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Salt Efflorescence Can Be Fun!

August 10, 2011

Alright…it’s time to deviate a bit from the typical “this-is-how-much-fun-I’m-having-don’t-you-wish-you-were-here” post. Besides, it’s getting harder to match posts with episode titles from Northern Exposure…

One of the “white stuff” issues that we see occasionally in conservation is salt efflorescence. Actually, salt efflorescence is fairly common and can be seen all around us. Have you ever seen a brick wall with a whitish haze on it? Those are salts that have solubilized, migrated through to the surface of the brick, and crystallized.

Salt Efflorescence on a Brick Wall, Image from "Brick Stain Removal" on brick-stain-removal.html

They can also be found on stone, concrete, and stucco surfaces.

Salt Efflorescence on Stone, Skaters Cabin, Juneau, Alaska

In museums, we see salt efflorescence in ceramics and other items that might have been dug out of the ground.

Ceramic Piece with Salt Efflorescence

But the best way to see salt efflorescence, in my honest opinion, is to grow your own with a Magic Garden!

Magic Garden

So, in the name of science, Ellen and I grew our very own Magic Garden to see salt efflorescence in action. They are super cheap (you can order them online – I think I got this one at…and paid more for shipping than the kit even cost.) What you get is a little plastic tray, a bunch of dye-impregnated cutouts in the shapes of mountains, trees and hedges, and a bunch of packets of “magic” liquid. It doesn’t actually tell you what the liquid is, but a quick search online reveals that it is most likely a solution of salt, water, bluing, and ammonia (

Once you’ve assembled your little garden and added the magic, you literally see results in less than an hour:

Salt crystals forming on trees - before the mountain has even absorbed all of the solution

The final product takes all of 8-10 hours to produce:


And you are left with beautiful crystal creations to impress all your friends with!

So much magic!!

Salt efflorescence is just one of the things I’ve been studying this summer to create with Ellen an informative website on identifying “white stuff” on artifacts. We’ve got a lot of it up and running now, so be sure to check it out at

And if the spirit moves you to grow your own magic garden – please send me photos! I’ll post them on here and create a magic gallery!

**Disclaimer** I, the author of this post, am in no way trying to endorse salt efflorescence or suggesting you should want to grow salt efflorescence on artifacts. It can do severe damage to the aforementioned brick, concrete, ceramic, and stucco surfaces. Play with your salt efflorescence responsibly and don’t attempt to grow it on anything you consider important. It’s best to limit the magic to dye-impregnated pieces of cardboard.**

To Sitka and Back Again

August 8, 2011

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve updated this blog. Probably more than a couple. Not because nothing has been going on…quite the opposite, actually. So much has been going on, that I lost track of time and just now realized how long it’s been since my last entry. But now the rain has come back to Juneau and my friends and family have come and gone…leaving me with newly found time to get back to blogging. Here’s a not-so-short list of what I’ve been up to:

    • Went to Sitka, Alaska and worked for 3 days at the Sheldon Jackson Museum (SJM).

      Sheldon Jackson Museum, Sitka, Alaska

      The SJM is part of the Alaska State Museum (ASM) and Ellen tries to visit at least once or twice a year. To get to Sitka we had to take a ferry from Juneau and we needed a vehicle that would allow us to deliver some supplies to Sitka and to bring back some artifacts that would need treatment in the conservation lab at ASM. We didn’t take just any vehicle, we took the work van…the awesome work van that is actually more like a bread truck:

      Museum "Bread" Truck

      While at the SJM, we surveyed the collection in search of white stuff for my research project. We also worked on a couple of objects that could be treated in situ. I replaced an ivory piece that had become detached from a wood cane:

      SJ-II-X-141: Eskimo Cane, After Treatment - round ivory inlay (furthest right) has been reattached.

