This presentation was a refreshing and extensive collaboration of museum and conservation staff with native peoples from both sides of the Bering Straits centered around a large rehousing and accessibility project for the Anthropology Department of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). This kind of project has been in the hearts and minds of conservators of indigenous materials for many decades now, though is a complicated thing to make happen. Possibly with the aid and ease of new communication technology and a stronger working relationships between museum professionals and native communities the project was able to facilitate an active learning environment and increase feedback between the groups. The conservators were able to delve deeply into the technology, mechanics, deterioration, and conservation of the lesser understood winter gut in relation to summer gut. An expansive understanding of the material was built, beyond the original collectors archived data and literature searches, and also beyond the typical conservation analytical procedures, examinations and experimentation. Instead, with tools like video chat communications, document translation by conservation interns, and in situ workshops with native people to produce winter gut, a fabulous dialogue blossomed for the Conservators and the native communities.
“Lack of knowledge about a collection and the resulting lack of appreciation of its values are among the most common and “ordinary” agents of deterioration that cause the loss of objects. This is the reason why the care for a collection has to include research to link materiality and information and must provide proper access to the collection to make it valuable to the community.
” This quote is actually the opening line of an abstract from a Sustainability Session presentation given by Johanna Runkel, titled How Preservation and Access go together in Collections Care: Valuable to the Community Rather then Forgotten Forever
, at the same AIC Annual Meeting. The AMNH’s winter gut project tackled this issue with great results, as did several other Objects Session presentations (Technical and Traditional Approaches to the Conservation of Two Zulu Beaded Ensembles
, by Kathryn Brugioni Gabrielli, at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and Conserving 25 Jaki-Ed Marshallese Dress Mats at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution
, by Rebecca Summerour). The challenge now is to continue these efforts. Using this and other projects as a potential framework to follow, for the process has shown to be a wonderful preservation tactic.