What’s In the Mud?

During the June 2013 flooding of the High River region, the Museum of the Highwood’s archival collection was immersed in water for eleven days. After eleven days the archival collection was salvaged and moved into freezers for two years, prior to undergoing conservation treatment through the Flood Advisory Programme. The items underwent conservation treatment, which was performed by Emily Turgeon-Brunet, Lisa Isley, and Jayme Vallieres. The archival collection had been covered in frost, mud, and mould and required cleaning, stabilization, and rehousing.

Since the entire region of High River had been underwater, it left a lot of questions about what exactly the conservators had been cleaning off of the archival collection. What was in the mud?

A sample of High River mud that was removed from the flood damaged collection material was sent to Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, Dr. Herbert Gus Shurvell, at Queen’s University Department of Art Conservation to undergo FTIR and XRF testing.


Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy is most commonly used to collect information on surface properties and functional groups present in organic and polymeric substances. Dr. Shurvell provided a spectrum that compares the mud sample and the references natural sienna and terra cotta.

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FTIR Spectra, Credit: Dr. Herbert Shurvell


X-Ray Fluorescence Analysis is used to collect information on the elemental composition, and provide the relative concentration of elements in comparison to one another.


The FTIR spectra showed peaks typical for the presence of silica-alumina clays. The XRF results showed the strong presence of iron and calcium, with addition to silicon, potassium, titanium, manganese, zinc, rubidium, strontium, and zirconium. Some of these are toxic when encountered at high concentrations, though they are all found naturally in rocks and soil. Radioactive isotopes of some these elements are found naturally in nature, while others are the byproducts of industrial processes.

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Reflectance Transformation Imaging

Conservators, archaeologists, and conservation scientists use many pieces of equipment and methods of investigation to perform analysis of records, artifacts, and historical buildings. Analysis is performed to research materials, collect historical information, and determine how they can be preserved.

Outdoor sculptures, historic buildings, and even gravestones are severely affected over time due to the harsh environmental conditions that they must withstand. In order to work towards the preservation and documentation of these historical resources, researchers sometimes collect data on their surface, shape, and colour using Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI), also called Polynomial Texture Mapping. This type of analysis uses a computational photographic method that collects information on the surface through the use of light and camera positioning. It has proved particularly beneficial when decoding worn gravestones, friezes, hieroglyphics, and even faded manuscripts.

How does it work?

  • Multiple photos are taken of an object with a stationary camera, under various angles of light. The angles of light are knowns, and are required to collect the necessary images that will be used to create the final image.
  • Data produced by each image is interpreted by the RTI viewing software, then a mathematical model of the surface is created, which allows users of the software to manipulate an illumination feature to view the surface under various light angles.

 A similar method of photographic capture that is used for RTI can also be used for 3-D scanning. 3-D scanning is a popular method of collecting data of an object prior to creating reproductions or creating a digital manifestation.



Cultural Heritage Imaging. Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI). Retrieved from http://culturalheritageimaging.org/Technologies/RTI/.

Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute. Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI). Retrieved from http://si.edu/MCIImagingStudio/RTI.

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New Year’s Resolutions: Public Outreach

Exhibits are an important part of sharing information with the public and making historical items accessible. They also provide an opportunity to educate visitors on specific topics and showcase items of importance to the community. Public outreach events are another way to involve the public with the archives. Below are a few public outreach event examples to inspire your archives to offer events this year; some of the events below have been offered by Albertan institutions in the past with success.

  1. Create a Time Capsule

Involve community members by encouraging them to donate a small item, such as a photo or letter, for a time capsule project. The time capsule can be put into the vault to be used in the future for an exhibit. This project could take place over a particular holiday, which would provide content for an exhibit for a future holiday.

  1. Rehouse Prized Collections

A 2-3 hour hands-on workshop on proper housing and handling techniques can be taught to comic book and sports card collectors. Archival grade folders, binders, encapsulation materials, and labels can be sold as part of the workshop kit.

