This post is written by Conservation Technician Chloe Genter, and guest author Elizabeth Peirce, Object Conservator at the Library of Congress.
There are many people who would think it is a dream to move into a home designed by a famous architect. Apparently, an interesting guest thought the same thing! This architectural model by Paul Rudolph was brought into the Conservation lab for treatment before going on loan.
There are all sorts of things that happen to objects of every kind, and as a Conservation Technician at the Library of Congress, I have seen some fascinating things. When I began working on this model however, I was very surprised at what I came across. At first, to my eye, it looked very cloudy. I thought perhaps it was just dust or some discoloration. But when I examined it more closely, I noticed there seemed to be something within the window, something more than just what it looked like on the surface.
I started to notice first one piece of something, and then another piece of something, it was hard to tell what it was through the cloudiness. But then on further observation, one piece started to resemble a leg. And another leg too…It was a spider!
The question in my mind was whether it was still alive. I couldn’t be sure at first, given the cloudiness. The cloudiness, as it turned out, was just its web. The spider was amongst it, making it hard to tell. After examination and cleaning it was clear the spider had already expired. On one hand, this spider was probably the only resident that was able to live rent-free in this building, even if just in the model. But on the other hand, it certainly had to go.
While spiders generally aren’t considered a museum or archive pest, they do leave behind spiderwebs that can trap other insects which become food for more problematic pests. Whenever items are treated, especially if they are to go out on loan, we want to try to remove any insects from the piece for multiple reasons. First, so we know if any future insect activity is new, and second, so we don’t introduce new pests into either our storage or the borrowing institution’s exhibit spaces.
To remove the spider, we quickly realized that this was going to be a trickier process than anticipated. Back when the model was made, Paul Rudolph’s team was thorough in recreating hallways, windows, and rooms when assembling this piece, so access to the front window area was extremely difficult.
The spider was in an area of the model that was hard to access, as there was no way to reach it from the front, and no gaps it could be extracted through.
Luckily, the model is made of a series of individual floors that are pressure suspended on the vertical wires and can slide up and down. By sliding the floors above the spider up, and placing temporary supports, we were able to get slightly easier access to the correct room.
After trying multiple different materials (coated electrical wire, a bamboo skewer, long thin paintbrushes, microfiber cloth sewn to a long string, even a ball of low tack painter’s tape on a stick) and drawing the interest and suggestions from several conservators in the lab, we were finally able to remove the spider with a long piece of Ethafoam attached to the end of a bamboo skewer.
The model is now pest-free!
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