The Preventive Conservation Aides are responsible for maintenance of collections in the period rooms and galleries. Working with conservators, they collectively care for nearly 90,000 objects and are a critical part of the preventive conservation program.
Their careful, routine vacuuming and dusting of the collection removes acidic, abrasive dust and prevents it from becoming embedded in collection objects. Preventive Conservation Aides wear gloves when handling collection objects to prevent leaving fingerprints. Acids that occur naturally on skin can corrode metals and damage furniture and other painted and gilt finishes. They use museum quality HEPA vacuums that collect and trap fine dust particles and three kinds of dust cloths. For more details see How Winterthur Cleans. Preventive Conservation Aides also monitor the environment and alert Conservators and Facilities staff to any significant changes that might damage the collection.
Because this team is so familiar with every nuance of the collection, they notice anything unusual such as object damage, an environmental problem, insect activity or a missing or misplaced object. Their vigilance alerts conservators to problems before they cause collection damage. They are also key members of the Collection Emergency Team and are often the first to respond in the event of a water leak or other collection problem.
Preventive Conservation Aides manage Block Maintenance when a block of several rooms is closed to tours on a rotating schedule for thorough cleaning, paint touch up, window air handler maintenance and thorough inspection. Conservators use this opportunity to examine objects in the closed rooms and undertake minor treatments.
During Block Maintenance in the Newport Room, an intimate dark wood paneled room from 18th century Rhode Island, a Preventive Aide noticed unfamiliar debris prior to carefully vacuuming the rug. Asking for assistance from his supervisor, the debris was identified as frass (or insect droppings) from a varied carpet beetle larva. Further inspection revealed more frass as well as casings shed from carpet beetle larva near the rug’s fringed edge. A textile conservator examined the rug and advised that it be removed as soon as possible and placed in either a freezer or fumigation chamber to eliminate the threat of active carpet beetle larva. An observant eye and quick action saved this colorful carpet from Kurdistan from the severe damage carpet beetles can inflict while protecting the rest of the collection from infestation.