Fake it ‘til you make it

by Gaby Kienitz, Head Conservator

Here in the Conservation Lab we’re pretty serious about artifacts. When we treat an artifact we’re guided by a code of ethics that tells us, among other things, that our actions should not permanently remove, alter or obscure any part of an object. But what happens when vital parts of an artifact are missing? That’s when we fake it, and it’s the point where ethics become really important. We’re not trying to create forgeries or be fraudulent; our goal is to stabilize the artifact without creating visual distractions. Sometimes it’s more work than using original materials.

We recently had to “fake it” while treating losses on an early 19th century beehive. The hive is made of coils of straw bound together with flattened sapling “stitches.” Along a section of the lower edge, the sapling stitches were broken with part of each stitch missing and some of the original straw also missing (figure 1). We couldn’t use new saplings to stitch the straw back in place because then we would have to remove the original bit of sapling stitch remaining in each stitch hole, and we didn’t want to use new straw to replace the losses because it might be mistaken for the original.

Fake straw was made by cutting thin strips of Japanese tissue paper, wetting the strips, twisting them in to shape and drying them under tension. We made about 100 pieces of fake straw. After drying, the fake straw was adhered to the broken ends of the original straw along the outer edge of the coil. Additional fake straw was simply inserted into the core of the coil to provide bulk and approximate the original size of the coil. In Figure 2, you can see that some of the fake straw has been attached, and some is still on the table. Strips of sanded polyester film were adhered to the remaining pieces of sapling stitches to secure all of the original and fake straw into the shape of a coil.

The strips of sanded polyester film holding the coil together were disguised by small pieces of two-ply mat board that were cut and painted to match the appearance of the original sapling stitches. They were then adhered to the surface of the polyester film. In the close-up of Figure 3, you can see original straw and an original sapling stitch on the left and to the right is the fake straw and several fake sapling stitches.

When complete (figure 4), the strips of fake saplings stabilized the original straw to prevent additional loss of straw, and the fake straw gives the correct shape and support for the damaged coil. Once upright again, the beehive was ready for exhibition (figure 5). You can see the beehive in person in our Level 2 galleries.

Hitting the ground running

by Bruce Williams, Director of Multicultural Audiences

Okay, so this is my first blog as a new employee at the Indiana State Museum. This is such a perfect job for me that I am pinching myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. But if I were, I’d ask that you not wake me. As Director of Multicultural Audiences I get to do what I enjoy doing most — being creative, developing multicultural programs and building audiences.

Since joining the staff a few months ago, I have taken on the “BIG” task of planning REPRESENT Family Day, an exciting full-day event done in conjunction with Black History Month. The event is a public program of the museum’s new exhibit REPRESENT. You’ll see lots of cool stuff in this collection by Hoosier African-American artists, especially Dark Fantasy by emerging artist Walter Lobyn Hamilton. This is a large work of art featuring a woman made from cracked vinyl records. There are 40 pieces in the show you do not want to miss seeing.

So if you are thinking that downtown Indianapolis will be deserted with nothing to do one week following Super Bowl XVLI, don’t kid yourself. We will be rocking at the Indiana State Museum to the gospel sounds of national recording artists Napoleon Williams and True Friends True Praise. Krash Krew will have everyone on their feet dancing and hip hop verbal artists Counter Culture will inspire us with contemporary stories of struggle and courage. This is definitely not the event to pass over.

So between times, I need you to pull out your iPhone and mark this date “busy!”  See ya Feb. 11!

Becky Skillman visits Amazing Maize!

by guest blogger Becky Skillman, Lieutenant Governor of Indiana

Do you have the strength it takes to pull someone out of a silo of corn? While visiting the Amazing Maize exhibit recently, my staff and I took the challenge to see if we had the muscle it takes to save someone if they were to fall into a silo full of corn. It is not as easy as you think – try it out at the Indiana State Museum.  

I was glad to have the opportunity to tour the new exhibit which explores the science, history and culture of corn. Agriculture in Indiana contributes $26 billion annually to our state’s economy. Corn is a big player in Indiana – we are the fifth largest producer of corn in the U.S.

Indiana corn is shipped all across the country and the world. During one of my trade missions to China in 2010, a deal was struck to supply 300 Chinese movie theaters with Indiana’s own Weaver Popcorn. You never know where you’ll find Indiana’s corn products – from snacks to fabrics to adhesives. 

That’s why I enjoyed the Amazing Maize exhibit – it explains that corn is not only a food, but a fiber used in clothes as well as fuel in our vehicles. Every year 430 million bushels of corn are used to produce more than 1.1 billion gallons of ethanol in Indiana alone. Indiana ethanol contributes $2 billion to our economy.

The possibilities for Indiana corn seem endless – the crop really is amazing. Find out more about how corn plays a critical role in our everyday lives by checking out the Amazing Maize at the Indiana State Museum.

Becky Skillman is serving her second term as the 49th Lieutenant Governor of Indiana.  She manages five state agencies, including the Indiana State Department of Agriculture and the Office of Tourism Development. To find out more about the work of Lt. Governor Skillman, visit www.lg.in.gov.