Saturday, March 28, 2015

Behind the scenes at DEVA

There is nothing I like better about museum and archives work than seeing the "man behind the curtain": the levers and bells and the magic that happens to make things go. I've been able to watch three projects in the making here at DEVA. (If you remember, or maybe you never read it, I wrote about the four-character tag attached to Park Service locations. It's taken from the first two letters of the first two words in the park's name, or the first four letters if it has only a one-word name. PEFO for Petrified Forest, TUMA for Tumac├ícori, and I had a good laugh about Carlsbad Caverns being labeled CACA. The Service caught onto that one and changed its name to CAVE, and Lake Mead, formerly called LAME, is now LAKE. I don't know why they didn't call Carlsbad CARL. Anyway, Death Valley is DEVA.)

The first is a rebuilding of a Civilian Conservation Corps-built wall from 1934-1935, constructed of nothing but water and native soil. There are no binders like straw to improve the bricks' durability, and while the years have naturally taken their toll, it's remarkable that any of the wall is still standing.

The Alpine Club worked with Cornerstones Community Partnerships, The NPS Vanishing Treasures Program, and Americorps Blue IV team to make new bricks and stabilize and rebuild sections of the old wall.

Using shovels and elbow grease, the workers filled forms like this one to make the bricks.

Many hours' labor resulted in row after row drying in the sun. If you look at the far right side of the photo and peer through the tree, you can just make out the back end of my house.

In another section of the work area some of the bricks have been turned to dry another side. I was sure I'd straightened this photo so the buildings don't look on the verge of collapse, but I guess not.

Here's a nice straight building with dried bricks stacked and ready for use. The stacks immediately made me think of a description I read a long time ago about how peat blocks dug in Ireland were piled up to dry. I think those were more haystack-like, but the idea is the same.

The first courses of this rebuild section have been laid; the mud is still wet. This run was completely gone.

This is the same wall seen from the other side.  On the far left the new wall was integrated with a part that still stands. Much more of this section has been rebuilt and topped with bricks angled for water runoff. The crews are now gone for the season.

The second project was truly behind the scenes - furniture restoration of pieces built by Manzanar internees, mostly of wood salvaged from fruit crates.

The photo above was taken when the restorer was setting things up for photographs and writing condition reports - assessments of the objects' current state of (dis)repair, such as the dried glue and failing join on this drawer front. The restorer shipped his trunk of magic tricks from West Virginia, where he retired from the Park Service doing just this kind of work.

Some of the restorations were subtle. This is the before picture of a chest of drawers that was removed from exhibit at Manzanar to have the loose board on the top drawer repaired, among other spiffing up.

Here is after:

Some pieces were simple, like this small chest with sliding panels,

and this cabinet with glass doors. This is the before photo.

This is the after. Scratches on the lower right side have been repaired.

I loved this piece, similar to a chifforobe but with shelves instead of hanging space. It's small, maybe three feet high. This is the after photo, despite the gaps in the boards on the drawer fronts. His job was to stabilize the furniture, not to make it look new.

Here it is while being worked on, showing the construction of the side. It also shows the warped top edge of the bottom drawer, waiting to be reglued, and a missing board on the left side of the drawer.

My hands-down favorite piece is this child's vanity.

The veneer on the top of the curved section was warped and split. First the restorer moistened the wood, then gently weighted it to flatten it. See how dull the finish is, too, compared to the completed piece in the photo above.

Once the veneer was flattened it was glued and clamped and left to dry. Nice inlay work on the top.

Then the front edge was put back in place.

I wanted to look at the drawer construction and got a nice surprise when I found this side-opening hidey-hole. Also check out the feet. Pretty.

The third project was made-in-Manzanar jewelry restoration. This is how the box came out of storage, with paint flaking off a few pieces.

The restorer came from Los Angeles and brought with her the tools of her trade, and an intern. I talked to them about how one becomes qualified to do this work. If you've heard it's hard to get into medical school, it's nothing compared to the thirty or so slots open every year to restoration programs offered in just a few schools nationwide. Applicants have to have a portfolio of their work. How do you build a portfolio if you're not yet qualified? Work for free for someone who is. Plus have an undergraduate degree somewhere in the art field with chemistry thrown in. Plus have two years' work experience, post bachelors degree. Then hope a practicing restorer will take you on for an internship.

While the intern was doing paperwork the restorer set up her workspace. Here she was getting ready to stabilize floral tape on one of the brooches. See the green ribbon on the left of the table? She needs to duplicate the color and spent some time mixing and remixing paint.

This necklace was the prettiest piece, in my opinion. When the work was finished she stabilized it by pinning it to a card mounted on foam.

This last is not about restoration but I still liked it. My office mate, another volunteer, was doing lots and lots of photo scanning and had this album from Scotty's Castle. I perked right up when I saw it and started turning pages. Carefully, with gloves on.

Of all the portraits I saw only a couple had names. What a shame. What follows are some of the unknown people who appeared in the album.

I can't figure out what's going on with her hair. Can there be such a glare on it that it looks like it's missing? Could be, based on the girls above. Some Photoshop is needed here.

Aren't they grand?

