Ask A Curator with Suzanne

Last month, our curatorial team participated in the global event, #AskaCurator. In case you missed it, here's our Collections Manager, Suzanne, answering some of your questions.

Where do you keep things not on display?

The artefacts not currently on display are kept in specifically designed storage rooms. The storage rooms have environmental conditions of specific temperature and humidity levels that fluctuate only slightly each day. Big fluctuations can cause damage to artefacts. The storage rooms are fitted with shelving and cabinets that are made of sturdy materials that do not degrade over time. Degrading storage materials (like some woods, plastics, and paint finishes) are problematic because they do things like “off-gas” which spoils the air quality in the storage rooms. We use metal shelving that has been enamel-coated, which can last for decades and longer.

What are the most difficult objects to preserve?

It’s sometimes surprising. The objects most difficult to preserve fall into two categories: 1) those that are made of fragile or unstable materials and 2) those that are made up of several different kinds of materials.

In the first category, unstable materials are often modern, man-made materials like polyurethane. Polyurethane is a great shock absorbing material, so it is used a lot in today’s casual footwear including sneakers. Unfortunately, it is chemically unstable and breaks down rapidly soon after it is made. As it breaks down, it produces a gas by-product that is harmful to the other materials around it.

In the second category, artefacts made up of several materials make it hard to decide which material should be catered to. For example, in preserving a shoehorn made of bone and wood, should you store the shoehorn in an environment ideal for bone, or should you store it in conditions that best suit the wood? A hard choice!

What jobs other than ‘curator’ can someone do in a museum?

The BSM’s Curatorial Team is made up of the staff that work closely with the collection. Besides the Senior Curator, the team consists of the Assistant Curator, the Collections Manager, and the Conservator. As the Collections Manager, I ensure the long-term preservation of the artefacts through proper care including storage, proper handling, transportation, registration, cataloguing, security, and insurance.

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