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Framed or Unframed: How Museums Make Storage Decisions

Collections and Conservation staff at the Western Development Museum are continually making decisions about how to store artifacts in our Collections in order to preserve them for the future. In some cases, staff must decide if it is better to store artifacts in original materials or to house the parts separately.

A Problem is Presented

During the inventory of the WDM’s Small Artifacts and Documents Collection, staff located a small map which originally belonged the WDM’s first Curator, Dr. George Shepherd. The map, which depicts the overhunting of Bison herds in North America, was encased in a frame comprised of a glass front and brown cardboard backing held together with blue tape.

Click on image to enlarge

Click on image to enlarge

For WDM conservation staff there were some specific concerns with leaving the map in this housing:

  • Cardboard is a highly acidic material and these acids can leach out of the material, damaging the paper.
  • Because we cannot see the edges of the map, the paper may be in contact with the tape adhesive, or the adhesive may move into contact with the paper as it ages. As tape adhesive ages, it can become hard, brittle and highly discolored. As the tape adhesive becomes enmeshed in the fibers of the paper, the residue can cause staining and other damage to the paper.

These concerns were enough to support the decision to remove the map from the original housing construct.

Removal Findings

The tape was cut around the edge of the framing system in order to remove the map while maintaining the integrity of the cardboard backing.

The opened frame from WDM-1973-S-16828, showing the presence of adhesive residue on the backing board. Click on image to enlarge.

Upon gaining access to the map, a damaged area along the bottom edge of the paper was noted. This area of the map had been in contact with a spot on the backing board which contained old adhesive residue from tape that had been applied and removed from the cardboard prior to the map’s framing.

The back, or verso, of the map. Click on image to enlarge.

View of the old adhesive residue on the backing board and corresponding damage to the map. The paper is cockled and has become discoloured. Click on image to enlarge.

Outcomes and Continued Decision Making

After removal from original housing

The decision to remove materials from original housings is not a small one, as the long-term preservation of the artifact must be balanced with the story behind it. For this artifact, separating and storing it in parts will allow the WDM to better care for and preserve the components as well as the story of our first curator.




By: Jill Baron, Curatorial Assistant


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