National Native Museum Training Program

Caring for Our History: Museum Conservation Basics

click here to apply online

Location: The Mohegan Tribe’s “Tantaquidgeon Museum” in Uncasville, CT
Host website:

Seminar Faculty: Helen Alten

Helen Alten is the director of Northern States Conservation Center, as well as the Chief Objects Conservator.  She has been a field education director, conservator, and staff trainer. She began working with people from small, rural, and tribal museums while as the state conservator for Montana and Alaska.  Helen currently conducts conservation treatments and operates a conservation center in Charleston, West Virginia, and St. Paul, Minnesota.  For nearly 30 years she has been involved in objects conservation.  She completed a degree in Archaeological Conservation and Materials Science from the Institute of Archaeology at the University of London in England.  

She has built and run conservation laboratories in Bulgaria, Montana, Greece, Alaska, and Minnesota.  She has a broad understanding of three-dimensional materials and their deterioration.  She has written and edited the quarterly Collections Caretaker, maintains the popular website, lectures throughout the country, was instrumental in developing a state-wide protocol for disaster response in small Minnesota museums, and has written, received and reviewed grants at the federal and local levels, and is always in search of the perfect museum mannequin. She has published chapters on conservation and deterioration of archeological glass with the Materials Research Society and the York Archaeological Trust, four chapters on different mannequin construction techniques in Museum Mannequins: A Guide for Creating the Perfect Fit (2002), preservation planning, policies, forms and procedures needed for a small museum in The Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museums' Collection Initiative Manual, and is co-editor of the penultimate book on numbering museum collections (still in process) by the Gilcrease Museum in Oklahoma.

Seminar Description: Caring for the art, culture and archaeological materials of our past and present is not as simple as putting materials on a shelf in a secure room. Aging is the result of nine agents of deterioration acting on all materials to make them fall apart. Caretakers can reduce and eliminate aging by understanding how each of these agents operates and how to stop them. Students will have hands on experience with museum monitoring equipment and techniques. Students will then examine specific materials - buckskin, beadwork, rawhide, basketry, ceramics, stone and metal are some - and learn about how they are affected by the agents and how damage can be mitigated. Lab time includes practice in examination and cleaning. Students learn how to determine what can be done by them and what requires a professional conservator. Class lectures will be supplemented with lots of lab and hands-on opportunities.

Detailed Seminar Agenda:  click here to view

Dates of Seminar: July 12-17, 2009

Application Deadline:  Monday, June 29, 2009

Registration Fee:  Registration fee is $125 (covers 4 lunches and 2 dinners)

Hotel: The Mohegan Sun
Room rate is $79/night plus tax
Reservations must be made through the NATHPO admin office and must be booked by July 1, 2009






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