Field Trips

Here are some highlights of what we saw at Preservation Destination 2019!

On Monday our lab’s staff traveled to an event hosted by ICPC (Iowa Conservation and Preservation Consortium). It’s an annual get-together called Preservation Destination. A large group of us, Iowa preservation professionals, go to a place in Iowa and have behind the scenes tours of as many cultural heritage institutions as we can cram into one day. Here are some of our favorite things that we saw.

From Sonya Barron, Collections Conservator:

From left to right: 1. At the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) theater costume storage. 2. UNI Museum: a storage mount made for a saddle. 3. UNI Archives: The Rural School Collection ledgers

At the Ice House Museum we learned about how ice was preserved. Large blocks of ice were loaded into the barn-like building and stored there until the summer. Layers of saw dust had to be placed in between each ice block so that the blocks didn’t fuse together.

Every winter, the Ice House was filled up with ice to the top of the central beam. The light colored wood boards that you see on the roof show where there roof was repaired. Before the repairs these were holes!

From Cynthia Kapteyn, Assistant Conservator:

In 2008, The Cedar Falls Ice House Museum flooded. It was only inevitable, as the historic building is situated right next to the Cedar River. The disaster resulted in damage to nearly all of the artifacts in the collection, most of which were housed on the ground floor. To this day, the collections manager is still dealing with effects of the flood.

That’s where the water was in 2008.

In the picture above, conservator Sonya Barron is pointing to the spot the water rose to during the flood. To circumvent this issue in the case of a future catastrophe, the floor was raised a foot above the flood line.

From Mindy Moeller, Senior Conservation Assistant:

At the University of Northern Iowa Nathan Arndt, Assistant Director and Chief Curator of the UNI Museum at the Rod Library, gave us a very informative tour.  While at the UNI Museum, I was interested in seeing how they displayed and housed their precious and educational exhibits.  One picture that I took really stuck out in my mind as to how simple it was, easy to do, not costly, and we must use this example for the next time we are housing pins, buttons, or other small objects that can be stored together yet separated and protected. 

Small artifacts between dividers.

At the museum, they used small archival boxes and simply made “ice cube tray-like” dividers with pieces of 1/8” thick Ethafoam.  This idea could be used for any depth of an archival box to keep items apart and still have room for an identifying tag for each object. 

From Jim Wilcox, Conservation Assistant:

The raw material on the left and the mounts on the right.

The UNI Museum’s collections care and mount making room is a space with a large table, where you can work all the way around it and have all the supplies needed at hand. Like the large supply of backer rod you might find at a construction site. Why backer rod? To stabilize objects that are round at the base or nearly so and that could tip over easily. The items then could either be boxed, or stored on open shelving like this.

Do you remember going on field trips when you were younger? I always thought they were so fun – you got to go to fun places and see neat things (and you got to miss out on school work!). Well I STILL think they are fun so when the opportunity arises we do what we can to take one now and then.

We were lucky enough to be able to drive the short distance down to Des Moines to visit the Archival Products and LBS facilities. A couple of us had been there before but others hadn’t. It’s so neat to visit a place that makes the products we use on a daily basis! And they are happy to have visitors as well, they like to know what we think of the products they make, what would make them better, what do we wish they made. It was an enjoyable and informative trip for all!

making pamphlet binders

making pamphlet binders





machine for cutting book cloth

machine for cutting book cloth


assorted bookcloth

assorted bookcloth


My State Fair outing with the Lennox Intern is one of the highlights of my job!

I had the pleasure of taking our 2013 Lennox Intern, Susanna Donovan, to the Iowa State Fair on Wednesday August 14th.  The weather was perfect for the long day we were about to encounter.  One of the highlights of my job is to spend a day with our intern, as I love showing them around the fair and sharing my knowledge of animals and exhibits.

This was Older Iowans’ Day so there were many elderly visitors traveling about the fairgrounds, either on foot or by motor carts.  One of our first stops was at the Stock Dog Trials directed by the Iowa Border Collie Association in the Outdoor Arena.  Black and white Border Collies herd (hopefully) cooperative sheep through a course at the directions given by their handler.  These dogs have a strong eye and stare down their wooly locusts.  My good friends, Ron and Kyle Kilstrom, were attending the sheep waiting for their turns on the course, and we had a nice chat about sheep.

Susanna and "Squirt"

Lennox Intern Susanna and “Squirt” the Super Bull

Next, we ventured down the hill to see the largest ram, boar, and bull, where people flock to see these huge animals.  Susanna is pictured with Squirt, the Super Bull weighing in at 3,032 pounds.  He is a Charolais breed and owned by Richard Berns of Postville, Iowa.  Of course you can’t pet Squirt, but you can pet the baby calves that come to the fair.  We even got to see baby animals after birth/hatching at the Paul R. Knapp Animal Learning Center.  Not a place for the squeamish!

