June 2007: Girl Scout Troop Discovers Hidden Gems in Conservation Project

 
Left to right: Meredith, Jordan, Tess, Emily, Leila, Paige, Allison, and Lisa.

IMLS recognizes the importance of youth to the conservation effort. By introducing young people to conservation, we help cultivate the next generation of adults who value our nation’s collections and their conservation. With this in mind, IMLS invited Girl Scout Troop 4563 in Arlington, VA, to participate in a conservation project. Eight scouts, ages 12 to 13, contacted the participants from IMLS’ National Conservation Summit, interviewed them about their unique collections, and wrote the articles below. The scouts’ efforts will be counted towards their Silver Medal award.

 

Left to right: Meredith, Jordan, Tess, Emily, Leila, Paige, Allison, and Lisa.

In addition, troop members Jordan Kruger, 13, and Emily Walker, 12, will make a presentation on participants’ unique collections at the summit held at The Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Slave Emancipation Petition by Jordan Kruger, 13Emancipation Petition, Louisiana City Division Archives.

Could you imagine being an eight-year-old child who was a slave and having your father petition for your emancipation? This project helped me learn about slavery. It would be really hard to be a slave and separated from your family. I would never want to be separated from my family. Irene Wainwright, who works as a conservationist at the Louisiana City Division Archives in New Orleans, answered numerous questions about this document.

I found it most interesting that many of the documents found at their Archives were written in French. Ms. Wainwright says that it is hard to read them when they are in English and when the documents are in French they are even harder to read!

I asked Ms. Wainwright how she got involved in preservation and she said that it started after Hurricane Katrina. After the disaster, she and some of her colleagues went down to their library to uncover documents that were most likely destroyed. She said it was a miracle because each document was dry and safe. I found this to be unbelievable and quite amazing for the documents at the library to be fine. I would, like her, assume the documents to be completely destroyed and unusable.

If the documents had been lost, a part of history would have been lost along with it. I would never have learned that the petition was granted and the boy, girl, and their mother were finally emancipated.

Ms. Wainwright’s job sounds really fascinating, so I asked her if young people should consider a career in conservation and what guidance she would give a person interested in conservation. She says if you love history and love to uncover information, then you should consider a job in conservation. She says, "Preparing records so that they can be used by researchers, and meeting and assisting those researchers find what they need is rewarding." If you’re interested in conservation, go for it, it is a very important job that sounds so much fun! I don’t want to be a conservator because I don’t have a lot of patience. I can’t just be with documents. I’m a people person. I want to teach little children.

Squeals on Wheels: the History Behind Two Precious Piglets by Emily Walker, 12Pink Pig, Atlanta History Center.

Rich’s Pink Pig Train is a treasured relic of whimsy at the Atlanta History Center. The train, that used to run above Rich’s department store in Atlanta, GA, started in 1953 with Priscilla, the Pink Pig. During the holidays, Priscilla traveled over the toy department and went through a candy cane forest. In the 1960’s, she was joined by Percival. With the addition of Percival, the train moved to the roof of the store building and went through a small herd of live reindeer and by Santa’s workshop.

The original pigs consisted of a head car, a tail car, and a few passenger cars. The pigs were painted pink and had tails, noses, ears, and black eyes. Before being taken to the museum, the parts had to be taken apart and reassembled into two "whole" pigs because of their bad condition. Each pig is now over 20 feet long and can be complicated to care for. When the pigs are moved, they have to be stored outside and may be damaged by weather. They have to be transported on uncovered trucks as well. Also, people sometimes break the rules and touch the pigs.

Currently, the pigs are on display at the Atlanta History Center and are very popular during the holiday season, when the ride used to operate. Many families come to take pictures in front of the pigs and remember when they used to enjoy riding in them. Childhood memories are the main reason people come to visit the pigs year after year. Rich’s store is now a federal office building, and Rich’s company is owned under the corporate name of "Macy’s." Don’t be depressed about all these changes though; the pigs haven’t had their last squeal yet. You may even be able to ride a new Pink Pig Train! One of the Macy’s outlets has a pink pig train inspired by the real thing.

Think the pigs are cool? Think you would you come back to visit ole’ Percival and Priscilla if you had been the one visiting Santa and his reindeer? I know I would.

Conservation is important because if we let artifacts just sit there, people won’t be able to enjoy them. They’re more interesting than people think. It’s not just gluing together broken stuff. I don’t think I could be a conservator because I don’t have a steady hand.

