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Wednesday, May 15 • 2:00pm - 2:30pm
(Research & Technical Studies) Understanding Air-Tight Case Environments at the National Museum of the American Indian (Smithsonian Institution) by SPME-GC-MS Analysis

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The National Museum of the American Indian opened the exhibition Americans in January 2018. The exhibition highlights the deep connections between Americans and American Indians as illustrated through history, pop culture, and the identity of the United States. The minimalistic design of the cases containing Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho war shirts and an eagle feather headdress from the Sicangu Lakota displayed in the Battle of Little Bighorn gallery was achieved through frameless case construction. The cases allow the visitor to feel as though they are standing in the midst of warriors. These cases are described as air tight and are marketed as such by the fabricator. One week after the exhibition opening, the cases were opened to address some locking mechanism issues. When opening the cases, they emitted a strong and distinct chemical odor from the interior. This raised immediate concern for the objects. At the request of the collections manager and conservator, exhibition project managers contacted the case fabricators to confirm what case materials were used in order to better understand the potential source of the odor. Concurrently, the collections manager opened the cases weekly to allow for the escape of built-up volatile organic compounds in the hopes that the newly constructed cases would sufficiently off-gas. Additionally, sorbent materials were placed in some of the exhibition cases in order to help with the issue. Unfortunately, the problem persisted. The case fabricators were forthcoming with information and were just as keen to understand what was occurring in the case environment, however, there was some dispute as to the source of the odor. In order to find the source of smell, conservation scientists at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum Conservation Institute carried out a comprehensive analysis of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by the exhibition case and by the object itself. Solid phase microextraction (SPME) coupled with gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) is starting to be widely applied in museum institutions as a screening method for the evaluation of the off-gassing process of construction materials and historical objects. In this case, SPME-GC-MS analysis was performed during the exhibition with the aim to find the origin of the smell. The detection and identification of VOCs were carried out simultaneously in: (i) two exhibition cases, (ii) all the individual construction materials and (iii) similar historical object. This analysis showed with confidence that the odorous/fragrant compounds were released by the construction materials and not by the historical objects placed within the exhibition cases. In addition, due to the measurements taken in different positions around the exhibition case, results were useful to point out the range of efficiency of the sorbent material placed in some of the exhibition cases. Since the SPME setup does not require any modification in the exhibition display, the testing remained invisible to the museum visitors. This aspect, in combination with the fast analysis that this technique involves, allowed the collections manager and conservator to take a prompt response in order to preserve the integrity of the collection.

avatar for Alba Alvarez Martin

Alba Alvarez Martin

Postdoctoral Fellow, Museum Conservation Institute. Smithsonian Institution
Alba Alvarez Martin received her B.S degree in chemistry in 2010 from the University of Salamanca and her PhD in chemistry in 2016. She has also has a MSc in Conservation Science. During her PhD she did stays at IDAEA-CSIC, Barcelona (Spain), University of Warwick, Coventry (UK) and... Read More →

avatar for Cali Martin

Cali Martin

Collection manager, National Museum of the American Indian. Smithsonian Institution
C. Cali Martin is the Collections Manager at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. She previously served as the Collections Manager in her own community at the Osage Nation Museum in Pawhuska, OK. Cali is an advocate for the ethical... Read More →
avatar for Gwénaëlle Kavich

Gwénaëlle Kavich

Conservation Scientist, Museum Conservation Institute. Smithsonian Institution
Gwénaëlle Kavich, Conservation Scientist at the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute, earned a BSc in Chemistry from The Nottingham Trent University (U.K.) and a PhD in Chemical Sciences from the University of Pisa (Italy). She contributes to a wide range of technical studies... Read More →
avatar for Kelly McHugh

Kelly McHugh

Supervisory Collections Manager, Cultural Resources Center. The National Museum of the American Indian. Smithsonian Institution
Kelly McHugh recently became the Supervisory Collections Manager at the National Museum of the American Indian. Prior she served as an object conservator, when she began working for the museum in 1996 in New York, based at the museum’s former storage facility in the Bronx. There... Read More →
avatar for Rebecca Kaczkowski

Rebecca Kaczkowski

Preventive Conservator, Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute
Rebecca A. Kaczkowski is the Preventive Conservator at the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute, where she undertakes a variety of projects related to exhibit design, museum environments, the care and storage of collections, and collection care training initiatives. She is... Read More →

Wednesday May 15, 2019 2:00pm - 2:30pm EDT
Nehantic/Pequot/Paugussett Rooms Sky Convention Center, Mohegan Sun
  Specialty Session, Research & Technical Studies
  • Track Research & Technical Studies
  • Ticketed Included in Main Registration
  • Authors in Publication Order Alba Alvarez-Martin, Kelly McHugh, Cali Martin, Rebecca Kaczkowski, Gwénaëlle Kavich
  • Abstract ID 19001
  • Tags air tight exhibition cases,volatile organic compounds,emission,solid phase micro-extraction,gas chromatography-mass spectrometry