  1. Make a Portfolio or Window Mat Folder

A hands-on half-day workshop can be hosted where registrants have an opportunity to create a portfolio or a window mat folder to house an art print. A supply kit for the workshop could be sold upon registration. This workshop would appeal to artisans, art collectors, or art students.

  1. Make Long Lasting Memories

A presentation on choosing papers and glues to safely display photographs and memorabilia can be offered to the scrapbooking community. An additional workshop could be offered to the calligraphic community on choosing lightfast inks and watercolour paints. It is recommended to have samples available to show registrants.

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Home for the Holidays? Security Precautions for Archives

Many institutions and organizations close or have shorter hours over the December and January holidays. With fewer staff around, the facilities can be at higher risk for security issues including break-ins and vandalism. While it is important to maintain security features all year round, the approaching holidays is a great reminder to perform any required updates to security.


Photo credit: Sticky Bandits, Harry and Marv, Home Alone, 20th Century Fox

Holiday Security Checklist:

☐ Updated list of everyone who has access to the facility

☐ Updated list of everyone who has access to the vaults

☐ Digital padlocks are working and metal bolts and locks are not loosened

☐ A copy of the disaster plan is located off-site

☐ Weather stripping fits flush between the doors and the doorframe

☐ Fire alarms and water sensors are working

☐ Battery powered alarm sensors and cameras are working

☐ Security company is aware of holiday hours

☐ Security staff is aware of public hours

☐ Lights in the office space are set on a timer

☐ Timer for lights is staggered at different times throughout the week

☐ All windows are locked

☐ Lower level windows have bars or an additional pane of glass

☐ All curtains are drawn

☐ Doors to vaults are locked and inconspicuous


Photo credit: Home Alone, 20th Century Fox

If you’re interested in reading about minimizing the risk of water damage in your facility over the holidays, read our blog ‘Ice Rain, Blizzards, and Hail… Oh My!’.

Happy Holidays!

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Setting Up a Paper Conservation Lab

It can be quite difficult to furnish a conservation lab that is being put into an unmodified facility. Most often conservation labs are an after thought during the construction of a heritage facility, or they are put into an existing space well after the facility has been constructed. This blog will discuss the basic requirements, including substantial equipment and furniture, to set up a small lab space in an unmodified room intended for the conservation of paper objects. This blog will not discuss materials, small equipment, tools, or solvents and chemical compounds required for conservation treatments.

Choosing a space:

When choosing a space within a facility ensure you choose somewhere that is above ground, has natural lighting available, ideally north facing windows, and has hard flooring. This is because it is safer for records and objects to be housed above ground in the event of a flood, good lighting is required to perform conservation treatments, and carpeting is not recommended in a lab space where chemicals are used. In the event of a chemical spill carpeting cannot be sufficiently or safely cleaned. It is also important that there is piping available for sinks, and numerous outlets for the equipment. The lab should be located in a secure space within the facility with locked doors.

The Office

An office space will be required for the appointed conservation staff member to write reports and work on other research. The office space should include a desk, a chair, a computer, a printer and scanner, a filing cabinet, and a bookshelf.


Photo credit: Paper Conservation Lab, Cliff


The Photo Studio

Photo documentation will be performed on all items undergoing treatment or preservation. A space will be required to perform photography. It is recommended that this space be near the office space as both should be off limits to the solvents and other materials used in the lab. The space should have the ability to be sealed off from all light to allow suitable photos to be taken. Hanging blackout curtains around the perimetre of the photo studio will help block out light.

Note: Supplies that are necessary are labeled ‘N’; supplies that are recommended are labeled ‘R’.