I would like to thank Deborah Thomas, a curator at the Atlanta History Center for the wonderful information she supplied me with. This article wouldn’t have been possible without her time and effort.

Koala, Riverbanks Zoo and Garden.

Koala Ambassadors from South Carolina Inspire us to Conserve by Alison Klem, 13

There is a very unique collection of koalas at the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden in Columbia, SC. These darlings from Australia arrived through a two-year negotiation between Gov. Jim Hodges and Australian Premier Peter Beattie from Queensland. The collection of koalas lives in a house that has multiple exhibits indoors and out. The local community and the zoo’s Executive Director Palmer "Satch" Krantz are extremely proud of this rare exhibit of these Australian animals.

Koala bears live in Australia’s eucalypt forests, which are disappearing due to development. They are solitary animals that come together to breed. I asked Mr. Krantz if he thought that this collection is raising awareness of this problem in Queensland. He answered, "I like to think that the animals in our zoo act as ambassadors for their wild counterparts. By exhibiting koalas and appropriately interpreting their status in the wild, we hopefully will inspire our visitors to help save them." I think that people should take action about saving the koalas and their environment!

As a young person interested in conservation of our natural collections of unique animals, I think that it would be wonderful to consider a career in this field. Mr. Krantz inspired me in his interview by saying, "I can think of nothing nobler than working to preserve wildlife and wild places. As the world’s human population increases, we will be faced with many tough decisions, just like saving the koala in Australia." Koalas are interesting to learn about and ADORABLE. They are my ambassadors to learning about conservation. This collection was very interesting because it was about conservation in the sense of taking care of the earth, and it was also about conservation in the sense of preserving things for others to enjoy.

Photographs by Marion Stark Gaines by Paige Taylor, 13Photograph by Marion Stark Gaines, Columbus-Lowndes Public Library.

I profiled two photos by Marion Stark Gaines, the first published photographer in Mississippi in the early 20th century. One photo was a flower and the other was of kids with sticks in their hands. They were very simple. My favorite print shows children outside playing in front of an old house. This is because it shows what rural life was like for children over one hundred years ago -- what the houses looked like and what the kids did for fun.

Gaines took a variety of photographs of subjects including African and Native Americans, agriculture, and family life. There are only prints in the collection, which are in relatively good condition, dating back to the late 19th and early 20th century.

Gaines’ granddaughter, Chebie Bateman donated this collection of approximately 250 artistic photographs to the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library. Mr. Ben Petersen, director of the library, is delivering a nomination for this photographer seeking her entry into the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.

I thought there would've been a lot fewer photographs. I’m not sure how they would conserve them. But Gaines put a lot of work into making these photos and it would be a waste if they were stuck in an attic.

I might be interested in a career in conservation. You’re helping conserve part of history and that sounds like fun.

The Queen’s Quilt by Lisa Crosswell, 13Quilt by Queen Lili’uokalani, Iolani Palace

The Queen’s Quilt was started in 1895, during Queen Lili’uokalani’s imprisonment in Iolani Palace (now a museum). It is
autobiographical, describing important events in the queen’s life. The quilt is the only artifact in the Palace that was made by the queen. It is an important artifact because it helps the viewer understand the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy a bit better, as well as other events in the Queen’s life. I learned this from Malia Van Heukelem, Collections Manager of the Iolani Palace in Honolulu, Hawaii.

There are a lot of challenges in conserving the Queen’s Quilt, because, unlike most artwork, it is made of multiple kinds of fabric, including silk. The varying kinds of cloth all have one thing in common: they are all very fragile, thus adding to the deterioration of the Queen’s Quilt. Ms. Van Heukelem explained that thousands of dollars were put into the quilt’s preparation for exhibition. A professional conservator was assigned the task of repairing and stabilizing the quilt. A custom display case was made for the quilt, to support and protect the quilt from dust and handling. The case has a special ultra-violet filtering window film, to protect the quilt from the harmful part of sunlight and UV rays. There are many precautions made about the temperature and humidity of the room in which the quilt resides. There are shutters in the room to prevent sunlight from directly falling on the quilt. The Queen’s Quilt is an important artifact of Hawaiian history, and if it wasn’t preserved properly, a major part of Hawaiian history would be lost. Aloha!!!

It’s a cool way to learn history. You could learn a load of stuff just by looking at the quilt I don’t think I could be a conservator. I don’t have enough patience and concentration for it. I want to be an actor or writer or something in the arts.

