Museum geek.

Elsec 764 small.jpgI so enjoy being a museum geek.

We’ve been using Elsec 764 handheld environmental monitors to assess our relative humidity, UV, temperature, and lux factors for about a month now, and we’re seeing the patterns of destructive highs and lows that are affecting not only the collection, but the entire structure as well.

The Elsec is an itty-bitty handheld thing that does the job of four different pieces of equipment, and it’s terribly handy. I love it! It looks horrible, kind of like the 1st gen Sony Ericsson mobiles, but it more than makes up in performance what it lacks in looks.

Actually, it doesn’t take such a huge leap of deductive reasoning to relate the readings taken with the Elsec with the visible effects on the objects. What we’re worried about are the long-term, gradual effects — the ones that you don’t see right away, and are more insidious and difficult to arrest, let alone reverse.

A couple of weeks ago, our assistant conservator noted some flaking going on with one of our religious images. The polychrome finish had exfoliated, to our horror, and the readings from the Elsec backed up our conclusion that the humidity fluctuations in the display cabinet it was housed in, being located right next to an exterior wall, were the culprit.

We removed the wooden sculpture from the cabinet and placed it in storage, in a much more stable environment. Good thing our Hall of Philippine Religious Images is slated for renovation within the next month or so. What we’ll need to do is provide more insulation between the walls and the displays, while still maximizing the little area we have.

Sigh. This is just one of the challenges of being a museum located in a space that wasn’t built for that purpose. Unlike more modern, newer institutions whose facilities were designed for museum storage and display from the outset, we occupy what was originally meant to be a general purpose hall. When the building was finished in 1927,the Rector of the University would address students and faculty in this hall. Academic gatherings, lectures, symposia and other activities of that sort were held in the space the Museum is in now.

What we’re doing now is upgrading our facilities and equipment, in order to align the Museum with global standards of museum practice. It’s very very costly and a logistical nightmare, but there’s nowhere to go but up if we’re serious about preserving our heritage and transmitting it to succeeding generations.

The Elsec 764 handheld environmental monitors are just one tool in the museum worker’s arsenal. It’s one butt-ugly way we’ll be able to ensure that the UST Museum’s collection will survive, so that Filipinos generations hence will be able to learn from it, and thereby learn who they are, what makes them what they are, and take pride in calling themselves Filipinos.

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4 Comments

  1. chaote9 said,

    Tuesday, March 14, 2006 at 2:42 pm

    whats a lux factor? is it how soft the skin is? 🙂

  2. miranoriel said,

    Tuesday, March 14, 2006 at 3:05 pm

    Cute. 🙂

    Lux is the metric unit of measure for illuminance of a surface. One lux is equal to one lumen per square meter. One lux equals 0.093 footcandles.

    Your lux factor, to put it very roughly, is a measure of how much light is being thrown onto the surface of your object. Some objects, like watercolor paintings, are far more susceptible to light damage than, say, a bronze sculpture. However, you still need to illuminate the object well enough so that your audience can appreciate the detail and beauty in each object.

    It’s not easy to balance lighting requirements in a museum, particularly ones like ours, that have a range of different materials to both conserve and display. You also need to consider all the different light sources you have in play — there’s natural light from windows, fluorescent lighting, halogens, tungstens, metal halides, or fiber optic lighting using LEDs, which gives off a cool, yet bright light which is very safe for museum displays but sadly beyond many of our local museums’ budgets. 🙂

  3. shepherd said,

    Sunday, April 9, 2006 at 3:26 pm

    Just be sure to choose the right insulation. It is inevitable that SOME moisture will get into that outside wall. And to make matters worse I suspect that the contractor will take great pains to see the wall is "airtight."

    "Airtight" seems like a good idea but it is impossible. So the closer a given wall is to "airtight", the harder it is for said wall to rid itself of moisture. I recommend someone carefuly research the insulation used as some insulating materials will serve to trap moisture. And this problem MAY be magnified by the contractor's attempts to make the wall "Airtight."

    I have had some experence in these matters. I have fumigated some rather nasty molds growing inside these "airtight" walls. When the problem was that the insulation trapped what moisture inevitably got into the wall.

  4. miranoriel said,

    Sunday, April 9, 2006 at 9:28 pm

    Holy humidity, Batman! 😮

    Thanks for the tip; I’ll pass it along to our Assistant Director, who is in charge of the chaos. She’s an architect, and will understand perfectly.


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