On another note, it did not escape my attention that yesterday was the second anniversary of my leaving my home in Washington. A year ago it was still raw. This year.... Well, this year I still have a low opinion of Voldemort and the sneaky way he accomplished his deeds, but there are other things that are so much more important to me. My HH was ill this week and is now home with me, safe and sound and not much worse for wear. That's what's important. Life indeed goes on, for which I am grateful.

Thought of the day:

All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on. - Havelock Ellis

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Wildflower heaven

I have given up on the internet in the park. Last week we drove to Beatty, about 40 minutes away, so I could post. And eat Mexican food. Today we're in P'rump for a haircut, groceries, and wifi at the library, except they turned off the wifi at 5:00 when they closed. No kidding. But we have LTE full strength on the phones, and if that's not my idea of technology bliss, I don't know what is.

Long-time Death Valley folks have called this wildflower blooming season the third best in memory. I, of course, have nothing to compare it to, but have been thrilled with what I've seen so far. I have never seen any of these flowers before. The newness, the diversity, and the extent of all these blooms have been an ongoing treat.

Three weeks ago a couple of friends and I headed to the south end of the park. Apparently that's where flowering begins. Our plans were to see what was in bloom and then head over to a canyon for a hike. We drove to a historic site called Ashford Mills and wandered down the hill behind it to the Amargosa River. It was flowing; that's how much rain we've had, and it was funny to hear everyone get excited, me included, when one rainfall was reported at a quarter-inch. That's approaching flood status. 

There was such plenty at the river we never made it to the canyon. 

No name for this one.

This is a five-spot, named for the five red spots inside. The flowers are globular and open when the sun warms them. The color is luscious, and I love the way the petals overlap, like leaves on a camera's shutter.

This is an outstanding specimen of a shredding evening primrose. It was about a foot from end to end.

Its flowers:

Why is it that whatever guide you consult to identify an insect, plant, bird, or animal will never have what you're looking for? I couldn't find this interesting beetle.

A little detour from living things - isn't this amazing?

One of my favorites, the desert chicory. It is weak-stemmed and is usually found growing up among other plants for support. I think it might be my favorite because my mother said her wedding dress was the color of chicory, not this one but the lovely purple-blue flower found growing as weeds in the Midwest. To my mind, chicory is chicory; this is just a pale cousin. 

Here's an example of one being supported by another plant's framework. 

Desert dandelions have the color of lemon mousse. Gorgeous!

This poor desert gold is being devoured but I don't know what insects they are.

Every other plant has "desert" in its name. Here are two views of a desert plantain.

The orange curlicue is parasitic and is called dodder. Here it's growing on a five-spot and it's still skimpy, but there are examples along the road that are so thick they look like mats.

A gravel ghost, another of my favorites. Its leaves are a gray-green rosette that lie flat against the ground, almost invisible against the gravel and sand it grows in. Its stem is thread-like; how it holds up the flower head is a mystery. Seen from a distance, the flowers seem to hover in the air, waving gently in the breeze. They are lovely. See how similar it is desert chicory. I have to check the leaves or see the red in the middle to tell the difference.

Thanks to water in the river basin, every once in a while we came across these floral still lifes. The purple flower is a sand verbena. They were plentiful. The other plant is a brown-eyed evening primrose.

There were millions of these caterpillars, pure eating machines. The horn is at the tail end, and it took me a while to figure that out.

They ate everything in sight, climbing flower stems to eat the bloom.

You can see tracks in the sand of the wash where sand verbena were growing. We thought it was insects or mice, but it is caterpillar tracks. It turns out the verbena are the caterpillars' primary target. Someone who went to this same area a week after we did said the verbena were all gone, eaten to nothing. It makes me wonder how they propagate.

In some areas we noticed a lot of little black, hard pellets that looked something like mouse droppings. Then we started seeing fresher stuff, and this is what made me realize the horn is at the rear end. Here is likely your first view of caterpillar poo; remember, you saw it here first.

This pretty plant is a devil in disguise. The spines are somewhat flexible, but when the plant dies and dries,

it turns into this cactus-like weapon. It's tiny, a couple of inches across. Climbing over rocks or plopping down for a rest requires a scan of the area for its spines. Next to it is a cricket or something.

A sand verbena before it was a meal. Interesting how the flower is one big petal.

Another still life of verbena, shredding and brown-eyed evening primrose, and five-spot.

It was just as well we ran out of time and couldn't hike in the canyon. Clouds were gathering and darkening. While we headed home it started to rain. Good news for more flowers like these desert gold.

So what do these caterpillars turn into? Sphinx moths! If not exactly like the one I wrote about from Petrified Forest, they will be similar. I hope I'm around to see them, and in the numbers the caterpillars promise, but probably not. It's getting hot and we're not long for this wonderful park. While I hate to leave (and have already committed to coming back next winter) we have a couple of weeks left and then we're headed to Yosemite for summer camp! I never would guess that I'd be lucky enough to snag a spot there, but I got the last one and will be working for the new park librarian for several months. Just as I was confirming my work there, I also heard from Grand Tetons and North Cascades. I'm tucking those away for other summers.


Thought of the day:

Weeds are flowers, too, once you get to know them. - A.A. Milne