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Student Blog: Preventive Conservation at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Monitor placed on a case to measure vibrations within individual galleries.

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A case that contains a coffin with foam wrapped in fabric to mitigate damage from vibration as well as an accelerometer on the deck of the case to monitor for vibrations in the Egyptian Galleries. Image Credit: Sarah Freshnock, Undecorated Outer Coffin, Late Dynastic Period, 656-332 B.C., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. ​

​In September, I began my third-year internship in the Department of Scientific Research at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Working with Research Scientist Eric Breitung, I am jumping into multiple preventive conservation projects. Currently, I am focused on a vibration monitoring project and the rollout of new wireless temperature and relative humidity data logger system for environmental monitoring. 
 
The Met hosts many special events and often has parts of the building under construction. These activities, along with everyday activities, cause vibrations in the galleries. A few years ago, during a large construction project, vibration sensors were deployed in the galleries to monitor for excessive vibrations that could damage collection objects near construction activity. After that experience, a system of wireless accelerometers were installed to gather vibration data in the two most frequently used spaces for events. There is very little published information on standards for sound levels and vibrations from events in museum environments, so this initial monitoring has been vital to understand how to monitor for vibrations in the museum.  

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Student places monitors near artworks on pedestals.

WUDPAC Class of 2023 Fellow Sarah Freshnock placing two accelerometers in a case of contemporary ceramics being monitored on the balcony of the Great Hall. Image Credit: Alison Clark.

​Now, I am working with an interdepartmental team to create a monitoring plan that will allow us to correlate our vibration data with the sounds that are creating the vibrations. Beyond the monitoring, I am also writing an annotated bibliography on publications about vibrations within cultural heritage collections and reaching out to experts and other institutions to learn more about their current vibration research and vibration policies. At the end of my internship, we hope to have drafted a vibration policy for events at the Met that is based on the vibration data and what peer institutions have done. This has been a great project to introduce me to the Met as I have been able to work with other departments and explore the galleries. I have also been able to dive into the subject of vibration monitoring, which is not something I have spent much time researching until now! 

My other project at the Met is the rollout of a new wireless data logging system. This system will allow the collecting departments to monitor the relative humidity and temperature of galleries, cases, and storage areas in real time.  This system is new to the Met and new to me so I am editing the introduction document, learning the software so that I can help trouble shoot if any problems arise, and collaborating with other departments to create a training for the new users of these data loggers. This has been a great project as I have been able to use my knowledge of environmental monitoring while also creating an accessible introduction guide and training for a wide audience. ​

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Graph showing increase in vibration when additional noise is added to event.

Graph of the vibrations from an event at the Met that has time on the x-axis and mm/s (peak particle velocity) on the y-axis. The data is generated from the accelerometers placed strategically throughout the collections close to the events. The highlighted section shows a peak in vibration data when a live drummer joined a DJ. ​

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Blue pottery inside a glass vitrine on a museum pedestal.

Free standing vitrine with Untitled (Makaha Blue) and an accelerometer to monitor vibrations in the Great Hall at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image Credit: Photo by Sarah Freshnock. Toshiko Takaezu, Untitled (Makaha Blue), 1995-97, Stoneware, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. ​

​My preventive conservation major has prepared me to successfully work on multiple projects related to monitoring differing aspects of museum environments. During my second-year of graduate school, I learned how to monitor differing types of ​spaces, use different types of loggers, and work with different departments to complete a project. These skills are proving incredibly important while working at the Met. While not at the Met, I am exploring the city with friends! I am excited for upcoming exhibitions and especially fall in Central Park! 

​— Sarah Freshnock, WUDPAC Class of 2023

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WUDPAC Class of 2023 Fellow Sarah Freshnock began her internship in the Met’s Department of Scientific Research, and is focused on a vibration monitoring project and the rollout of wireless temperature and relative humidity data logger systems.
10/29/2022
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