July 01, 2009

Q: How does one go about moving 650 pieces of ceramic pottery from the Burke Museum to a new storage facility?

A: Very, very carefully!

As the Ethnology Department staff prepare to move the pottery collection to a new storage facility, one student looks back on the project with fond memories.

Posted by: Sarah Bishop, Ethnology

The packing project took our staff 4 months to complete, over 40 HUGE bags of biodegradable packing peanuts and resulted in a nearly 10-foot-high "box mountain" in the Ethnology storage area.

So, out of all the artifacts we have here in Ethnology, why move the pottery collection to this new storage space? The ceramic and pottery collections are not prone to insect damage and are relatively stable to small environmental changes (temperature and relative humidity). But it is also easier to care for similar types of objects when they are all stored in the same area, so a decision was made to put all of the pottery together. This will make it easier for researchers, students, artists and scholars to access and study the collections, and make comparative analysis between pottery styles.

Improper handling is the number one cause of damage to ceramics and pottery, so proper packaging for transport is extremely important. We tightly packed each ceramic object in biodegradable packing peanuts and sheets of Ethafoam (polyethylene foam). Each pot was wrapped in tissue paper to keep all of its pieces together in case of physical damage during transport. Extremely fragile ceramic objects needed to be stabilized before moving to prevent further damage. After each pot was packed, we wrote down the box number on inventory sheets so we could track which pots are in each of the boxes. This inventory is very important to ensure no artifacts are lost during the big move.

After sealing each box with packing tape, we stacked them in the Ethnology Collection to await transport to the storage facility. After several games of Tetris at the video arcade the previous weekend, I was inspired to create "box mountain." The tower is secured (and protected from damage from earthquakes) with copious amounts of packing tape and is raised above the floor by two-by-fours to protect the ceramics in case of flooding. This stack of boxes saves invaluable collections space for us in the Ethnology Division. Now that the pottery collection is all packed up, it is currently awaiting transport to its new home!

Meanwhile, the collections manager and curator had to secure some necessary funding to purchase storage equipment for the pottery collections to be housed in. It is important to have strong equipment for the heavy pots to sit on, and large storage cabinets with closed doors to reduce dust. And of course, having been through minor earthquakes in the Seattle area, we need to make individual storage mounts for each piece of pottery so it doesn't roll or shake around too much.

Photos: Burke Museum collections staff and student assistants take great care in moving the museum's pottery collection to another storage facility. Sarah Bishop (bottom right) thinks creatively about how to store all of the boxed pottery pieces while they await transport.