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Thursday, May 16 • 10:30am - 11:00am
(Objects and Research and Technical Studies) Getting to the Gut Of the Matter: the Conservation Of Siberian Yupik Winter Gut Parkas

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In 2014, objects conservators at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) undertook a two-year project to treat and rehouse portions of its Siberian ethnographic collection. These pieces are frequently requested for study by native knowledge-holders, traditional artisans and researchers. Among the 100 objects chosen for treatment were 14 gut skin parkas attributed to the Siberian Yupik people. The parkas were fabricated from the intestines of marine mammals to produce materials termed ‘summer gut’ and ‘winter gut’. When wet, summer gut is translucent, easily conforms to the wearer’s body, and is waterproof. When dry, however, it is very brittle and easily prone to tearing. Winter gut, on the other hand, is opaque white in color, soft and supple when dry, but can have a negative reaction to contact with moisture. Limited information exists in the anthropological and conservation literature regarding the manufacture and treatment of winter gut and how it differs from summer gut in appearance and functional qualities. In fact, current conservation treatment approaches for winter gut tend to rely on strategies designed for hide or summer gut. Experimentation to produce winter and summer gut was undertaken and ultimately provided enough material to test treatment protocols and materials. Accompanying and supporting treatment, this project involved extensive scientific analysis and native consultation. Peptide mass fingerprinting (PMF) analysis was performed to determine species of the source animals and to shed light on fabrication practices and differences among the Yupik of eastern Siberia and those of St. Lawrence Island. Additionally, histological study was performed to examine microscopic differences between winter and summer gut, which clarified their differing sensitivity to moisture. Extensive native collaboration, such as web-enabled video conferencing, visits by native scholars and craftsmen to the museum, and travel by conservators to both sides of the Bering Strait took place throughout the project. The information gained from scientific analyses and collaboration with descendant communities offers an expanded view of the technical qualities and cultural uses of winter gut and a reconsideration of current conservation approaches to objects manufactured from this unique material.


Amy Tjiong

Assistant conservator, American Museum of Natural History
Amy Tjiong is an assistant conservator in the Anthropology Department at the American Museum of Natural History (“AMNH”). She has been working on the museum’s ethnographic and archaeological collections since 2014 and is currently involved with the renovation of the Northwest... Read More →

avatar for Gabrielle Tieu

Gabrielle Tieu

Associate Conservator, American Museum of Natural History
Gabrielle Tieu has been an Associate Conservator of Objects at the American Museum of Natural History in New York since 2010, working on the museum’s ethnographic and archaeological collections. She holds a BA in Art History and Archaeology from the Ecole du Louvre in Paris (1998... Read More →
avatar for Judith Levinson-[PA]

Judith Levinson-[PA]

Director of Conservation, American Museum of Natural History
Judith Levinson is Director of Conservation in the Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History. Working with the museum’s archaeological and ethnographic collections, she also has extensive experience with the museum’s dioramas and other permanent and temporary... Read More →
avatar for Samantha Alderson, [PA]

Samantha Alderson, [PA]

Conservator, American Museum of Natural History
Samantha Alderson is a conservator of objects in the Anthropology Division of the American Museum of History. She received a Master of Arts in art history and archaeology, and an advanced certificate in conservation in 1993, from the Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts... Read More →

Thursday May 16, 2019 10:30am - 11:00am EDT
Salon B1, Uncas Ballroom
  Specialty Session, Objects and Research and Technical Studies