      The Sheldon Jackson Museum has a great collection. It was a little too easy to get distracted by all the incredible items as I conducted my search for white stuff. I can’t show all my images on here, but trust me it was amazing. I saw drawers and drawers of the most beautiful little ivory carvings – including a little ivory narwharl figure (my favorite), boxes of tiny ivory birds, rows and rows of baskets, parkas, tiny fur lined booties, and too much more to mention. My favorite piece is on exhibit. It is a war helmet worn by the Tlingit leader Katlian (K’alyaan) in the 1804 battle against the Russians in Sitka. It is made of wood, fur and copper for the eyes. Any description I attempt will not do it justice. Suffice it to say, it’s impressive and the gravity of the history associated with it gave me goosebumps. You can read more about this battle, Tlingit history, and see an image of the helmet at the following website:

    • Worked on research for my “What’s that white stuff?” project. I don’t want to give too much away yet…the website for this project will be up and running soon. But I will say I’ve been learning a lot about leather, wood, bone, glass and a slew of other materials. I’ve learned quite a bit about fatty bloom, salt efflorescence and mold too. And strangely enough, even though my allergies should send me screaming in the other direction, I’ve become quite intrigued with mold since I’ve been out here. So much so, that I think I’m going to study it for my preventive minor next year! I’m geekily excited about this and can’t wait to get started on that project.
    • Began fur identification on a variety of furs on a Yup’ik parka in the collection of the Alaska State Museum. This is part of a condition report/technical study that I’m currently working on. Ellen and a previous intern, Lauren Horelick, did a lot of research and developed a website – the Alaska Fur ID Project – that makes fur identification a lot easier with helpful data and comparison images.
    • I’ve also done a bit of hiking and took advantage of some fantastic weather while my friend Kathy was in town. You can see images from our adventures on my Flickr page. A couple of those days the temperature got up into the low 70’s – the warmest it’s been all summer! I even got the slightest bit of sunburn!

      Enjoying dinner at the crab shack after a day of hiking in the sun

If you can’t tell, I’m having a great time and I’m a little sad that I only have a few weeks left. However, I am looking forward to a road trip I’ll be going on with the Carrlees this week. We’re touring the Golden Circle Route through parts of Alaska and the Yukon. We’re planning to stop at a bunch of small museums along the way…giving me an opportunity to see more of the material culture out here before I leave and giving us the chance to do a little public outreach. Scott and Ellen have contacts at a number of these museums, so they’ve let them know that three conservation folks are going to be rolling through in the next couple of weeks. We’ll hopefully get a chance to get some behind-the-scenes tours and answer conservation-related questions that people might have along the way. Ellen and I are going to try to blog from the road…so stay tuned!!

A Wing and a Prayer

July 9, 2011

There are many topics on my “to blog” list that I intend to get to…someday. But tonight I felt compelled to push those aside and instead write about a church I recently visited here in Juneau. Just a couple of blocks away from my apartment stands a small Russian Orthodox church, Saint Nicholas, which was founded in 1894.

Saint Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, Juneau, Alaska

St. Nicholas has a very rich and interesting history here in Juneau and I encourage you to read more about it at their website. The Russain Orthodox Church had been incorporating local Native languages into their worship practices as early as 1800 in Alaska. Because of this, the Russian Church here had a large Native congregation and this influence can be seen in artworks that adorn the church today.

My mom and I had first stumbled upon St. Nicholas while she was here visiting over the July 4th weekend. We admired the quaint structure from the street, but at that time it was closed so we moved along and I checked it off my list of things to see.

Or so I thought.

Then yesterday the sun came out – making a rare appearance around these parts – and I felt the need to get out and go hiking.

Cement Blocks, Holding Up Base of St. Nicholas

Long story short…I never made it hiking. I made a wrong turn somewhere and couldn’t find the road I had taken out before. Instead, I found myself standing in front of St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church…again.

This time I stopped to read the sign posted at their front gate. It wasn’t an informational sign about the history of the church like I expected. Rather, it was sign that detailed the structural problems the church is facing. And it was a plea for help. From rotted out structural boards to foundational instabilities and the constant worry that Juneau’s next earthquake might send the entire church tumbling down the hill. They additionally provided monetary figures the church needed to save the historic building.

Then I noticed a smaller sign by the door stating that the bookstore was closed, but the church was open to visitors. So I went to take a peek.


The door to the tiny building was proped wide open and not a single person was in sight. It was very peacefull and created an excellent opportunity to really look around and see all of the artwork the church had:


And then I stumbled across this:

State of the Artwork

And again, as I exited the building, there was another plea to help them raise the funds to restore their building, artworks, and to prevent loosing the rich cultural heritage their church has. Here’s a few images from their iconostas, which had been made and brought over from Russia sometime around 1894:

Screen of St. Cyril

Detail, Showing Losses in Screen

I have many more photos of some of beautiful artworks on display, which you can view on my Flickr site:

Father Simeon was kind enough to speak with me a bit before I left and it is evident that he and his congregation not only care a great deal for the community, but for the cultural heritage they possess.