The Apricot Orchard by Meredith Randle, 13Apricot Orchard, by Hisako Hibi, Hayward Area Historical Society Museum
I profiled the Apricot Orchard, a painting by Japanese American Artist Hisako Hibi located in Hayward Area Historical Society Museum (HAHS) in Hayward, CA. It’s a good choice for me because my family lived in China and we’re into Asian art. This was the last painting she did before she was sent to an internment camp. It made me think about her thoughts when she was painting. This was interesting because it was Asian and flowy and American all in one.

I found this painting very interesting, since it shows Hibi’s artistic license. In this painting, it is believed that Hibi included herself planting in her garden, even though she was painting an empty orchard. HAHS Executive Director Mr. Jim DeMersman and I also saw that in the lower right hand corner was a speed limit sign, showing that it was a busy street, even then.

I believe that this painting is significant to our country’s history, since a young Japanese-American who was put in an internment camp painted it. This painting shows that our history was not perfect and if we keep this painting alive for other generations, they will know how it affected them and their culture. If people make sure this painting is conserved, their history will be conserved. The museum received it 1988. It was in "good" condition, but they really have no idea what that means.

Some of the conservation issues are how to keep the paint on the canvas without damaging the painting. The best way is to clean it with human spit. It’s a soft solvent that cleans without harming the painting. I might consider becoming a conservator. I think I would like it because I like history and art and it’s a way to show history through art. I could do what I like and get paid for it.

Teenage Girls Can Do Anything! By Tess Stryk, 13The Hours, by Edward Greene Malbone, Providence Athenaeum

In 1854, the Providence Athenaeum in Rhode Island obtained the painting The Hours by Edward Greene Malbone due to the fundraising efforts of a teenage girl, Elizabeth Patten. The painting is a miniature on ivory of three female figures that represent the past, present, and future. Despite the scoffing of the Athenaeum Vice President, Elizabeth’s father, the

daughter raised the large sum of $1,200 (one third of the museum’s yearly budget) to acquire the important painting. This is the only item in the Athenaeum that was purchased; all other objects were donated.

According to Collections Librarian Kate Wodehouse, the "painting has always been well cared for and stored away from direct light, which is why it remains in good condition today." It is the largest and most well known painting by Malbone, a Rhode Island native, considered one of the most important miniaturists of the 18th century. After being recovered from a robbery, the painting now hangs in a special locked wooden case above the circulation desk.

Fortunately this object has never needed conservation treatment; especially important since the museum lost funding for the conservation position several years ago. The artist applied watercolor paint to slithers of ivory that were backed with white paper or aluminum foil to give them a luminous sheen. The conservation of such an object would require the search for an ivory specialist, which is why the Athenaeum takes great care to keep it in good condition.

Young people should follow their passion, if they intend to pursue a career in conservation, Ms. Wodehouse advised. "Caring for and working with precious objects to preserve them for the future generations to enjoy is a very rewarding career," she said. Her job is to care predominantly for books dating from 1300 to the present, making sure they are free from environmental hazards and that their contents is available electronically for library patrons.

Preserving Princess Pines, an Ancient Form of Plant Life by Leila Spolter, 13 Princess Pines, Adkins Arboretum
The princess pine, also called running cedar or crowsfoot, grows naturally at the Adkins Arboretum in Ridgely, MD and was there when the Arboretum was formed in 1980.

The roots of the princess pine form an association with a mycorrhizal fungus, which makes them very difficult to propagate because they do not live long without the fungus. They are also very slow to mature taking 6- 20 years before they produce spores. The genus, Lycopodium, is very old and ancestors of the princess pines grew to be the size of trees.

Princess pine is traditionally used to make Christmas wreaths on the Delmarva Peninsula and in other parts of the United States. The spores of Lycopodiums are also used to make an explosive powder.

It is important to conserve the pines because they represent a very ancient form of plant life and are a sign of a healthy, mature forest, according to Dr. Sylvan Kaufman, conservation curator at the Adkins Arboretum.

The difficulty in propagating them and their slow growth rate is a challenge in conserving these plants, he said. Young people should consider a career in collections and conservation because museums play an important role in educating the public about our cultural and natural heritage. It is a career that offers a combination of teaching, research, and writing and you can learn a great deal about the collections you care for.

If you are interested in conserving these plants then you should learn all the basic sciences and choose the topic that most interests you to pursue in your career. It’s also important to learn how to communicate and be well-organized.