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Condition Reporting


Bentwood box.
Bentwood boxes often have damage at the edges, especially where the sides meet the base and at the seam where the bentwood is joined together. Sometimes there is significant paint abrasion as well. The base of this box is worn and has moderate splintered damage, but the pegs that affix the sides to the base are present although there is a gap. The sides of the box are darkened with minor abrasion that is more serious near the bottom of the box.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-B-1223

Visor crack repair.
This bentwood visor has a large curved loss from the brim on the proper left side. Above the loss is a large crack extending from the center of the PL side to the front of the visor. It may have been completely detached and re-adhered at some point, because adhesive residues can be seen along the crack. There is a ½” loss resulting in a small hole on the PL side of the visor, also associated with the crack. At the inner PL side of the visor is an irregular area of overlap with staining that might be adhesive residue. Overall the visor is worn but stable and the bands of red and black paint are stable with moderate damage from abrasion.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-A-311

Fish trap.
Many Alaskan collections have fish traps of various designs and styles. There is often a part that is meant to detach or open, and the lashing mechanisms in those areas are sometimes missing or damaged. Longitudinal elements sometimes have breakage, and the lashing material is sometimes brittle or damaged. Since they are frequently large and often don’t fit well in cabinets, they tend to get dusty.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-A-5514

Cracking with shrinkage.
The wood of this mask is weathered and grey, with many deep open cracks overall. There are localized areas of pale grey staining, especially on the PL cheek, and a round area of stain or accretion on the PR cheek. Overall the mask is stable.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-A-1528

Mask missing elements.
This mask has a strip of leather along the top and several wood pegs. This is an indicator there might have been more attachments on this mask, and the strip of leather most likely had fur in the past.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-A-1451

Mask thin paint detached element.
One of the three attachments on the forehead of this mask has detached. The creature in the mouth of the mask has a long open crack. A condition report should indicate six wood peg teeth on the top and seven on the bottom with no obvious missing elements aside from the detached fish. The white paint is thinly applied but stable and the red paint is more opaque and stable.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-A-1453

Thick glossy paint on mask.
The paint on this mask is thickly applied and very uniform and opaque. It seems to be commercial paint. The white paint is glossy. A condition report should indicate the number and nature of the appendages and if they appear to be intact.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-C-160

Detached element.
This mask has an attached appendage that has come off and is kept with the mask.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-A-1481

Back of mask hanging wire.
The back of a mask should also be condition reported. Sometimes information is written inside. If there is a biteblock or a hanging mechanism this should be mentioned.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-A-1468

Wood chest.
Here is a wood chest of the kind described in the leather section. The wood these are made from is usually camphorwood. While the leather, paint, and copper alloy tacks and trim are often damaged, the structure of the wood chest is often stable. The feet are sometimes damaged.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection 95-37-4

Hardware in chest.
Inside the chest, the hinges and hardware are sometimes missing, bent, or damaged. Sometimes there are repairs or replacement hardware. It is worth looking carefully in the corners and crevices of the chest for evidence of its history. In this kind of chest, I have seen insect debris (surprising, since they often helped protect from insect attack), seed beads, fragments of sea lion whiskers, and bits of feather that might have been eagle down. This evidence would suggest the chest had once been used to store ceremonial regalia. Remember, cleaning is an interventive treatment and should always be done carefully and with deliberation and documentation. Once something is cleaned, the action cannon be undone.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection 95-37-4

Stern of boat bubbled paint.
The stern of this boat has some separation between the transom at the back of the boat and the planks that form the bottom of the boat. There are also several layers of paint. The paint is bubbling, cracked, abraded, and chipped in some areas. Because there is sometimes lead in old paint, it is worth testing a detached chip to determine if the paint on this boat is a hazard.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection 95-1-1

Light fading of wood.
The wood paneling in this office had framed artwork hanging in the same place for many years. When the art was removed for renovation, an example of light damage was revealed. It seems the finish darkened where it was exposed to light, and remained lighter where it was covered.

Photo credit: Ellen Carrlee

Use related wear casters.
Furniture can have a great variety of condition issues, and documenting them properly can be greatly aided by professionals and reference texts. For a basic condition report, determining missing or cracked pieces that impact structural stability is most important. Some kinds of damage are use-related wear, like the abrasion to the feet on this chair. Little wheels on furniture are called “casters” and they sometimes have damage or are missing.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum

Zhong ruan no strings
Musical instruments are also a huge area of specialized expertise. We can say that this gold rush-era zhong ruan is in “relic” condition. Without knowing much about this uncommon instrument, we can say it is missing its strings, has a very large crack along the center front, and has significant surface abrasion, some of it perhaps use-related. We can also state that there are eight intact fret markers and all four tuning pegs are present but loose.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection III-O-93

Violin bridge.
You don’t need to know much about violins to know that this one has a broken (mostly missing) string and that the bridge is definitely in the wrong place. In this case, it would not be hard to find someone in your community familiar with violins who would enjoy spending a little time looking this over with you and at least sharing correct vocabulary and the basics of what might be amiss with the instrument.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection III-O-140

Platter with plastic wrap.
This wood platter arrived wrapped in plastic wrap, which seems to have interacted with the finish of the wood (oil perhaps?) and left these disfiguring marks.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection 2007-10-12

Chew marks.
This poor bowl appear to have chew marks. It seems to be grease dish, judging from the darkened surface, slightly slick feel, and rich aroma. You cannot blame someone’s pet for being attracted to it. Out of focus on the far side of the image are drips of white candle wax.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection 2014-9-2

Flight holes.
These are the flight holes of wood-boring insects. The holes are uniform in size, approximately 1/8” Are they new or old? If you are unsure, this item needs to be bagged and isolated immediately and monitoring pest traps need to be placed in the vicinity.