If you would like to help their cause, you can contact Fr. Simeon B. Johnson directly at Or you can send a tax-deductible donation, as stated on their website:

“In conjunction with R.O.S.S.I.A. (Russian Orthodox Sacred Sites in Alaska), we are embarking on a major historic preservation project to repair these problems, and preserve the church for the next generation of Juneau worshippers and the thousands of people from all over the world that visit our church via cruise ship each summer.

Tax deductable donations, marked “preservation,” can be sent to:

St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church

P.O. Box 20130

Juneau, Alaska 99802-0130

Northwest Passages

June 30, 2011

My time in Alaska is certainly flying by. I can’t believe it’s been a week already since my last post! I started work my first day after arriving and I was not disappointed! The Alaska State Museum is a wonderful museum with a very impressive collection of indigenous and post-contact artifacts that tell the history of Alaska.

Alaska State Museum

I began working right away on my research project, which involves compiling information and images relating to different types of white efflorescence/bloom/accretions that are found on all kinds of objects throughout Alaska. My supervisor, Ellen Carrlee, often fields questions from concerned individuals around the state who have found something that looks white and powdery or fuzzy on an object(s) in their collection. Without knowing how to tell what it is (fatty bloom, mold, salts, etc.), the caretakers of these collections can’t know how to properly store or care for these objects. One of the main goals of this project is to present this information in a way that is easily accesible and useable by those who need it to help preserve Alaska’s cultural heritage.

Also last week, I worked with Ellen and another intern at ASM to process a large collection of taxidermy birds that recently came off display from the Juneau airport. I really enjoyed this because it allowed me to see dozens of birds native to Alaska. For each bird we collected samples for arsenic testing (which I’ll talk more about in another post), lightly vacuumed dust from their feathers, photographed them, wrote a short condition report and then sealed them in plastic bags so they could be easily monitored for pest activity and to protect them from dust.

ASM, Taxidermy Birds: Puffin & Friends

ASM, Taxidermy birds: Duck Nibbling on Wing

My first weekend in Juneau was great…the weather was sunny and I was itching to get out and explore. Friday evening I went for a long hike and found a beautiful path with gorgeous views…and slightly alarming signs.

Waterfall, Juneau

This time of year the sign on the left worried me more than the sign on the right

Luckily for me, Ellen and her husband Scott are in the know about local events here…and they took me to the annual Gold Rush Days festival held at Douglas Island. It was two days of watching miners and loggers and just plain athletic types strut their stuff and show what a real Alaskan is made of!Events included –

Running with Chainsaws:

Running up a Tree Trunk – with a Chainsaw


Sometimes falling…with chainsaws:

Contestant Loses by Falling...but Thankfully Lives to Tell About it


Scrambing quickly up really really tall poles:

Pole Climbing


Mucking (shoveling a lot of rocks and dirt – quickly):



His-n-Her Sawing (Mark and I are sooo training for this for next year):

Couples Sawing Competition


And…everybody’s favorite…LOG ROLLING!!

Classic Log Rolling

I’ve gots tons of pictures from all these competitions, so look for more exciting action shots on my flickr page soon!

By the way…if you hadn’t already guessed it…the titles for my blogs are coming from the episode titles of my favorite Alaskan-based television show. 10 points to whoever gets it right first! (not that there’s that many Alaskan tv shows to choose from!)

Northern Exposure

June 21, 2011

The trip to Alaska yesterday was gorgeous. Sunny weather the whole way, which made for some great views of America from the plane windows. The Great Salt Lake in Utah was spectacular…I only wish I had my camera with me during that flight to capture it. There were four legs to my trip: Philly to Dallas, Dallas to Seattle, Seattle to Ketchikan, and then Ketchikan to Juneau.  This is the view from my window as we arrived in Juneau:

View of Juneau, Alaska

And then, after we deplaned…I had my first brush with Alaskan wildlife:

Airport Bear

Yes, I got a few weird looks for whipping out my camera and taking a picture of a stuffed bear in the airport. But I just can’t help myself…I’m in ALASKA!!!!

I’m From Delaware, Man.

June 20, 2011

I think this song sums up the great state of Delaware and my first year here nicely.

What a better way to kick off this blog? Enjoy!