Gallery Talk: CSI: Slowing Down the Deterioration of Art

Figure 1. The pushcart used to present CSI within the galleries

The Department of Conservation and Scientific Research at the National Museum of Asian Art (The Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery) (FS) is responsible for creating monthly presentations as programming within the galleries. These presentations are called, “Conservation and Scientific Investigations” or “CSI,” and were developed to be interactive with didactics that the presenter pulls from a small push cart within the gallery (see Figure 1).

Melissa committed to giving a presentation and decided on the topic of explaining preventive conservation to the public. Her hope was to develop and compile didactics that her Smithsonian supervisors, Jen (FS) and Becky (MCI), could use within their own labs for tours following the cart presentation (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Sketches created on Melissa’s iPad to plan potential didactics for the presentation

Didactics Created and Compiled for the Cart

Bugs on Brass Mounts

Melissa worked with mountmakers to create brass mounts for plastic bugs. These were created to discuss object mounts and integrated pest management (for those who are squeamish at looking at real bugs).

Marvelseal® Silica gel Microclimate Packages

Jen came up with the brilliant idea of creating Marvelseal® microclimates pacakges with an acrylic window to show the relative humidity drop on a sensor when dried silica gel was placed inside. This can be used to describe the use of silica gel in galleries and the importance of controlling the environment.

Oddy Test Metal Coupons

In order to show how we examine Oddy test coupons, Melissa secured metal coupons from a test (with one set as a “control” and one set as a “failed” test) with museum wax to the bottom of a watch glass sealed in Parafilm. She also planned to include the full Oddy test jar setup to explain the test.

Other Didactics to Include:
  • An Elsec sensor to show how conservators can take spot-tests on relative humidity, temperature, light levels, and UV.
  • A piece of paper that was folded in half and touched repeatedly to demonstrate why we don’t allow people to touch art.
  • Construction paper half exposed to light and faded to show the contrast caused by light exposure.
  • A sticky pest trap with insects to discuss integrated pest management.

Cancellation due to COVID-19

Sadly, Melissa’s cart talk was scheduled at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and was cancelled for safety considerations (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. A screenshot from the FS website events page showing the cancelled event