Photo Studio Shopping List:

Blackout Curtains (N) 2 UV Lamps (R)
Digital SLR Camera (N) 2 Tungsten Lamps (R)
Standard Lens (N) Light Table (R)
Macro Lens (R) AIC PhD Targets (N)
Tripod (N) Large Black and Grey Mat Boards (N)
Horizontal Camera Mount (N) Light Table (R)

The Lab

The Lab will require sufficient space so that the conservation staff member may work on more than one project at a time. There should be a minimum of three large lab workbenches. There should be a chemical storage cabinet that has a locking mechanism to house the solvents and chemical compounds required for treatment. In addition to this cabinet, there must be a fridge, as some chemicals require cold storage. The lab environment must be controlled and monitored through the use of an HVAC system or equivalent, and a HOBO data logger or ELSEC monitor. UV filters should be placed on all overhead light tubes and windows to reduce light damage caused by items undergoing treatment. Adjustable desk lamps with magnification capabilities should be attached to one of the lab workbenches to assist with detailed work. If within the budget, it is strongly recommended to also have a stereomicroscope at a workbench, which will assist with research and analysis of objects.

Work with the maintenance or facility department to have a fume hood installed. For safety reasons, and to minimize negative affects on undergoing projects in the fume hood, the fume hood should not be located near the door(s) or the window(s). If having a fume hood installed is not possible, portable fume hoods can be purchased. Ensure that a customizable portable fume hood is chosen. The portable fume hood should contain the required filters for both chemicals and biohazards that may be present in an object or treatment process.

Distilled and deionized water are both required for conservation treatments. Work with your maintenance or facility department to have portable filtration systems installed. Large sinks (at least 4 ft wide) with drainage at one end must be installed below the filtration systems. A drying rack should be located near the sink; this area will be used to complete aqueous treatment procedures.

A suction table with a dome attachment should be set-up by the maintenance or facilities staff, and installed next to a lab workbench. Suction tables are used for certain treatment procedures as well as for humidifying items.

The Lab Shopping List:

3 Lab Workbenches (N) UV Filters (N)
Chemical Storage Cabinet (N) Fume Hood (N)
Fridge (N) Portable DI Water Filter System (R)
HVAC System (R) Distillation Tank (N)
HOBO Data Logger/ELSEC Monitor (N) 4 ft or Larger Sink(s) (N)
Desk Lamp with Magnification Capabilities (N) Suction Table with Dome (R)
Stereomicroscope (R) Drying Rack (N)

It is recommended to work with the conservation staff member and request their assistance for choosing equipment and furniture. This brief guide is meant to provide basic information on required furniture and large equipment for a small paper conservation lab.

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Identifying the Digital Print

On October 25th the Lead Conservator took part in the three-day Digital Print Preservation workshop offered by the Image Permanence Institute in Rochester, NY. This workshop was aimed to teach and inform a group of professionals in the heritage field about identifying digitally printed materials. Once digital prints can be identified it is possible to determine how they should be handled, stored, and exhibited. Also, as some digital prints are more susceptible to water damage than others, it is important to identify the printing processes in the collection to prioritize those for evacuation and treatment.


Digital Print Preservation Workshop, Photo Credit: Marta Garcia Celma, NACCA

The Big Three

  • Dye Sublimation Print
  • Electrophotographic Print
  • Inkjet Print

Dye Sublimation Prints rely on the digital print process most commonly used to produce instant photos at Wal-Mart and Shoppers Drug Mart. How can they be identified?


Close up of Dye Sublimation Print, Photo Credit: DP3 Project

  1. Sometimes one or two edges are serrated from where the tear-off tabs were removed.
  2. Photos of this process are most often 4” x 6”.
  3. If looked at under a microscope or loupe it should not be possible to focus on a particular dot of ink.
  4. This method is still used to transfer dyes to textiles.

Electrophotographic Prints are created by laser printers and photocopiers and produced with toners not inks. Either dry toner or pigment suspended in liquid may be used. How can they be identified?