Susanna pets a baby calf.

Susanna pets a baby calf.

We spent time in the 4-H Exhibits Building where 4-Hers from all around Iowa have their best projects exhibited.  It is an honor to have your entries chosen at your local county fair to come for exhibition at the Iowa State Fair.  Many wonderful entries of foods, crafts, photography, woodworking, and more fill this large building.   It’s always a good place to get ideas for home projects.


Susanna tries out the quilting machine.

Next, we went on to the second floor of the Varied Industries Building that houses fabrics and textiles from around the state.  Many quilts of all types were displayed on the walls in a wide array of colors and patterns.   Susanna got a chance to try her hand at the quilting machine and made it look easy.

Susanna enjoys dessert first!

Susanna enjoys dessert first!

Before we had lunch we had to have dessert first, so we stopped at the Dairy Store to have one of the best ice creams on the fairgrounds.  Can you say “the creamiest ice cream?  Oh YES!”  The beef cattle were busy going in and out of the show arena next door.  It is always fun to watch them lead those massive animals around and they make it look so easy.  We also sampled the Nitro Ice Cream by Blue Sky Creamery which was developed by two Iowa State University students, Thomas (T. J.) Paskach and William (Will) Schroeder, in the spring of 1999.  The ice cream was patented in 2000 and tested at the Iowa State Fair that year.  More yummy ice cream!

Enjoying my lunch, a "cowboy cone," with baked beans and shredded beef in a waffle cone, topped with cole slaw and a potato chip!

Enjoying my lunch, a “cowboy cone,” with baked beans and shredded beef in a waffle cone, topped with cole slaw and a potato chip!

We ventured over to the Anne and Bill Riley Stage to see my neighbor, Beth Titman of Boone, receive the Iowan of the Day award sponsored by the Blue Ribbon Foundation and Cookies Food Products since 1997.  Beth is very involved in volunteering in her community and it was fun seeing her receive her special and very well-deserved award from Speed Herrig of Cookies BBQ Sauce fame.


Tanned ostrich leathers.

And to be work-related to books, we looked at tanned Ostrich hides in the John Deere Agriculture Building and found some interesting leg leathers.  I happened to purchase a pretty black one for a future spine for a book for fun.  The hides were very soft and came in pretty colors, but they were pricey.

We ate, we saw, we petted, and we walked a lot.  It was a very long day and I can say Susanna was definitely tired and hoped she enjoyed her time at the Iowa State Fair.


Danielle and I in front of the library’s main entrance.

In January, I had the good fortune of visiting Danielle Fraser, Library Conservator at the National Library and Information System Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (NALIS).  Danielle and I first met as classmates at the Kilgarlin Center for Preservation of the Cultural Record at the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Information.  After we graduated, Danielle returned to her native Trinidad and Tobago for a position at NALIS, where she set up the first conservation lab in the English-speaking Caribbean.  And what a wonderful lab it is!


The NALIS Conservation Lab staff. (From left to right:) Danielle (Library Conservator), Afesha (Assistant Library Conservator), Felicia (Library Attendant/Administrator), Joelle (Library Technical Assistant), Alicia (Conservation Technician), and Kareem (Library Technical Assistant).

The lab’s equipment, tools, and supplies, have been carefully selected and built up over time.  Likewise, Danielle’s staff has grown (and during our visit, the in-house Bindery was officially moved under her supervision as well).  The lab staff have all been trained by Danielle, and clearly share an enthusiasm for their work.


Afesha shows us the fume hood and Nilfisk HEPA vacuum set-up.

Afesha, the Assistant Library Conservator, started our official tour at one end of the lab, in a small alcove containing storage cabinets, the fume hood (set up with a Nilfisk HEPA vacuum for mold removal), and one of the lab’s two Wei T’o Freeze Dryer and Insect Exterminator units.  I’ll admit, I was a little envious.  However, having ample freezer space is critically important in the humid Caribbean climate.  Danielle explained that they use the units as much for insect extermination as for drying wet books.


Afesha shows us materials isolated and awaiting treatment in the chest freezer.  Felicia looks on in the background.

In addition to the two Wei T’o units, the lab boasts the largest chest freezer I have ever seen.  Did I mention the climate makes freezer space a necessity rather than a luxury?  A significant portion of Trinidad and Tobago is covered in rainforest, just to give you some idea of how humid it is there.


View of the rainforest from the Asa Wright Nature Center, Arima, Trinidad.


Washing sink temporarily converted to bench space. There is a water filtration unit tucked under the sink.

The lab’s washing sink has been fitted with a cover, allowing it to be converted to usable bench space.  (This clever use of space reminded me of the conservation lab equipped by Conservator Sarah Norris at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.)


Periwinkle-blue boardshear.


Electric guillotine.

