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Preventative Conservation at The Gables

Every year, the House of Seven Gables takes a brief hiatus from hosting the public and closes for a few weeks to tackle projects not easily undertaken when visitors are touring the site.  This year we focused on what’s known in the museum world as “preventative conservation.”  During this process we carefully assess and clean objects and spaces on exhibition.   We watch for certain key indicators: are the fluctuations in temperature and humidity in the rooms causing damage to the objects; is too much exposure to UV light a problem; are there any signs of pest activity that might be damaging the object and spaces?

Last year we found signs of moths eating some of our wool and silk textiles and went through a series of steps to eradicate the problem without causing harm to the objects, visitors or staff.  This year we found another kind of pest attack – wood boring beetles eating some of our oldest and most prized furniture.  A secretary, circa 1780, said to be owned by the Hawthorne family, and a chest-on-chest, circa 1750, once owned by our founder Caroline Emmerton, were being attacked on their unfinished, wall-facing sides by beetle larvae.

Fortunately, with these preventative conservation efforts, we caught the culprits and were able to take immediate steps to stop the damage.  The secretary and chest-on-chest are now being treated in Historic New England’s carbon dioxide “bubble”.  This treatment is not harmful to the objects and kills the larvae trying to chew their way through the furniture.  In a few weeks, our objects will be returned and back on exhibit, without the threat of beetles, thanks to our annual preventative conservation work.

Date: January 31, 2019

Author: Sarah Garriepy

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