Taralea Forster and Paul Stavast, Anthropology Department
In 2014, a collection of pre-Columbian Andean textiles was acquired by BYU’s Museum of Peoples and Cultures. Prior to their arrival at the museum, the textiles had been held in poor storage conditions. They had been stored with acidic packing materials in a building with no temperature or humidity control, and as a result had begun to deteriorate.
The first purpose of this project was to take critical conservation measures to ensure the preservation of the textiles. This conservation was important in allowing these textiles to continue being academically valuable in providing cultural information, and in allowing them to be available for research and display at the museum.
The second goal attained through this project was research into the textiles’ history and significance. The information obtained through this research proved to be very important, as it is a crucial aspect of the exhibit opening at the museum on January 19, 2016, in which some of these textiles will be displayed for both the BYU community as well as the general public to see.
The first and largest conservation measure taken as part of this project was the rehousing of the textiles into new supportive storage mounts. This was done over the course of two months. The process began with carefully removing the textiles from their previous packaging (many of them were sewn or even glued onto acidic paper, and then folded and tucked into plastic bags). They were then measured and a new storage mount constructed using acid-free cardboard, muslin, archival glue, and twill. These new mounts are made so the textile is never folded or creased and never submitted to pressure or flattened between two surfaces. They are also constructed so the textile can be turned upside down by simply turning the mount, thus eliminating any unnecessary handling (see Figure 1 for an example).
Each textile was then vacuumed with a conservation vacuum. A protective mesh screen was first laid over the textile, preventing direct contact with the small vacuum hose. This vacuuming helped remove any dirt or accumulated dust. Protective gloves were worn whenever the textiles were handled throughout the entire conservation process. The textiles were then stored in the museum’s main collection storage as they were researched and preparation began for their exhibition.
Through extensive research on ancient Andean textiles, I was able to learn about their production and manufacture as well as their enormous significance within the ancient cultures that created them. My research included online and textual resources, as well as consulting a professor in the Anthropology department (Dr. Zachary Chase, who studied ancient Peruvian cultures) several times.
Each textile was then described and prepared to be entered into the museum database. The condition of those textiles chosen for exhibition was also closely examined and recorded in a condition report.
Results and Discussion
As a result of this project, the textiles are now stored in their new supportive mounts in a temperature and humidity- controlled environment, ensuring their preservation at the museum. Information as to who made them, how and where they were made, and what they meant to their creators has been researched and will be presented, along with the textiles, in their upcoming exhibition.
In ancient Andean cultures, textiles took years to make and were masterfully and painstakingly woven. They were viewed as a form of wealth, and are still unsurpassed today in quality. This collection includes many textiles that demonstrate that quality, and this project has allowed me to participate in their conservation as well as in sharing their cultural significance with the public. The conservation and research that this project consisted of will continue to be valuable to the museum and to those who study and observe these textiles for years to come.