Design to Preserve: Part 2

Developing a preservation system at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum to protect Product Design and Decorative Arts collection objects on new compact storage units began with identifying specific design requirements (see Design to Preserve: Part 1). Object Conservators at the Museum are currently selecting and testing archival materials to create adaptable and effective support components for long-term storage of the collection.

Materials, such as foams, tissues, battings and boards are assessed for their physical and archival properties. Trays and boxes are constructed from rigid acid-free archival corrugated board to fully support fragile objects and reduce handling. Cushions that stabilize and protect weak or delicate areas, are made by sewing custom shapes and filling them with soft batting or weighted pellets. Each museum object requires a specific balance of support and cushioning. For example, a heavy iron mount needs a more substantial support than a delicate glass goblet.

A conservator fills a custom-made Tyvek pillow with glass balls, creating a non-abrasive support pillow with enough weight to stabilize objects on moving compact shelving units.

Support shapes are designed based on the requirements of the diverse collection. Curved supports are created for objects with round bottoms. Tall skinny objects require long flexible supports. Simple and consistent solutions are developed for routine storage problems, such as objects with lids and stacked plates. This modular system of support components provides for a reproducible and intuitive storage environment.

Various support shapes are designed and tested.

Cooper-Hewitt Conservators continually conduct accelerated aging experiments using the “Oddy” test method. This test is used in the conservation field to determine whether a chosen storage material will deteriorate as it ages, thus creating an unsafe or damaging object environment. To accelerate the aging of storage materials, metal coupons are placed in a closed environment with the test material, and exposed to prolonged high heat and humidity. Monitoring the reaction of the metal coupons indicates the test materials’ long-term potential to damage actual museum objects in storage. Materials that fail the test cannot be used for museum storage supports. Thorough investigation and experimentation provide the basis for an efficient and economical storage support system. Preventive efforts minimize risks as objects are relocated to new movable compact shelving units. Once in place, the support components will provide stability and protect valuable objects for the future, keeping them accessible for students, scholars, and the public.

Materials are prepared in test tubes for accelerated aging experiments.

Test tubes are placed in a laboratory oven at 60° C for the 28-day experiment.