The Avenir Conservation Center is a purpose-built laboratory where conservators work to ensure the long-term preservation of the anthropology collection
Conservation as a profession strives to preserve scientific and cultural heritage for the future. Behind-the-scenes in the Avenir Conservation Center, conservators work to stabilize the collection. One of the ways they do this is through conservation treatment. A conservation treatment stabilizes any deterioration that may be occurring to an object or specimen as it ages. Deterioration can be physical (breaks or tears), chemical (corrosion), or biological (insects). The steps of a treatment always begin with a condition examination, followed by a treatment proposal that outlines the actions to be taken by the conservators to address the deterioration. These actions can include repairing breaks in baskets with special tinted papers and rice starch paste, removing active and destructive corrosion from copper-alloy metals, or bridging gaps in porcupine quill decoration caused by insects. Once unstable objects are repaired, they can safely be placed on exhibition, travel to another institution for a loan, and be available to native descendants or others for research.
Conservators in the Center have studied chemistry, art, and anthropology to become experts in identifying materials and understanding what products might best be used to stabilize any deterioration. For example, a strong adhesive is required to repair ceramics and glass, but that same adhesive will be too strong for delicate baskets and leathers. Another type of adhesive must be tested and chosen.
All steps of the conservation treatment are documented. As well as written reports detailing the methods and location of the treatment, documentation can include digital, infrared, or ultraviolet photography. The conservators utilize specialized equipment, such as stereo and scanning electron microscopes, to identify grasses and fibers. Commercial pH-indicator strips are used to test the acidity of deposits on glass beads to determine if destructive “bead disease” is present.