When Selina and I arrived at the Social History Center this morning we got right down to work. Though it was only our second day, any bystander would assume we had been here for weeks the way we maneuvered around the lab and set up our conservation table. When this was completed, we began making an inventory of the objects, retrieved the brushes from their respective drawers, and set up the vacuums which we would later use to remove dust from grass plates, purses, bowls, and baskets. Janine, my supervisor of the day (Bradley is on a 4 day vacation), told us how happy she is that we are such quick learners and already know the daily morning process.
After gently brushing the surface dust off of a slew of objects, as well as writing condition reports for them, the other conservator we are working under the direction of, Fatima, brought us on a tour through the collections. Holy artifacts! The Social History Center is home to more than 500,000 different objects ranging from typewriters to model boats to dollhouses to textiles to traditional Zulu baskets to far beyond. Layla, database queen of the Iziko, even told us there is a mummified cat hiding somewhere in collections. I say hiding because so many boxes have not yet been unpacked. By so many, I mean most of them. Next project on their list of things for us to do? I hope so!
While Fatima was giving us a tour, she told us about a recent theft at Groot Costantia. Apparently, in the middle of the night someone broke in through a window, and stole 22 Chinese porcelain plates and vases estimated at 50 million rand. While 10 pieces have since been located, the remaining 12 are still missing. Unfortunately, the pieces that were recovered were badly damaged. The worst part of the situation is that this was apparently the third incidence of South African museum theft in recent months. Fatima relayed to us just how far this set them back in the conservation department, and also expressed how she often has nightmares revolving around the amount of work there is to be done combined with their shortage of workers (Bradley, Janine, and Fatima make up the entire conservation department).
So, long story short, send more interns! Back-up is surely needed in order to check off the dozens of thousands of bullets on the Social History Center’s ever-growing to-do list.