Hello Everyone! I know that lately the blog has been abounding with news about new additions to the conservation team, but prepare for a little Déjà vu, as I’m writing this post to introduce myself as the newest member. My name is Laurie King, and I joined the team at the beginning of April as an Assistant Conservator. My main focus will be researching techniques for using solid CO2 (or Dry Ice Blasting) to remove corrosion from USS Monitor objects. I am a recent graduate from Cardiff University, and prior to that I actually spent my free time as a conservation volunteer with the USS Monitor Center. I am so thrilled to be back and to be working on the Monitor!
As long time readers will know, the removal of corrosion from metals can be a long process, involving a lot of detailed and time consuming work. The removal of corrosion isn’t just so the object will look nice and to reveal surface details; if corrosion remains on the surface it can trap salts in the object and cause corrosion in the future! When it comes to USS Monitor objects, this corrosion can be inches thick in some areas, making it a very painstaking process to remove the corrosion with smaller tools, like scalpels, dental tools, or air scribes. This is especially true when working on something as large as the turret or the gun carriages!
Hello everyone! As promised, this week’s post is all about the metals survey. This was a great opportunity for me, having joined the conservation team in December, to have an in-depth look at our collection.
For the last month and a half, Will, Mike, and I have opened over 300 containers as we examine all the small inorganic artifacts awaiting conservation. The majority are iron and copper alloys, but there are other metals and glass as well. The purpose of the survey is to assess individual artifacts’ conditions and create a record of the current state of the collection. This allows us to prioritize. If something is very fragile and actively corroding, we want to focus on it, before it declines further. Inversely, if something is in great condition we want to treat it before we lose any more information. All of our organic material underwent a similar survey in 2015. As we check-in periodically, it establishes a timeline for the object throughout its life in storage. Conservation takes time. It is important to keep an eye on the whole collection, especially those which aren’t in active treatment.
I realized that we are often showing the glamorous side of our job here in the lab through our blog posts… nice objects, good progress, fun discoveries… but unfortunately we are not always mucking around in dirty USS Monitor gunk. That would be too good to be true!
A large part of the background work in the lab is controlling the desalination baths. This notably involves logging pH measurements and analyzing the amount of salt extracted for each tank. Indeed, progress can only be achieved if the pH is stable and salt is removed from the objects. Boring, I know. In fact, even crawling around the Monitor’s goo on fun days intent on freeing more salt from the objects (in addition to making them look pretty). The process of extracting the salts out of the objects is also what is taking forever… especially for such large artifacts like the ones we have here. However, if we do not do it properly, objects, especially those made of metal, can develop what is called “active” corrosion once dried (i.e. a corrosion process that does not end and feeds itself). And of course, this is the opposite of what we want to achieve when it comes to conservation. So, desalination is a must in order to share these artifacts and their stories to the public in exhibits.
If you are looking for something awesome to do this weekend, we have just the thing for you! This weekend at The Mariners’ Museum we are commemorating the 154th anniversary of the Battle of Hampton Roads. Now, I know the idea of going to a Civil War battle commemoration does not necessarily sound all that exciting, but that just means that you have never been to our museum on this particular weekend. This is one of the most exciting weekends of our year! We’re going to have lectures by Civil War experts, which are going to make you realize how fascinating history can be. There’s going to be Living History demonstrations and encampments, which of course involves setting off the occasional cannon. Perhaps the best part, but I will admit to being a bit biased, is that we will be having behind the scenes tours of the USS Monitor conservation laboratory. If you come on a tour you’ll get to see up close and personal exactly what we’re doing to save the Monitor. Saturday we’ll be having our 2nd Annual Civil War Beard competition that you need to participate in or watch, either way you’ll have fun. We’re also having an iron pour outside on Saturday. You will get to see how parts of the Monitor would have been made, with fire and sand and molten metal. Sunday we’re going to unveil a full scale working replica of a USS Monitor Worthington pump. The Worthington pump replication project has been a long and winding road, and we are so excited that we get to share the final result this weekend!
Why, you may ask do we care so much about this particular battle, that there is an entire weekend of activities devoted to remembering it? Glad you asked. The Battle of Hampton Roads was the one major battle involving the USS Monitor. On March 8, 1862 the CSS Virginia, a Confederate ironclad steamed into Hampton Roads and laid waste to the Union ships, wooden ships, stationed there. This was the worst disaster endured by the US Navy until the attack on Pearl Harbor. On March 9, 1862 when the CSS Virginia came back to finish the job, it encountered the USS Monitor. For four and a half hours these two iron ships dueled in the waters of Hampton Roads. Although the battle was fought to a draw, it changed naval warfare forever, bringing an end of the age of sail and wooden ships.