Inside the Peabody Museum: August 2013

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Beating Summer Heat and Hungry Mosquitoes

Last Chance to Talk with Conservators at Work in the Galleries

Beating Summer Heat and Hungry Mosquitoes

mosquito fan

Mosquito fan, Brazil. PM 89-39-30/54369

Three heat waves in two months make one grateful for the Peabody's air-conditioned galleries, and also raise a question: what have people around the world done to keep cool? One need only check the Peabody's Collections Online to discover a wide selection of fans: some used for ceremonies or dances--often lavishly decorated--others to accessorize a formal portrait photo, many to fan fires and many to keep cool, and still more to keep the flies away.

This humble mosquito fan of woven cotton cloth is from Brazil. It came to the Peabody in 1889, and no doubt was useful in those days for cooling the user as well as discouraging mosquitoes in the hot Brazilian climate. It turns out, old-school hand-operated fans like this were the forerunners to one of the more effective backyard insect controls today: an electric fan. The New York Times recently reported that fans have an edge over citronella when it comes to discouraging mosquitoes, according to the American Mosquito Control Association.

“Mosquitoes are relatively weak fliers,” says the Association on its website, “so placing a large fan on your deck can provide a low-tech solution.” In addition, the carbon dioxide we exhale attracts mosquitoes, and fans can help disperse it, throwing the insects off the scent. In its way, this Brazilian hand fan may have worked a similar magic.


Last Chance to Talk with Conservators at Work in the Galleries

conservator with kayak

Assistant Conservator Judith Jungels working on an Alutiiq warrior kayak in the gallery in 2012. Another kayak is currently in the gallery.

"Will the kayak go back in the water when you're done?"

It's one of the many visitor questions for Peabody Museum conservators, who have been keeping a careful log of each inquiry as they work in the exhibition Conservators at Work: Alaska's Historic Kayaks Renewed. (See the November 2011 Inside the Peabody Museum for more on the the exhibition.) They'll continue to work selected hours in the gallery through Wednesday, August 28.

Assistant Conservator Judith Jungels answers the first question, "The kayaks are very old [19th century] and they've deteriorated over time. One of the Museum's goals is to preserve them for ongoing teaching and research, so the kayaks cannot go back in the water."

"What's the kayak you're working on now made out of?"

"The Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies [at Harvard] ran some analytical tests on tiny samples taken from the kayak," Jungels says. "They determined the outer covering is either sea lion skin or fur seal skin, and sewn with caribou sinew."

"What are you doing to it? Are you coating it with something?"

Conservator Scott Fulton answers this one with a smile: "A lot of people think conservators have magic potions. But we don't. There's nothing we can do for old desiccated skin, so we're only cleaning it; we're not using any special coating. It would actually be detrimental to coat the kayak with something." Adds Jungels, "The best practice is to clean objects and control the environment they're in."

"Can I touch it?"

Jungels, Fulton, and the other conservators keep a supply of conservation materials for visitors to touch, including Japanese paper used to back or repair torn kayak skin and hog casings, for repairing gutskin objects such as a gutskin rain jacket.

If you have a question for the conservators, visit the Hall of the North American Indian Mondays Noon-3, Tuesdays and Wednesdays 2-5 through August 28.

Conservation of the Peabody Museum historic Alaska Native kayaks and related collections is supported in part by a federal Save America's Treasures grant administered by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.


Anytime   Did you miss any lectures? You can listen to them here or download them to your mobile device through iTunes U. Look for Harvard's Peabody Museum lectures.

August 17

Noon-4:00 pm

Drop-in Family Event

Chocolate Treasure

September 19

6:00 pm

Public Lecture and Book Signing Reception

“Harvard: The Cradle of American Anthropology”

David Browman, Professor of Archaeology at Washington University, St. Louis

September 26

6:00 pm

Public Lecture and Book Launch Reception

“The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease”

Daniel Lieberman, Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University