Close up of an EP Print, Liquid Toner, Photo Credit: DP3 Project

  1. If looked at under a microscope or loupe, amplitude modulation (AM) screening can be seen. This is when the centre of each dot of toner is equidistant from one another, but the size of each dot changes in order to create tonality within the image.
  2. If liquid toner is used, the edge of the image will not have a clean line. This is because liquid toner cannot produce half dots. If dry toner is used, half dots can be created and the edge of the image will be clean lined.
  3. Liquid toner produces a more distinct dot than dry toner.
  4. EP prints often have “satellites” which are random tiny specks of toner that can be found throughout the print.

Close up of an EP Print, Dry Toner, Photo Credit: DP3 Project

InkJet Prints are the most commonly produced prints , which can be found on every type of paper including office paper, fine art papers, photo paper, and even canvas. How can they be identified?

  1. Inkjet prints can be either AM screening or frequency modulated (FM) screening, but are most often FM screen printed. FM screening is when ink dots are applied more densely in areas to create tonality within the image. The dots appear to be randomly placed.
  2. The ink used to produce these prints can be either dye or pigment based.
  3. Dye based inks are more easily absorbed into the paper whereas pigment based inks sit closer to the surface of the paper which can make them appear more vibrant.
  4. Aqueous dye inkjet prints are extremely water soluble and fade quickly, though sometimes a topcoat has been applied over the image to help slow down the rate of discolouration.
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Close up of an InkJet Print, Photo Credit: DP3 Project

Please visit the wonderfully educational Digital Print Preservation Portal to learn about handling and caring for digital prints.

The Lead Conservator extends her thanks to the staff at the Image Permanence Institute for offering such an informative and fascinating workshop, and to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for making the workshop possible.

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History of Halloween in Canada


Photo credit: Jack-O-Lantern, Jeff Kramer

Halloween was first practiced in Canada in the Maritimes and eastern port cities where Irish and Scottish settlers arrived in Canada around 1840. Many of the settlers arrived to build the canal or to escape the potato famine. They brought with them the Pagan tradition of celebrating October 31st known as All Hallow’s Eve, which is now called Halloween or Allhalloween. All Hallow’s Eve is the day before old Samhain, which marks the first day of winter (also known as All Saint’s Day, All Souls Day, and the Day of the Dead). In the 19th century some Pagan traditions associated with All Hallow’s Eve were still practiced in Canada, such as bobbing for apples, snap-apple, bonfires (fire with animal bones), collecting treats door to door, and divining the future. There are records of communities on the east coast gathering in farmhouses to practice their traditions.[i] CBC has some very interesting recordings in their online Digital Archives on the practice of Halloween in Canada.

The practice of costumed people going door to door for treats developed from a combination of two old traditions:

  1. The belief that the souls of the dead and demons walked among people on Halloween and wearing a costume, or guising, would confuse them, which would act as a form of protection.
  2. The belief that souls of the dead would knock on doors to receive food, and if not given any food they would haunt or curse the home. It became customary for people to hand out treats to all who knocked at the door.[ii]

Irish and Scottish settlers in the eastern USA also practiced All Hallow’s Eve traditions, causing the practice and celebration to increase in popularity and spread across North America in the following years.

The apostrophe: The apostrophe in the word Hallowe’en does not regularly make an appearance and sometimes it is dropped. You can take it or leave it, as using the apostrophe historically comes in and out of favour. In the 1960s marketing for the holiday dropped the apostrophe and it has maintained this spelling since; however, according to proper English grammar, it is recommended to use the apostrophe as it infers the word ‘eve’ after ‘hallow’.[iii]

Canada’s contributions to the holiday (Yep, we recorded it first):

A newspaper article from 1911 printed in Kingston, Ontario offers the first printed evidence of people putting on costumes and disguising or guising themselves, going door to door asking for treats on Hallowe’en.

Another newspaper article from 1927 printed in Blackie, Alberta offers the first printed evidence of costumed youths going door to door to “trick or treat” on Hallowe’en.[iv]


[i] Barrett, Maria and Bill McNeil. (1961, October 31). CBC Assignment: Halloween Originates with Samhain, Lord of the Dead.