In addition to the “usual suspects,” like a boardshear and electric guillotine, the NALIS lab also has a piece of equipment that was new to me, the Archipress.  This vacuum sealing unit draws the air out of a polyethylene enclosure before sealing the edges.  The unit has been programmed with pre-sets depending on the dimensions of the materials to be vacuum sealed.  According to Danielle, vacuum-sealing items before they are frozen helps to prevent warping.  It is also a method of isolating materials for insect extermination or stabilizing materials for transport.  The unit was purchased from a company in Europe, so a separate power supply had to be wired to accommodate its electrical requirements.


Afesha demonstrates the Archipress vacuum sealing unit.


Kareem, the Library Technical Assistant, describes the uses of the various hand tools used in conservation treatment work. Alicia, the Conservation Technician, looks on.


Books awaiting treatment on the sorting shelves are sorted according to whether they need a major, medium, or minor treatment.


Alicia demonstrates how to use the Book Keeper deacidification spray unit.

Alicia, the Conservation Technician, demonstrated how to use the portable Book Keeper deacidification spray unit, and gave my husband a chance to try his hand at it.  He gently chided me that Danielle’s staff gave him a far better tour of their lab than I have ever given him of the ISU Library lab — a legitimate complaint.  I was similarly impressed by the comprehensive tour by a committed staff.  Many thanks to everyone at the NALIS Conservation Lab for a delightful morning in their company!

I mentioned that I found a surprise in the box of plans delivered from the Memorial Union. The plans included blueprints with the design of the Union’s zodiac, which is embedded in the floor at the entrance to the Gold Star Hall.

One of the first things you learn when you join the Iowa State community is that it is bad luck to step on the zodiac.

I always thought that this was a pretty clever preservation management strategy as it minimized wear and tear on the sculpture.  In fact I had planned to title this post “A Little Superstition Can Be a Good Thing.” Imagine my surprise when I learned that the designer had intended for the work to be worn down. The “Traditions, Myths and Stories” page of the Memorial Union website tells me that:

Architect/designer William T. Proudfoot chose to incorporate the ancient symbols of the zodiac into the north entry floor — classic Greek/Roman mythology for a classic-Greek/Roman-style building. In the 20s, the zodiac was not as well-known as it is now. Proudfoot planned for intentional wearing away of the bronze forms by placing them above the surface of the floor – to be sculpted further by building users until, eventually, they would be the same level as the floor. We know that by 1929, students had decided that if you stepped on the zodiac, it was unlucky – that you’d flunk your next test. Rumor has it that the students created this “curse” because they liked the raised effect of the zodiac and they wanted to preserve the zodiac signs even though it went against what the architect originally intended. Now most students, hedging their bets, walk around. If you accidently invoke the curse, you can throw a coin in the fountain to take it away!

One of the tenets of conservation is to respect the creator’s intent when caring for an object. Knowing that Mr. Proudfoot wanted the steps of the students to wear the zodiac down makes me consider walking on it despite the fact that I would most certainly raise a few eyebrows. I hesitate, however, because there is another way of looking at the situation.

The Memorial Union was built as a living memorial to members of the Iowa State community who lost their lives in World War One. Students and alumni raised the funds to build the building, and to this day they have a justifiable pride and sense of ownership of the building. The tradition of not walking on the zodiac has now become as much of the history of the building as the designer’s original intent.

Mr. Proudfoot died soon after finishing the plans for the Union, so we cannot know what he would have thought of the student’s reinterpretation of his ideas. I’m wondering what you think.  Would you walk across the zodiac to leave your mark as Proudfoot intended, or would you join the students in the tradition of walking around it?

When visiting antique stores, I’m used to seeing jumbles of old photographs, cabinet cards, and cartes-de-visites piled in boxes.  Occasionally, the seller takes the time to sort the photographs by format and put each format into its own box.  On a recent visit to Found Things, in Des Moines’ East Village, I was surprised to see their vintage photographs had been individually sleeved in small photo-album binders, which were neatly shelved on a small bookcase.

It was such a pleasure to see these items being cared for — each housed individually, kept out of the light, and free from dust.  It was a good reminder that archivists and conservators are not the only people who devote time and effort to preserving the past.

A group of Buddhist monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery have been creating a sand mandala in the lobby of the Iowa State Memorial Union this week.

I spent a bit of time watching them work and found it rather calming.  The sands of the mandala will be dispersed shortly after it is completed in a ceremony that reminds the participants of the impermanence of life.  It is always good for us humans to be reminded that life is short, but I also think it is good for conservators to be reminded that not everything, no matter how beautiful or meaningful, is meant to be saved.

If you are on campus this morning, the schedule for the day is:

Mandala Completion, 10-11am

View Completed Mandala, 11am-12pm

Closing Ceremony, 12-12:45pm

Dispersal of the Sand, 12:45pm

This program is being sponsored by the Student Union Board and they have posted more photos and further information at this link.  The Iowa State Daily newspaper also ran an article that can be found here.

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