Photo credit: Ellen Carrlee

This is old insect damage from a wood boring infestation many years ago. There are flight holes, but the tunneling in the wood was extensive and surface loss reveals some of those tunnels. The yellow material is the debris that sifts out of those tunnels when the artifact is moved. Most of it is frass, or insect droppings.

Photo credit: Sheldon Jackson Museum collection

Cracked biscuit.
This is not wood, but maybe not that far off! This is food. The aged old label says, “Biscuit, Prince Luigi’s Mt St Elias Expedition July 1897. Food and liquids are risky in collections, as they can leak, rot, mold, and attract insects. Yet they are compelling and historical. This biscuit is cracked, stained, and very brittle, but stable.

Photo credit: Sheldon Jackson Museum collection SJ-V-A-63

Rattle with seam.
This wood rattle was carved in two halves, an upper part and a lower part. The two halves are held together with a peg and the lashing around the handle. The existing lashing of cloth is loosened and mobile. This rattle has lead shot as the material inside, and the lead has corroded. Powdery lead dust come out of the seam between the two halves when the rattle is moved. This is known because of deposits left on the storage support. The condition report indicates this hazard.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-B-62

Lashing chewed and line halibut hook.
Halibut hooks often have several different kinds of lashing, as well as various adjustments if it had been used such as the added pieces of wood around the barb to keep the hook floating in the proper orientation. The barb element is often metal that has corroded. Sometimes the arm of the halibut hook that has the bard will have chew marks near the juncture with the other arm, exciting evidence of its use, but that is not the case with this example.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-B-1502

The crack in the rim of this carved wood hat has been filled and painted over. This should be noted in the condition report.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-B-1840

Grease in dish.
Here is an example of a grease dish that is still greasy. It also has an aroma. Most likely this is seal oil.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-A-1829

Fatty bloom in dish.
Sometimes oils in wood dishes migrate to the surface as crystalline “fatty spew” or “bloom”. This is not unlike the waxy deposits that form in olive oil if you put it in the refrigerator. These natural deposits on indigenous wood bowls and dishes are use-related and can be cleaned from the surface but they usually reappear. Because they are evidence of cultural use that is not seen on items made for the tourist trade, they are usually seen as a positive thing and not a condition problem.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-A-1609

Greasy dish with bloom.
Here is another greasy dish with fatty spew, not to be confused with the white glass seed bead inlay along the rim of the dish.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-A-2793

End grain deteriorating.
Wood in outdoor settings often has significant condition issues. Totem poles and monumental wood sculptures placed vertically outdoors will have serious deterioration of the top end grain in a decade or so. The hat of this figure suffers from end grain rot, loss of the top of the hat, and significant loss to many areas of the brim of the hat.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-B-1410

Totem claw damage.
The end grain of the claw on this carved bird suffers from rot and the wood structure has been crushed a bit in that area. Several layers of paint are present, and the top layer of black is peeling in many areas, revealing the red paint below.

Photo credit: Ellen Carrlee

Carpenter ant damage.
This totem pole suffered carpenter ant damage. Alaska tends to be too cold for termites, but carpenter ants are common. Unlike termites, carpenter ants do not eat sound wood. They tunnel into rotten wood to make high-humidity nurseries for their babies. So the presence of carpenter ants is simply an indicator of rotten wood.

Photo credit: Ellen Carrlee

Carpenter ant tunnels.
This is what the tunnels of carpenter ants looks like.

Photo credit: Ellen Carrlee

Totem base above ground.
Totem poles these days are often mounted with a gap between the bottom of the pole and the ground. This is because totem poles mounted directly in the ground tend to get an area of rot several inches above the ground and several inches below that results in the loss of the carved details near the bottom of the pole as well as contributes to an unstable pole that could eventually lean or even fall over.

Photo credit: Ellen Carrlee

Totem old copper.
For several decades it has been common to use sheet metal, usually copper or lead, to protect the top end grain of a totem pole. These caps are not usually visible from the ground. They both protect the pole from ingress of water at the end grain as well as deter biological growth. This old copper cap was attached with screws (now rusted) and sealed along the edges with some kind of caulk. These were documented, removed, and replaced when the totem pole was restored.

Photo credit: Ellen Carrlee

Lost sliver lighter below.
Cracks sometimes result in splintery loss. The lighter clean surface of the wood below is a clue that this damage is recent.

Photo credit: Ellen Carrlee

Dusty totem.
This totem pole in an indoor display location has long been missing a large chunk from its base. The horizontal surfaces are quite dusty, and the high points of the carving show signs of wear and abrasion.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-B-1679