WHAT IS IT?
To make sure artifacts last a long time so they can be studied and displayed for future generations, museums carry out conservation. Conservation is the application of scientific methods to examine, maintain, and treat artifacts and specimens. The term has come to include restoration and preservation.
WHY DO WE DO IT?
Many of the artifacts in our collection were in a deteriorated condition when they came into our care. This is due at least in part to a lack of recognition of the value of industrial objects because they are often not anyone’s family heirlooms. To stop or slow down the degradation, treatments are carried out to remove rust, mold and other deteriorating agents and to stabilize and protect. Additional steps may be taken depending on the requirements for displaying the artifact. Most objects are restored to how they looked at the end of their working life. This might involve keeping scratches and dents, broken parts etc. Rarely are objects made to look shiny and new because that erases their history.
HOW DO WE DO IT?
When we created our permanent exhibits, we had an extensive conservation program. In each case the curator of collections and the conservator created the treatment plan, which is a series of steps to transform the artifact from its as-found condition to the end goal we wanted for that artifact. This can mean only a light cleaning, months of intensive work, or something in between. Under the supervision of the conservator, specialized technicians carried out the steps of the treatment plan. In our case, the technicians included carpenters, mechanics, machinists and labourers.
A very important part of conservation is its documentation. Our process was to photograph the artifact at each milestone in its treatment. Many artifacts have a number of components, and taking them apart is usually necessary to properly conserve them. As this was done, each part was tagged with a unique number, was photographed and a measured drawing was created. The treatment for each part also was recorded. All of this gives us valuable information for future reference in caring for the artifact and knowing about it.
Some of our most substantial conservation projects included 3 locomotives, a steam –powered excavator from 1929, a group of machine tools (lathe, drill press, planer, grinder, pipe threaders and the steam engine that powered them), a shingle mill, a sand tractor from an iron foundry, ingot trollies from a steel mill, a lathe that made wooden wheel spokes, a scale from a railway station, and our Volvo automobile. Over time we hope to add information about these projects to our web site. As a start, please check out the case studies of Samson and Albion locomotives.