Museum Minute: Preserving Objects

Nov 12, 2019

Sunbonnet, Dakota (Sioux), Northern Plains, ca. 1900 Tanned deer hide, dyed porcupine quills, glass beads, canvas, silk ribbons.
Credit Plains Indian Museum Collection NA.202.94

Museums carry objects that unfortunately are not meant to last forever. Rebecca West, the curator of the Plains Indian Museum, said a Lakota sun bonnet in the Plains Indian Museum Collection represents how curators handle these pieces. 

“This is an object that probably will never be put on exhibit because the condition is so delicate. The silk ribbon is disintegrating, the quill work is pretty faded. It’s extremely delicate,” said West.

Museum curators have the duty to take care of everything in their collection regardless of its condition. West said sometimes the best curators can do is make sure the object is placed in an environment that will slow the disintegration process down. 

“The temperature, humidity, everything is at a constant rate. We’ll pad the inside to support it. We monitor it, which means we check on it to see if it’s getting worse,” said West. 

Conservators work on the object in an effort to better its condition. But it's hard to not change the object, instead they slow down the process the best they can. Conservators have put a very fine mesh around the silk ribbon of the bonnet to keep it intact and attached.

“We’ll try to slow down its aging, keep an eye on it and do the best we can do interpret it virtually,” said West.