Retrieved 2016, October 18 from http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/halloween-originates-with-samhain-lord-of-the-dead

[ii] “The Origins of Halloween in Canada.” Today in Canadian History. 2 November, 2015. http://www.canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php/Halloween. Accessed 18, October 2016.

[iii] Barrie, Andy. Guest referenced: Nick Rogers. (2002, October 21). CBC Metro Morning: The Evolution of Halloween.

Retrieved 2016, October 18 from http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/the-evolution-of-halloween

[iv] “The Origins of Halloween in Canada.” Today in Canadian History. 2 November, 2015. http://www.canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php/Halloween. Accessed 18, October 2016.

Additional Reference:

MacInnis, Lloyd. (1957, October 31). CBC Assignment: Halloween, Maritime Witches.

Retrieved 2016, October 18 from http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/the-witches-of-nova-scotia.

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Let Us Remember


Photo credit: Tony Sprackett, Remembrance Day Victoria 2009

On Friday, November 11th 2016 at 11:00 am Canadians across the country will stand for a moment of silence to remember, and thank those who have fallen to protect future generations of Canadians. Are you in Alberta and interested to learn more about WW1 or Remembrance Day? Two of ASA’s institutional members are holding events leading up to, and on the day of November 11th to honour the fallen.

Oct. 27: The Military Museums, Canadian Legacy Project Theatre, Calgary, AB

The Military Museums has been offering a lecture series with presentations on specific topics of past wars. On October 27th at 7:00 pm speaker Pat Brennan, Associate Professor Emeritus of History from the University of Calgary, is presenting, ‘En Victoire: France on the Western Front, 1914-1918’, which discusses the amazing sacrifices, and resulting victory due to France’s war efforts.

Nov. 3: The Military Museums, Canadian Legacy Project Theatre, Calgary, AB

On November 3rd at 7:00 pm speakers Adriana A. Davies and Jeff Keshen are presenting, ‘The Frontier of Patriotism: Alberta and the First World War’, which discusses the strong war effort provided by Albertans to support Canadian soldiers. This presentation highlights how the war affected people in Alberta and their contributions to our soldiers.

Nov. 11: Prince of Wales Armouries, Edmonton, AB

The Loyal Edmonton Regiment Military Museum and Archives is open from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm and will be offering a Remembrance Day ceremony at 11:00 am, tours of their exhibits, and other activities. Over the past year they have been updating their Facebook page featuring the series, ‘World War 1 Remembered’, that highlights events that took place 100 years ago during the war.

Nov. 11: Military Museums, Calgary, AB

The Military Museums is offering an outdoor Remembrance Day service, beginning at 10:30 am. They are accepting non-perishable food donations for the Veterans’ Food Bank. The museums will be open after the service.

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The Exhibit Series: Put a Label on It

When organizing an exhibit, creating the labels may not be the most exciting item on the to-do list. The labels are often used to relay essential information about the item on display, such as the title, description, artist, creator, date, age, or where it’s from. Sometimes labels provide information on how the item was used, what it was for, or who is depicted in the image.

Labels are often skimmed over by the viewer.


Photo Credit: Brint Design, Periodic Table of Typefaces

How can exhibit labels be more interesting? What would make the viewer want to read the label?

