As a Natural History conservator, I was thrilled to learn that the 2021 SPNHC conference would be a joint conference with the AIC. These two large US organizations have very different priorities and committees, but many collaborative interests. I had waited a long time for this collaboration! The theme of the conference was ‘Transformation’ seeking ideas to not only transform museums, but discuss how museums can transform the world for the better. A fitting theme for a year of massive upheaval and dramatic change.
The conference was originally due to be held in Jacksonville Florida, but the on-going pandemic meant it was moved online at the last minute. Though disappointed to not see colleagues physically, holding the conference online did allow for truly international participation and I could catch up on talks as and when I was able!
The majority of sessions were collaborative with talks from both members of AIC and the SPNHC. They were spread over 6 weeks, allowing for many more sessions than could normally be accommodated in a 5-day conference. The sessions were varied, covering not only the conservation of objects but digitization and data management, using Natural History as an educational tool, collaborating with stakeholder communities and storage and display.
I was invited to present a talk for one of the objects focused sessions. My paper titled ‘Natural History 101: Considerations for Conservators’ was an introduction to Natural History materials, aimed specifically at conservators who may only occasionally come into contact with these unique collections. It covered health and safety risks, CITES legislation and discussed the scientific value of Natural History specimens, something that isn’t usually considered with other collection types.
I was especially excited to hear updates from the on-going feather conservation project at the American Museum of Natural History. This 3-year effort is systematically evaluating the impacts of cleaning, pesticide use, and restoration of colour on feathers, foremost in taxidermy. The talk focused on the cleaning element of this research, presenting experiments undertaken to soil and then clean feathers. In order to replicate dust, conservators made a ‘dust-sebum’ emulsion which was applied to feathers, making the quality and quantity of the ‘dust’ consistent for all experiments. The next step is to test cleaning methods for effectiveness and examine the specimens under the microscope. The results of this will be shared on the project blog: https://intheirtruecolors.wordpress.com/
While the talks can only be accessed by registrants, both the SPNHC and AIC have various videos shared on their YouTube channels, including a excellent selection of collections tours such as the new Yale Peabody Museum and the Burke Museum of Natural History at the University of Washington. The SPNHC Committee meetings can also be freely accessed through this channel.
Many attendants were hyped for the coming 2022 SPNHC conference in Edinburgh, which will be a joint effort between NatSCA and the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL). There is a promotional video for this event which you can find at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYZBrykvguA. Hope to see you there!