By Joe Gott, Senior Art Handler
(Above) Military Band and Dog
Each time The Chicago Conservation Center is involved in a disaster relief situation, be it small or large, we are presented with new challenges in art handling and conservation. The Veterans Memorial Museum in Cedar Rapids, Iowa proved to be one of those situations in which ingenuity and quick-thinking was required to save their collection from the recent flooding of the Cedar River. In less than two days, and with crucial help of local volunteers lead by Michael Jager of Cedar Rapids, The Center’s Disaster Response Team was able to inventory and pack the entire collection of 425 military artifacts housed in the now toxic environment.
The Veterans Memorial Museum is located on an island in the middle of the Cedar River, in downtown Cedar Rapids, as a result it was one of the hardest hit buildings in the area. Due to the raw sewage back up in the basement and the resulting air quality, the facility remained closed to work crews for an additional ten days after the other buildings in the area had allowed access to begin the restoration process.
Day one: Mold growth on the items low to the ground in the first floor gallery was in full bloom. These items were removed first and delivered to Steamatic’s freezer truck to suspend any further damage. Fortunately the gallery on the first floor was set high above street level and the water only reached a foot and a half off the floor. Although not soaked, the rest of the collection was affected by the humidity created from the standing water. It was our top priority to remove all of the pieces from the first floor gallery. At the end of the day, we began to prepare for the next day: clearing out the museums storage rooms on the second floor.
Day two: The weather forecast called for rain in the early afternoon, so we had to act fast. Due to the air quality in the building, all of our packing was taking place outdoors. One of the volunteers came up with the solution of hoisting the remaining uniforms and artifacts from the second floor window to avoid a long, dark, winding staircase. So with a fifty gallon bucket and industrial rope, the rest of the collection was quickly removed from the building and packed into our temperature controlled trucks by 11:30am. As we pulled away the rain began to fall, and with a sigh of relief and anticipation of the days to come we drove back to Chicago to begin the next phases: triage, assessment and conservation.