents in non-acidic folders to prevent deterioration).
While it can be difficult to be enthusiastic about cleaning, one of the first things you’ll find out about any curators you know is that we are inordinately excited about organizing things. So, while cleaning might seem like just a dull task that needs to be done to properly maintain a museum collection, we have been looking forward to this project for months! Dusting artefacts with microfiber cloths is one common way of cleaning; however, at MHV we recently upped the ante in the way we clean! Thanks to funding we received from the Heritage Grants Program in 2017, the curatorial department was able to purchase its very own HEPA vacuum cleaner to be used specifically for cleaning our artefacts and exhibits. The vacuum uses special filters that prevent dust from leaving the canister, and it fits onto a person like a backpack for easier maneuvering and cleaning.
Vacuuming is particularly useful in cleaning textile artefacts. Although brushing the dust off an item like a coat is an option, the vacuum is a more efficient and effective method. Despite these benefits, vacuuming items like blankets, dresses, and fur coats is a delicate process. To prevent the material from being directly sucked into the vacuum, or to keep embellishments from being pulled off the material, a small screen is put over the end of the hose so only dust and dirt particles are removed.
To maintain and preserve artefacts, it is important to clean them when they go on exhibit or back into storage, and to regularly clean items that stay on exhibit for longer periods of time, like those displayed in our Permanent Gallery. We plan to do a thorough cleaning of our exhibits in the gallery this winter.
Those of you who have come “behind the scenes” at the museum to see our curatorial lab and design spaces will know there is a lot going on in these two large rooms. This is where we accept and catalogue new artefacts and develop and create our exhibits. Keeping this area clean and organized is also an important task, which unfortunately is difficult to make a priority within our usual work schedule. To ensure we stay on top of it, however, we have scheduled two separate weeks over the winter where our curatorial department will be closed to the public. We’ll be washing floors, dusting, and re-organizing to ensure we are making the best use of our behind-the-scenes spaces.
This week is the first of these cleaning weeks! To allow us to focus exclusively on this work, our curatorial department will address any inquiries received this week from the public during the first week of December, when the department has re-opened to the public. So, while it may take us a bit of time to get back to your email or phone call, we thank you for your patience as we put our new artefact vacuum through its paces and get our curatorial spaces cleaned and organized.