Conservation

Conservation Treatments

  • Preserving Snowmass Village mammoth tusks

  • A broken fin on a Yupik seal mask is reattached

  • Stabilizing archaeological pottery

  • Conservation treatment of a textile

Museum conservators are responsible for helping to preserve large collections of objects. Most conservation efforts focus on "big picture" strategies for preventing damage and protecting objects over time. There are also cases where individual objects need attention and care. Conservation treatments at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science focus on stabilizing specimens and artifacts so that they can safely go on display, travel to another institution during a loan, or be viewed for research purposes. All materials used for treatments have been scientifically tested to ensure that they remain stable for many years, and do not pose additional risks to the museum objects.

Conservators abide by a professional Code of Ethics, which states that conservation treatments should aim to be reversible. All actions taken by conservators must also be thoroughly documented in writing and photographs.

Preventive Conservation

  • Measuring gallery light levels

  • Discussing pest management & light damage

  • Insect pests are monitored and identified

Preventive conservation improves the condition of the collection as a whole rather than focusing on each individual object.  By making these overall improvements, individual problems are less likely to happen.  The "big picture" approach of preventive conservation involves:


Temperature and Relative Humidity

Artifacts and specimens are best preserved in stable environmental conditions.  Frequent changes in temperature or relative humidity can cause materials to expand and contract.  This, in turn, can lead to cracks, embrittlement, and other deleterious effects.  Conservators monitor the temperature and humidity in galleries and collections storage, and work with Building Operations to stabilize the environment in these areas.


Integrated Pest Management

Insects find their way into every building-and museums are no exception.  Wool-eating clothes moths are familiar to most people, but there are also insects that eat wood, leather, feathers, and even paper.  As all of these natural materials are present in the collection at DMNS, insect pests would be very happy to make our collection their home.  Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a multifaceted approach to monitoring and eradicating pests.  Each exhibit and collection storage area is checked regularly for damaging insects. Through this strict monitoring program, the Museum can avoid using the harmful pesticides that may have been common in the past.  In the rare event that an infestation is discovered, the specimen or artifact can be frozen at a low-temperature to naturally kill the pests.


Light Levels

Light can cause irreversible fading to a variety of colorful materials including dyed textiles, animal fur and feathers, and even some minerals.  Conservators consider the light sensitivity of each object before it goes on display, and make recommendations on appropriate light levels.  Artifacts that are particularly light sensitive might only go on display for 3-6 months, whereas more durable artifacts could be displayed indefinitely.  In a museum, conservators must balance risks such as light damage with the need for displaying important collection items for the benefit of the public.


Mount Making for Exhibits and Storage

When artifacts and specimens are displayed, a supportive structure-or mount-is often created to hold it securely in place.  Conservators provide information on the stability of the artifact to experienced mount makers, who then fabricate unique and unobtrusive mounts for display.

Museum objects typically need supportive structures while in storage as well, to minimize the need for handling.  These mounts typically involve a box or overall structure to contain the object, and padding to support and keep the object from moving.  When objects are transported within the museum, staff can handle the storage box without actually touching the artifact.


Outreach

The DMNS Conservation Department participates in public outreach events in order to educate the public on how to care for their own collections, as well as how to be good stewards for the Museum's collections.  Education is a powerful tool to ensure the preservation of cultural and scientific heritage.

Exhibits and Loans

The Denver Museum of Nature & Science is a dynamic and ever changing place. In addition to hosting large blockbuster exhibitions, the Museum receives smaller incoming loans from other institutions. These may be objects and specimens that are selected to augment an exhibition, or may be requested because of their research significance. Likewise, the Museum routinely makes outgoing loans to other institutions for the same reasons. Whether collections are to be displayed at the Museum or elsewhere, current conditions are documented and tracked by conservators through written reports and photography. If an object is not stable enough for travel or display, conservators may perform repairs. Conservators also help make decisions on safe light levels for display, duration of display, and appropriate mounts and supports.

