This is Shelly Buffalo Calf, student at the University of Oklahoma, working on a Master’s Degree in the Museum Studies program.
Interning in conservation at the Center of the West can prove to be very interesting, as there are a wide variety of objects from which to choose. The objects that I feel most connected with are from the Plains Indian Museum. While working on them, I always think about the person that wore or carried the object, and what their life was like. One object that had the biggest change in appearance and stability after I finished was a knife sheath. It is part of the Paul Dyck Plains Indian Buffalo Culture Collection and the maker and tribal affiliation is unknown.
The first step in a conservation lab is to describe the object, and then it must be assessed and its condition determined. Obviously with this piece, I had my work cut out for me. Structurally the sheath was in good condition, however, decoratively it needed a bit of work. There were many beads missing throughout the object. Many of the beads that were there were lying in a pile; one of the tassels was tied to another tassel; one tassel was completely disconnected from the sheath; and all the beads were quite dirty. The next step was to determine the plan of action and write a treatment proposal. After the proposal is approved, treatment begins. Little by little the beads were placed in as close to their original location as possible. The tassels were also placed where they belonged and the process of cleaning commenced. How does one clean beads, you ask? With cotton swabs and saliva, of course. Yes, really!
Here is the finished product. The beads have been cleaned and stabilized. The transformation is quite significant and the work, very fulfilling!