In the spring, guests attending The Strong’s Museum Secrets events got a behind-the-scenes look at The Strong’s conservation labs and learned about some of the strategies and techniques used to keep collections preserved.
In the carousel care lab, guests heard about the history of the Elaine Wilson Carousel, the second largest artifact in the museum’s collection after the diner. Guests also discovered how Conservation Technicians Chris Wenderlich and Sue Dowling use reversible adhesives and other conservation materials to maintain the structural and aesthetic stability of the carousel horses. When the horses come to the lab, they often need some paint touch-up and it is very important that any retouching matches the original paint colors as closely as possible. Mixing the colors until the right one is achieved can be a long and painstaking process so, when Chris and Sue hit on a good match, they save the extra paint and mark it with the horse’s number so that they are ready the next time that horse comes to the lab.
In the doll care lab, Doll Conservator Darlene Gengelbach walked guests through the steps she takes during the conservation process for each doll or stuffed toy, such as cleaning, touching up paint losses, or washing a costume. Guests learned how Darlene made an exact replica of one doll’s outfit after examining the fragile and deteriorated original. The original costume will be safely maintained in storage, while the replica illustrates the original look of the doll.
In Arcade Game Conservation Technician Martin Reinhardt’s lab, guests saw the inner workings of both new and old pinball machines. Martin explained how the various parts of a pinball machine work and showed what it takes to maintain them. This included demonstrating an ultrasonic cleaner that removed grease and dirt from a mechanical component almost instantly. Martin draws on both his engineering background and conservation skills to ensure that that the museum’s electronic game artifacts remain in working order and are preserved in as close to original condition as possible.
Guests also visited my lab, where most artifacts that don’t go to one of the other three labs end up. I presented some of the resources that I draw upon to ensure that I understand the history, material composition, and preservation needs of each artifact before crafting a treatment plan. My process can include scientific examination with tools such as a large stereomicroscope and historical research in consultation with colleagues on the curatorial team. I also employ artistic skills that help with tasks such as carving replacement parts for wooden toys and matching color for infill paints. To illustrate the varied objects and materials that we care for at The Strong, I offered examples of current treatments, included a backglass from a pinball game, a 19th-century toy piano made by the Schoenhut Company, and a paper box that houses a 20th-century metal train set made by the Ives Company.
At the end of the night, the guests had a chance to try treatment techniques that conservators use in the labs. Guests removed tape from cardboard, combed fragile doll hair, and matched colors to touch up a damaged painting. My colleagues on the Conservation Team and I loved sharing our work with guests during Museum Secrets. To learn more about how you can be a part of this summer’s Museum Secrets events, visit the museum’s Special Events page!