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COURTESY BISHOP MUSEUM
During the recent two-part Kapuna series at Bishop Museum, a panel of experts -- Janet Mason, above left, Valerie Free, Jalna Ke'ala, Beth Nunan and Aimee Ducey -- answered questions on preventive conservation and how to care for an assortment of treasured objects such as heirloom quilts, feather leis and photos.
Don’t let mold take hold
Prevent mildew from destroying precious family heirlooms
It's that time of year, when Valerie Free's phone calls invariably revolve around the subject of mold -- or, more specifically, how to remove mold spores from the surface of an antique.
» A cool, dry environment helps prevent mold and the cracking and drying of pages.
» Stand books up squarely; avoid angling; if laying them flat, don't stack them. Use polyester squares to prevent rubbing.
» Keep away from sources of light.
» Don't wrap books in plastic; they will emit gas during decomposition.
» Keep temperature constant and humidity at 40 to 60 percent (find hygrometers at hardware stores).
» Use indirect lighting; halogen is a good choice. Avoid exposure to direct sunlight.
» Use a soft, sable-hair brush such as a makeup brush to clean surface every four to six months.
» A good storage method is to place paintings in a closet with a stiff board protecting the image side and a backing board at the reverse.
» Keep away from dust and light. Use acid-, sulfur- and peroxide-free, chemically stable plastic or paper enclosures.
» Ideal storage temperature is 68 degrees and a humidity range of 30 to 40 percent.
» When framing, use rag-board mats, archive-quality material and ultraviolet-filtering Plexiglas.
Source: American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works
Her standard response? Once mold becomes attached to a surface, it's virtually impossible to remove, but mold can be neutralized by controlling humidity. Store items in containers, said Free. "Keep the item clean and dust-free and inspect it. Make sure air circulates throughout the room. ... Create a good environment."
Nearly every day the museum conservator for Bishop Museum Laboratories takes calls concerning the disintegrating state of one family heirloom or another, with the hope that something can be done to repair the damage or at least halt its spread.
Jalna Ke'ala, for example, rescued a family photo album on its way to the dump. The velvet-clad book with silver-plated clasp was nearly tossed out by a family member who saw the album not as a book filled with precious memories and family photos nearly 150 years old, but as a dusty old thing with a broken binder and yellowed pages hanging off the metal hooks.
The response she got from Free was less than soothing and more matter-of-fact: "It's not going to get any better. Try to maintain the state it's in."
Ke'ala was advised to purchase acid-free archival-quality sleeves and a durable, quality storage box. "It's not about improving the aesthetics of an object, but about maintaining the way it is," said Free.
When items are still in good shape, the best approach is often a minimal one, Free said. When a man asked her about preserving a set of old leather-bound documents, "I asked him what kind of condition it was in, and he said it was in good shape. I told him, 'Store it flat and put it in archival containers.' If there's nothing wrong with it, don't fix it."
Free is one of a handful of conservationists in the state; her specialty is ethnographic materials. She says many issues come down to good housekeeping and proper storage. But more frequently, the calls she receives are related to high humidity.
"In Hawaii there's a different set of circumstances," Free said. "High humidity is a real bear for organic materials -- high temperatures, insects, salt-laden air and especially mold. ... You can't kill mold, but you can control the mold through environment. There's a misconception that you can kill mold by freezing it, but it's (just) in a dormant state."