  1. Less is more. A viewer does not want to spend ten minutes reading and thinking about the information in a label. The label should be short. In fact, the shorter the better (20 – 70 words). If the label has closer to 70 words, break the paragraph up into two smaller paragraphs to create the illusion of a shorter label.
  2. An easy read. Don’t use technical vocabulary that would not get across the information to the general public. The exhibit is meant to inform the general public, not stump them. It is best to use simple vocabulary and short sentences, with strong adjectives and verbs. By doing this, you are making the information accessible to a wider audience. It is also important that the label is easy on the eyes. The text should either be dark on a light background or light on a dark background, with a 70% difference in contrast between the two colours.
  3. Available in large print. The font size should be no smaller than size 12. The typeface should be sans serif or simple serif (e.g. Screen Shot 2016-10-13 at 2.18.09 PM.png or Screen Shot 2016-10-13 at 2.19.09 PM.png) and there should be no more than two fonts in the label. Proper punctuation and capitalization should be used unless it is purposefully being manipulated to get across certain information. The Smithsonian has published an online article, Smithsonian Guidelines for Accessible Exhibition Design, aimed to provide recommendations on designing an exhibit that better relays information to all audiences.
  4. Make it worth their time. Why is the label worth reading? Engage the viewer with an interesting fact or the label could have a narrative. It may also help if the text is written with an active voice instead of passive. It could also be interesting to feature a ‘curator’s choice’ item for the exhibit.
  5. Provide an activity. It is recommended to include an activity within some of the labels in an exhibit. These labels could pose a question or encourage the viewer to look more closely at the item.
  6. Just a little bit higher. Make sure that the label is located near the item. It should be at a comfortable height so that the viewer does not need to look up or bend down to read it. The centre of the label should be approximately 57 inches from the floor. If the label is positioned high or low ensure that it is correctly angled to accommodate the viewer.
  7. Don’t make it a beacon. The label should be matte or very low gloss. The viewer should not have to change angles to read the label. Ensure that labels going within an exhibit case are examined for glare prior to the final installation.

Fun fact: The American Alliance of Museums’ Curators Committee in partnership with the Museology Graduate Program at the University of Washington, Seattle, and in cooperation with the National Association for Museum Exhibition and the AAM Educational Committee holds a yearly exhibit label competition. The competition, entitled Excellence in Exhibit Writing Competition, accepts international entries.




Brint Design. Periodic Table of Typefaces. Accessed 2016, Oct 13. http://www.brintdesign.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/tabla-periodica-tipografica_gio-01.jpg

Hammons, Carlyn. Training for Texas Museums. 2011, Oct 18. Five Tips for Great Exhibit Labels.mp4. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSnnR-7dQBI.

Majewski, Janice. Smithsonian Guidelines for Accessible Exhibit Design. Smithsonian Accessibility Program. Accessed 2016, Oct 13. https://www.si.edu/Accessibility/SGAED#page_21.

Parks Canada Access Series: Design Guidelines for Media Accessibility. Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services, 1993.

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Coming to Alberta – Archives Week Launch


Photo Credit: Meeting of the Societe Jean-Batiste of Alberta, Provincial Archives of Alberta, Cropped Image.

Every year, during the first week of October, the Archives Society of Alberta celebrates Archives Week. Each year Archives Week has a different theme, the same theme in which the ASA calendar is based on. The ASA is excited to announce the theme, ‘Coming to Alberta’, which focuses on those who immigrated to Alberta to start their new home. People from all over the world have moved to Alberta over the last 150 years making Alberta the culturally rich and diverse province that it is.

Acting Executive Director and Archives Advisor, Meribeth Plenert, the ASA Board of Directors, and the ASA Communications Committee worked hard to organize the successful launch event held on October 1st at the Old Strathcona Performing Arts Centre. Despite the heavy rainfall that evening, the event had a great turnout welcoming MLA Chris Neilson and Robert Gaetz from the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation. The event featured performances of dramatic readings of letters and oral histories from archives across Alberta. The letters and oral histories were by people who immigrated to Alberta from allover the world, which provides brief, though accurate, first hand accounts of their experiences traveling to Canada, entering Alberta, and beginning their new lives. There were six performances demonstrating varied stories, from one person who left the USA in 1909, who, with two others, built the first road between Amber Valley and Lac La Biche, to a war bride from England who travelled with 42 000 other war brides by ship from Britain to Canada after WW2. It was also fascinating to hear the story of a man and his friends starting up a successful restaurant business in Medicine Hat.

Due to generous funding by the City of Edmonton Archives, the live readings were filmed and will be made available on the ASA YouTube page. The Flood Team found the series of readings highly entertaining including shockingly humourous accounts and stories of perseverance.
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