Tongass Historical Museum storage

Artifacts in a collection room at the Tongass Historical Museum are covered with hand-sewn Tyvek covers to protect the items while in storage. The Tyvek material was purchased with a grant that the museum received in 2019 from Museums Alaska that was funded by the Rasmuson Foundation. Photo courtesy of Hayley Chambers

There’s always a project in progress at the Tongass Historical Museum.

Most recently, the museum’s staff has been working on the “research room large object storage project,” which is focused on maximizing the museum’s space in the downtown Centennial Building, as well as keeping artifacts in good condition through proper storage methods.

Tongass Historical Museum Senior Curator Hayley Chambers told the Daily News that the process of improving storage (actually) has been a years-long effort.

The museum shared the Centennial Building with the Ketchikan Public Library from about 1967 until 2012, when the library relocated to its location on Copper Ridge Lane.

“And once the library moved out, it freed up a lot of space for museum needs and purposes, and we were sort of able to unpack a little bit, in ways,” Chambers explained.

And since then, the Tongass Historical Museum has adapted to its new space while continuing improvements to storage.

To further those efforts, the museum applied for and received the Collections Management Funds Grant from the Museums Alaska organization in 2019. The $7,083 grant is funded through the Rasmuson Foundation.

“So we got a grant at the end of 2019, and the money became available in 2020 for us to actually purchase shelving,” Chambers said. “We purchased a material called Tyvek to make custom object covers, and we also got supplies to build custom dollies for our large artifacts.”

In an email to the Daily News, Chambers provided information about the objectives of the grant.

The project’s goals were “ensuring objects were housed in secured locking storage, mobilizing large and heavy objects for safety and flexibility, and cleaning objects for long-term preservation and future use,” wrote Chambers.

Chambers also wrote that, with the grant funding, “improvements were made to four collections rooms — Research Room storage, large object storage, Registration, and Collections storage.”

Using the funds, museum staff purchased 12 new heavy storage shelving units, two of which were installed in the registration area for a “much-needed staging area for new donations that are in the process of being cataloged and put away,” wrote Chambers.

The other new shelving units are being used to house oversized objects like a fire pumper, theater seating, a stove and a sewing machine.

The new steel shelving units came with particle board shelves, which museum staff and “student helper” Dutch Meyer covered in a marvel seal.

According to Chambers, marvel seal is an “aluminized barrier film that prevents the chemicals the particle board is treated with from off-gassing and having long-term negative impacts on the objects stored on them.”

Stacey Brainard, the museum’s administrative secretary, sewed the Tyvek material into sheets that will be used to cover and protect artifacts.

“Tyvek is an ideal material for object covers because it is lightweight, durable, can be washed when dirty, acts as a barrier from agents of deterioration, and can easily be manipulated like fabric,” Chambers noted.

Scott Brainard also assisted in building dollies that will aid in transporting heavy objects.

“Now a majority of our large objects are mobile, which will be a huge help as we look towards future building projects and moving collections for exhibits,” Chambers wrote.

The project has been ongoing, and isn’t finished yet, Chambers said.

“A lot of last year was focused on our grant project and making improvements (to) different collection storage rooms,” Chambers said.

The project originally was supposed to be completed between January and June 2020, but several warehouses closed or stopped production during that time due to the coronavirus pandemic. The shelving didn’t arrive in Ketchikan until February of last year, and work on the grant project continued through August.

The Tongass Historical Museum continues to adapt to its changing space, with artifacts being inventoried, moved and cleaned routinely.

“It’s been an ongoing project,” Chambers said. “It will keep going. It will keep going beyond me, as well. But kind of a general rule with museum stuff is to get it off the floor, get it onto a shelf, get it into a box, get it supported in the box. Sort of like this tiered way of caring for things.”