Artifact Preservation

 

Artifact Preservation

After excavation in the 1940s, the park's artifacts required special care, yet they did not always receive the attention necessary for proper collections management. For years the artifacts were kept in the temporary storage shed-museum in small drawers "where the iron would rust and turn into dust," said Historian Thompson. [137] The National Park Service was slow to preserve many of the park's small metal artifacts and as a result, lost many through deterioration. Faced with the need to select artifacts for the new museum and to help Regional Archeologist Paul Schumacher identify the metal artifacts discovered in the 1960 excavation, Superintendent Kennedy addressed this heretofore ignored issue. [138] In 1961, because of Archeologist Schumacher's insistence, iron artifacts from the blacksmith shop were sent to the Eastern Museum Laboratory in Washington, D. C., for long overdue preservation treatment. [139]

Lack of proper artifact storage space was another perpetual problem. Because of the limited storage in the temporary museum, the Walla Walla Chamber of Commerce offered space in their basement during Kennedy's administration. Then, in 1964, the artifacts were transferred to the new visitor center. However, this building also lacked proper space. The collections were divided between a small storage room in the corner of the maintenance garage and a corner of the visitor center office area. [140] This inadequate situation was remedied in 1984 with the completion of the artifact storage room, effectively solving a problem that has lasted 34 years.

Once proper storage space was secured, the next step in managing the collection was recataloging the artifacts, originally catalogued during the late 1960s by Park Historian Robert Olson some 20 years after the excavations. To meet this need David T. Wright and Associates prepared the park's "Collections Management Plan" in 1986 which currently guides management of these cultural resources. Cataloging the park's historic photographs is only one of the many recommendations being implemented. A workplan developed in 1987 outlines specific goals for the next five years including use of the National Park Service computerized cataloging system. [141] Quicker access to information is just one of the benefits of this system. Roger Trick, Chief of Interpretation and Resources Management, has stated that knowledge about the Whitmans could be increased:

What we have . . . is a time capsule [of the Whitman story] . . . but it's really kind of disappointing how few researchers have come to use the collection and that's because it really hasn't been very useable . . . . There's a few masters theses and probably a couple of doctoral dissertations sitting in the artifact room [waiting to be written]. [142]

This data-entry project rivals any previous cataloging effort for complexity. Once completed, it will effectively bring Whitman Mission's artifact storage and access system out of a history of neglect and into a future of accessibility.

The long-needed but long-delayed attention to the park's artifacts reflects management's new awareness of this important cultural resource. The same concern is being shown to the natural resources which also received little attention in the past.

 

Last updated: March 1, 2015

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Walla Walla, WA 99362

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