Our ongoing blog series for the month of May, Textile Tuesday, draws to a close today. This doesn’t mean that we won’t be checking in on the project throughout its duration (remember: it may last for a couple of years yet!) It just means that, for now, the weekly updates are winding down.
Textile Tuesday has been a lot of fun for me. For one, it’s always exciting to visit the basement of the UMFA. For another, it was a nice excuse to get to know some of our docents and volunteers just a little bit better (and I’m here to tell you: we have a pretty great team). And, of course, it was absolutely fascinating to learn about the process, the tools, and some of the best kept secrets.
Textile Tuesdays were always an opportunity to learn something new. The last time I was in the basement, I asked a question that I thought would just confirm something I already knew: Gloves are worn to protect the textiles from the oils on your hands, right?
The answer I got was surprising: Yes, and…
It turns out that gloves are not just worn to protect the object from the workers, but also to protect the workers from the object. “It is not unusual for textiles from certain regions to have been treated with toxic materials, like arsenic,” Jennifer Ortiz explained.
Our staff feels pretty confident–almost certain—that no textiles in this project would present such a risk, but it turns out that museum staff interacting with these kinds of objects always take precautions. It never occurred to me that, for example, certain tribal weapons may retain some of the poison on their tips!
Who knew this was such thrilling work?
But, of course, what makes this project most exciting is the chance to see and interact with objects that haven’t been seen in years. Just unrolling a wrapped textile to reveal its intricate colors and pattern is enough to get your heart racing. I mean, someone made this, and then someone used it: to interact with this, and even just to see it, makes you a part of that story, too.
This is a preservation project, as opposed to conservation or restoration.
“Preservation,” Ortiz explains. “Simply means doing things like as re-housing textiles in new tissue and vacuuming for dust. That prevent further damage from happening to the object.”
In addition to preservation, this project is also necessary to establish a basic understanding and record of the condition of the textile collection.
Once the project is finished, the records of the UMFA will be able to reflect a number of different things, “from whether or not something is ready for exhibition, to who donated the object or how many textiles of a particular style or era we have in the collection,” says Ortiz.
The information will be publicly accessible via our database online–this means much more accessibility to the public. So even if you don’t have time to volunteer during this lengthy project, you’ll still get the chance to see these incredible things once they’re online.
“While 278 textiles may not represent a large percentage of the permanent collection [of the museum’s total objects], this project allows for the collections department to make accessible what was never readily accessible before in an permanent way,” says Ortiz.
To have this information online allows students, researchers, visitors and people both near and far access the wealth of the UMFA’s permanent collection.
“These items are held in the public trust and their care is funded by taxpayer money; it’s only right that the museum makes what’s ours also theirs by providing readily accessible access to information about the collection,” says Ortiz.
What is most interesting to you about this project? What questions do you have?