The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Happy paper anniversary?
One year ago on October 8th, after several years of planning, waiting, and building, the Smithsonian Center for Archives Conservation officially opened its doors for business, showing off our new purpose-built facility during an “Open House” day, and coinciding with “October is American Archives Month” festivities.
Since it was suggested by etiquette authority Emily Post in 1922, paper has been considered an appropriate gift for first anniversaries, although in today’s times, plastic and clocks are also being suggested by more contemporary sources. All three options seem equally appropriate to us at SIA. Paper and plastic are two of the most popular and populous types of objects (or substrates) that we care for. And the clock serves as a reminder of the ongoing challenge and the time it takes to do our work, and time’s effect on the objects themselves. Happily, in our new space, we have more than doubled our capacity to take on the challenge, what with hosting our first (and now a second) Postgraduate Research Fellow, and taking on Interns and Volunteers.
We have led many tours through our space since last October, and I always start off with the important distinction that while my title is officially Paper Conservator, we call the Center for Archives Conservation the Archives Lab for short, not the Paper Lab. For while many of the archival objects we consult are on paper, many are not. A partial list of non-paper media and substrates we’ve examined or treated over the past several years includes: photographs on glass or plastic bases; recordings on everything from wax, glass, metal, cassette tapes, and polymer film on compact disc; writing ink on a leather flight helmet; lipstick on a letter from Frida Kahlo; a bus’s interior signage with an overlaid adhesive vinyl sticker (evidence of change in the segregation law in Nashville); an early cellulose acetate star chart used for navigation by pilots (like this one); and perhaps the most ephemeral of all, dry-erase marker on a dry-erase board from Obama’s campaign office. Perhaps some of these will be featured in blog posts in the future, but for now, we leave you with some highlights of the year just past. We think its been a good one.
P.S. To see what tools are in my “doctor’s bag” that I take on my off-site consultations, please check out my companion post over on the Smithsonian Collections Blog.