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The process behind the processing

Each year, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum acquires objects to add to our collection. It is not a simple matter of purchasing or being given an object and then placing it on exhibition.

Prior to entering the collection, the objects undergo a long process to ensure that the object is safe and that all of the initial information is captured. Part of the job of a conservator is to assess each object as it comes into the collection, prior to exhibition or loan, and routinely assess objects to ensure that no damage has occurred in storage.

This assessment is known as a condition report.

Once the object has reached the museum, it undergoes an isolation procedure to ensure that it does not house any sort of infestation of insects or other pests.

This is part of the integrated pest management (IPM) procedures.

Sealed in a thick plastic bag, the anoxic (extremely low oxygen) environment is too harsh for most pests to survive over a two week period. As soon as the IPM is complete, the objects are moved into the laboratory for the initial processing.

This initial processing involves documenting the object through condition reports and photographs. The condition reports can either serve as a cursory glance to make quick notes, or provide an in-depth analysis down to the chemical make-up of the object.

Uncatalogued photographs in binder from the Clewiston lot. (Photo Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum)

During the reporting, conservators identify any issues with the object that should be addressed prior to exhibition, loan, or even, simply, storage. These objects are then imaged and sent to be numbered, catalogued, and housed.

Occasionally, customized housing is a necessary component of preventative or interventative conservation measures; conservators and other collections staff can create unique housing for these objects to protect them for a longer period of time in storage.

One collection in the midst of being processed is the papers and photographs of district nurse Claudia Wilson. She served as the nurse on the Big Cypress and Brighton reservations during the mid-20th century.

This collection provides an in-depth look at life on the reservations, the general level of health care provided to the residents, and the major health concerns of the era.

Uncatalogued brochure, spring 1971, from the Clewiston lot. (Photo Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum)

Years ago, Wilson gifted it to the Clewiston Museum, where it sat untouched in several cardboard boxes until former director, Butch Wilson, donated it to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki.

When the collection first entered the laboratory, the estimate of the number of objects in the collection was approximately 200. Currently, the laboratory has processed over 450 items and there is likely another 150 items left in the collection that require processing.

This one collection will take several hundred hours to assess, catalog, house and storage properly. However, once the processing is complete, the objects will be able to be accessed at the museum for Tribal members and researchers alike who wish to learn more. This invaluable information is precisely why the museum collects such objects.

Are you interested in learning more about the museum’s collections or conservation in general? Please contact Robin Croskery Howard at 863-902-1113, ext. 12220 for more information.