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