A Hat to Remember overview image

A Hat to Remember

  • Post Date: 11/13/2017
  • Author: Gavin Robinson
  • Reading Time: 3 minute read

Spurlock Collections Volunteer Soffia Kuehner Gray has a serious knack for cleaning particularly intricate artifacts. Her most recent project has been working with a large Ecuadorian festival headdress (2016.11.0001A)—a truly unique and eye-catching piece.

An artifact as intricate as this one poses many challenges to documentation and preservation processes. It is composed of many different materials—metal, wood, cardboard, felt, glue, feathers, and plastic—and each one may require a different cleaning method and can break down in different ways over time. During Soffia’s initial inspection of the headdress, she noticed that the glue was aged and failing, some of the cardboard components had become torn, and the decorative coins were becoming detached in some areas. The artifact is also large and difficult to handle, making it challenging to access all of the areas that needed to be cleaned. But Soffia was undeterred, and she happily took on the task of cleaning and assessing the headdress’s condition, two of the most important steps in collections stewardship.

  • Closeup of one of the top pieces of the headdress
    Cardboard tube supporting this decorative appendage has torn and come loose.
  • Closeup on front of headdress
    Glue has yellowed and become brittle where beads are adhered.
  • Closeup on coins of headdress
    Sewn on coins have become detached.

After discussing the results of her initial inspection with Collections Manager Christa Deacy-Quinn, Soffia used a variety of tools in different steps to meet the demanding needs of the piece. The first step was to remove dust from the coins, beads, and mirrors using soft-bristle brushes.

  • Soffia brush cleaning coins, using a small piece of acid free cardboard to catch the debris
    Soffia uses a small piece of acid-free cardboard to catch debris while she brush cleans coins.

From here, a vacuum with small brush attachments was used to clean the felt, feathers, and other hard-to-reach nooks.

  • Soffia using a specialized brush tool attached to a commercial vacuum to clean the felt
    Soffia uses a specialized brush tool attached to a commercial vacuum to clean the felt.

More stubborn debris was removed from the felt with tweezers. The final step was to clean the mirrors with cotton swabs lightly dipped in glass cleaning liquid.

  • Soffia polishing mirrors
    Soffia polishes the mirrors.

As mentioned, Soffia and Christa found some structural issues in the headdress during the inspection and cleaning processes. Now that a thorough cleaning and a report on the piece’s condition are done, the next step in caring for this artifact is to repair these damages so that it can be stored more comfortably. Keep an eye out: we’ll be posting more updates in the future!