Diorama Condition Survey

  • Meghan McFarlane checks light levels

  • Photos capture current condition of specimens

  • Penguins inside the Campbell Island diorama

The Denver Museum of Nature & Science's 104 dioramas are among the best examples of this display type in the country. Each diorama represents a particular place in the world and showcases Museum collections. The dioramas are also an important part of Museum history, with some having been on continuous display since the 1940s.

A diorama is composed of three elements: 

1. Museum specimens and artifacts.
2. A foreground featuring plants, rocks, and other materials that set the scene.
3. A background mural painted on a curved wall.

The materials within the dioramas can deteriorate as they age. To protect these Museum treasures, conservators monitor and document the dioramas so that any changes in condition can be addressed. Conservators look for things such as light damage to bird feathers, fine cracks in the background murals, or unstable foreground materials. With care and attention, these dioramas will be around for generations to come.

IMLS Latin American Textiles Project

  • Volunteer works on a custom storage box

  • Volunteer places custom pillow inside a huipil

In 2008, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science was awarded a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to improve the storage conditions for its collection of Central and South American textiles. These textiles include colorful woven clothing, bags, and hats. Prior to the grant, the textiles did not have adequate storage space, and because of this, could not be easily studied or viewed. Funding for this project was used to purchase high quality museum storage cabinets that keep the textiles secure, yet also allows them to be easily accessed for research or exhibition. Additional funding was used to catalog the textiles and create custom storage containers for each object.

Volunteers are integral to the success of large grants at the Museum.  For the IMLS Latin American Textiles Project, volunteers constructed handmade, custom storage boxes and padding for over 600 textiles. These storage boxes allow staff and volunteers to minimize the need for handling the textiles-some of which are fragile and may be easily damaged.

Past Projects

The majority of the Museum's large-scale preservation efforts have been generously funded by grant-making agencies of the United States Government.

The following projects each focused on improving the conditions and accessibility of a particular area of the collection, with the recognition that these collections form an important part of our nation's cultural and scientific heritage.


2009
Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Collection Risk Assessment
In this project, each area of the collection was carefully examined for risks as a means to identify areas in need of future work.

2007
IMLS Latin American Textiles
Latin American textiles were cataloged and new storage cabinets and mounts were constructed.

2005
IMLS Zoology Bird Mounts
Taxidermy birds were given custom storage mounts and cabinets.

2004
National Endowment for the Humanities Emergency Preparation
Plans were made to prepare for emergency impacts to the collection.

2003
IMLS Southeast Asian Textiles
Southeast Asian textiles were given new storage housing for increased accessibility. 

2002
IMLS Native North American Textiles
Native American textiles, including Navajo rugs, were given new storage housing for increased preservation.

1999
IMLS Mammal Rehousing
Custom storage mounts were constructed for a variety of taxidermy mammals.

1997
IMLS Treatment Survey Anthropology Collections
A condition survey and stabilization treatments were conducted on the Anthropology collection.

1996
IMLS Gems and Minerals Rehousing
Storage was upgraded for gems and minerals.

1995
IMLS Kachina Doll Rehousing
Custom padded storage containers were made for individual Kachina dolls.

1994
IMLS Anthropology Headdresses and Festal Collections
Custom storage mounts were created for headdresses and festal materials from the Anthropology collection.

1993
IMLS African/Amazonian Anthropology Collections
African and Amazonian collections were rehoused in order to improve access and preservation.

Have a Question?

Fill out my online form.

What We Do

Behind-the-scenes at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, conservators are working to preserve our collections. Conservation means preparing specimens for exhibits, repairing unstable artifacts, and improving collection storage. Conservators study science, art, and anthropology to become experts in everything from identifying insect pests to knowing which adhesives work best on a variety of materials.

Preservation of our more than 1.4 million irreplaceable artifacts is a central part of the Museum's mission and involves the participation of the Museum community as a whole. Conservators work with curators, collections managers, exhibits staff, and others to insure the long term safe-guarding of our world-class collection.

RECENT UPDATES

TEAM

^ Back to Top