The intricate beading on the moccasins shines as brightly as when Eleanor Frosts great-grandmother first applied them decades ago. They are a treasure that reflect both family and heritage as does a buckskin dress her mother made.
How do you store them? Conservator Terry Schindel asks with professional interest. And how do you clean the dress? With cornmeal?
The moccasins, Frost says, are always wrapped, and the dress is stored inside out to prevent it from getting dirty and then wrapped in a garbage bag.
My aunties have always cleaned the dress, she said. Its something they need to teach me. They do it outside on a rock, but I dont know what they do.
Schindel, who has been visiting the Southern Ute Museum for eight years, has come to Ignacio for the Museum Training Networks Mobile Conservation and Training Laboratory. While here, she will work on items in the museums collection to prepare them for display in the new $35 million Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum, which is scheduled to open in June 2011.
Schindel is also training museum staff members in conservation techniques so they can perform basic care of historical Ute artifacts.
Im training on-site to bring staff up to the conservation-technician level, and that means everyone is trained, not just one person going somewhere else for training, Schindel said.
Even a photography session becomes a short class.
There are two levels of work, Schindel said, preventive, which is surface cleaning, preparing for storage and mounting items for exhibit. And intervention, which is full-on conservatorship, including repairs and restoration.
While shes here, shell be working on painted hides, four or five different leather dresses, a shirt, moccasins and four or five different cotton Bear Dance dresses.
I have to test the dyes, the solubility of the soils and pH levels, Schindel said, then pointed to a mounted coyote. Ill be doing preventive care of taxidermist specimens like the coyote. Ill use a low-suction vacuum to clean museum dust off.
Schindel has laid out a pair of beaded moccasins, a beaded bag and a basket that has clearly seen a lot of use on her worktable, but it is a fragile, beaded yet completely utilitarian saddlebag that holds pride of place.
This was just donated last week, she says, touching it gently with white-gloved hands. Ill stitch this up and examine the original methods of manufacture. See these pieces that are all caddywampus? Thats not a conservatorship word, but thats what they are, and Ill make sure theyre securely attached.
Schindel points out the creases on the side that will be erased when new museum staff member Melody Pickup creates a mounting for the bag. Pickup, whose father is Cherokee and mother is Santo Domingo Pueblo, has been building a lot of custom boxes and mounts for the museums collection.
Its a lot of measuring, she said in an understatement.
Schindel, who earned a conservation diploma from the Courtauld Institute of Art at the University of London, doesnt try to make things look brand new. She wants to keep the ethnographic dirt and signs of usage. For the basket, which is in good shape except for the rim that is disintegrating, she will dye Japanese paper to match to repair it.
I have to document everything I do, she said. To the viewer, if you know what youre looking at, youd see my repairs. But we also have to be able to reverse it if a better treatment comes along.
This is one of the last visits for the mobile lab, as the new museum will have a full-scale permanent conservatorship laboratory when it opens. Schindel hopes shell get to come back and use that facility, which will be the only one of its kind in the Four Corners.
The lab wont just be for the 1,500 or 1,600 artifacts the museum has, museum board member Marvin Cook said. It will be open for tribal families, tribal members who want to store their family pieces at the museum.
Cook said Southern Utes can take out their items stored at the new building any time they want.
Were not holding them hostage, he said. And the conservators can do conservation work on the pieces if the families want. We dont want to put a price tag on that.
Schindel cant wait to see all the Ute artifacts that will be on loan to the new museum when it opens.
Its almost unheard of, to be getting pieces from six different lending institutions, she said. But the Southern Ute Tribe is committed to bringing Ute materials here and paying for their conservatorship.
Pieces will be coming from the Smithsonians National Museum of the American Indian, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Museum, the Colorado Historical Society, the Ute Historical Pass Museum from Woodland Park an amazing Ute collection, Schindel said the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe and one pot, which will be the oldest piece on display, from the Museum of Western Colorado in Grand Junction.
This will be something everyone can look forward to, Cook said.
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