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Conservation in the Wake of Natural Disaster: Hurricane Sandy Relief Efforts

Today’s entry is written by Amy Hughes, a graduate student at the Institute of Fine Arts Conservation Center, with additional material from Conservation Librarian Laura McCann and Archives of Irish America Archivist Rachel Searcy
Late in the afternoon on Monday, October 5, one week after the devastating landfall of Hurricane Sandy, a call for emergency response reached NYU. John Ridge, a historian and President of the New York Irish History Roundtable, suffered major flooding in his Gerritsen Beach residence located in Hurricane Evacuation Zone B. Mr. Ridge’s basement had taken on brackish water up to the ceiling. The flooding damaged several boxes of archival material related to Irish American history, including books, paper documents, works of art on paper, panoramic photographs, sheet music, and medallions.

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Amy Hughes, Lou Di Gennaro, and Maggie Wessling examine flood-damaged photographs

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Ribbons laid out for flattening and drying; interleaving fabric used to dry paper documents

Mr. Ridge had long-planned to give his collection to the Archives of Irish America at NYU’s Tamiment Library. The extent of the damage to his collection, however, caused him to reach out to Marion Casey, professor at NYU’s Glucksman Ireland House earlier than he’d originally planned.

Professor Casey carried out to the on-site salvage and packing, and contacted staff from NYU’s Barbara Goldsmith Preservation and Conservation Department at Bobst Library to complete the disaster recovery at the university’s conservation laboratory.

Conservator Laura McCann led a team of conservation staff, including graduate students Maggie Wessling and Amy Hughes from the IFA Conservation Center program, in the emergency response. The team reacted quickly to air-dry photographic materials, oversized works of art on paper, and archival documents in order to mitigate any mold growth. Saturated bound volumes were prepared for freezing and then placed in the department’s freezer for later treatment. The emergency response stabilized the objects to ensure that Mr. Ridge’s collection will be available to researchers and historians in the future.

Over the next several weeks, three Conservation Center students, Amy Hughes, Quinn Ferris, and Maggie Wessling, will help prepare the water-damaged items for accession into the Archives of Irish America. Treatments will include surface cleaning to remove heavy accumulations of sandy dirt, washing, mending tears, humidification, and flattening.

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