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Recent Work in Our Conservation Lab

by on November 7, 2012

Today’s post about conservation projects at the HMA comes from Nathan Arndt, Assistant Curator at the Haffenreffer.

While many students know of the HMA’s galleries located at Manning Hall, many remain unaware of the work that is done at the Collections and Research Facility in Bristol.  It is in these historic buildings (below), built by Rudolf F. Haffenreffer III and the site of his original museum, that the collections are stored and our cataloging, research, and preservation work is done.

The Collections and Research Facility in Bristol

This year we have employed two Post-Docs, four Proctors, and two interns to assist us in preparing the collections for both student and faculty use.  Like most museum museums, we have conservation concerns that range from insect damage to mold removal.  The Haffenreffer has turned these problems into highly useful teaching aids, by giving students the chance to learn basic preservation and conservation skills.

One of the largest projects we are currently working on is removing all artifacts from the North Wall storage area and retrofitting the space to better fit our collections.  Historically, the area has been the most difficult one in which to maintain the proper environment for our collections — and many of the objects show evidence of this.  High humidity and a once-leaking roof have left many pots with salt residues which were damaging the pigments and putting the pots at risk.  We are currently undergoing an extended soaking process that safely removes these salts.  Its results as can be seen in the photographs below.

Nasca Bowl Before

Nasca Bowl After


Maricopa Pottery Before

Maricopa Pottery After

We are constantly researching the best methods to care for our objects and we work very closely with a contracted conservator to ensure that these collections are available for students to use in exhibits and for research.  In some cases, such as our beaded table top, we only clean half of the item so that we can it as an educational tool, and show what years of dust, soot, and water can do to an object.

Table only half cleaned

It is through proper preservation and conservation methods — and educating others about them — that we can ensure the survival of our collections.

~ Nathan Arndt, Assistant Curator

A note from the editor:  We welcome guest bloggers!  If you are interested in writing about your experience with the Haffenreffer, please contact

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  1. Module 7 | ARCH 1010 -Dirty Little Secrets

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