A tisket a tasket – I just finished a gasket!

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10 of 15 gaskets from the Starboard Worthington Pump before conservation treatment

This week I thought it might be fun to look at one of our more unusual types of artifacts that I’ve been treating. We have tons (literally) of iron and copper artifacts in the lab, but for every two pipe flanges bolted together, there is also one gasket keeping things tight. The humble gasket can be found throughout the Monitor’s engine room, sandwiched between the copper piping and iron machinery parts. Its job was to keep the fittings air tight and prevent leaks. Most gaskets are made from layers of rubber and textile pressed together, but we do have gaskets made entirely of rubber and a few that are actually leather.

In addition to the gaskets, rubberized fabric, buttons, and combs have also been recovered. Despite the evidence of wide use aboard the Monitor, modern rubber was a relatively new material in 1862. Natural rubber was used before the 1800’s, but due to its unstable nature, it wasn’t suitable for many applications. Thanks to a number of people experimenting with additives and curing processes, more stable forms of rubber became commercially available. For instance, Charles Goodyear (who’s patent is stamped on the Monitor buttons) is credited with patenting vulcanized rubber which is much harder and durable than natural rubber.

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A Thank You to the Bronze Door Society

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On October 28th was the Bronze Door Society annual dinner where museum employees present projects and BDS votes to see who they will fund.  This year we had six excellent project proposals, from purchasing new objects, conserving artifacts already in the collection, and photography equipment.  This was my first year presenting and I was asking for money to conserve my favorite painting, Kaiser Wilhelm II Among the Pyramids.  I won’t go into the history of the ship or painting as you can read about that HERE.

I am thrilled to say that I am one of the three winners of that night and that this amazing painting will finally receive the conservation it deserves!  The piece has been in terrible condition as long as it’s been here and because of this we have been unable to display it.  A big THANK YOU to the Bronze Door Society for their annual dinner and for providing money for projects like mine!  You guys rock!

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To touch or not to touch: interacting with artifacts

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The Monitor’s propeller lost much of its strength while on the sea floor. The large platform and signs encourage people to examine it from a safe distance.

Every museum goer has encountered warnings about touching artifacts, but have you ever wondered just how damaging that contact can be? I think we would all agree that leaping a barrier and picking up a vase is a definite bad idea, but what about resting your hand on a chair or poking a polar bear specimen? The truth is even the lightest touch can cause harm.

Last week I took a break from dry ice cleaning to work on the “Virginia Gun,” an IX-inch Dahlgren shell gun which sits at the entrance to the Ironclad Revolution exhibit. It was recovered along with the USS Merrimack by the Confederates and was used aboard the renamed CSS Virginia during the Battle of Hampton Roads (1862). It is a fascinating object that draws a crowd. Unfortunately, it also tends to draw wandering hands.  My job was to remove greasy fingerprints from the side of the barrel. This got me thinking about how we protect objects and how although we have “do not touch” signs around the museum, visitors might not understand why this is such an important rule.

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The Many Uses of X-rays

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The glass tube which could contain mercury.

Earlier this year we conducted a survey of all the small metal objects waiting to be conserved. We assessed the condition of each, took a photo, and changed solutions. We also slated some objects for x-radiography.

There are three reasons these particular objects were singled out. First is to determine the condition of the object. When artifacts are submerged in seawater they are covered in a cement-like aggregate called concretion. This is a mixture of metal corrosion products, sediment, and sea life, including mollusk and corals. Concretions can be a thin hard shell scattered across a surface or entirely encase a group of objects in an amorphous lump.  By x-raying these concretions we can:

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Conservator on Deck

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Meet the conservators and collections team!
Meet our conservators and collections team!

This August is a great time to visit the Mariners’ Museum and Park! Not only is admission one dollar, but we also have lots of amazing tours and talks going on throughout the entire museum. Come meet the staff of the Monitor Center and learn more about the history, archaeology, and conservation of the ship. Every weekday from 2-3 pm, one of our staff will be on the observation deck overlooking the wet lab. This is a fantastic chance to ask questions and learn more about what we do in the labs. Check out the museum website for all the information you need to plan your day!

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