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Friday, May 31 • 11:00am - 11:30am
(Wooden Artifacts) Flight of Memory: The Conservation of a Temporary Structure for the 9/11 Memorial Museum

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As the rate of change in the physical surroundings of American society continues to accelerate, and we race to create or own the next “New Thing”, the nature of the meaning of individual objects is changing. In essence, all objects are becoming ephemeral. We may value a design, but less the object that embodies that design. Instead, significance and emotional weight is often transferred to objects through their symbolic association with more abstract ideas of meaning and importance. For the conservator, this means that our efforts at preservation are more and more frequently directed at artifacts never intended to last for long, and whose importance as objects lies less in their physicality than in the symbolic meaning they represent.
After the attacks of September 11, 2001, during the recovery at Ground Zero in New York City, a special platform was constructed to allow family members of the victims to view the recovery efforts in a private setting away from the general public. The structure was intended to be temporary, and was built out of pressure treated lumber. Family members used the structure as a canvas to write memorial messages, transforming the platform into a spontaneous artifact of memory and meaning. As the World Trade Center Site translated from a recovery effort into a construction site, the platform and stairs were removed and the component elements were saved and stored by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Ownership of the platform components was eventually transferred by the PANYNJ to the 9/11 Memorial Museum, which incorporated the stairs to the viewing platform into its exhibition design. When I started working on the project in the summer of 2011, the stairs were partially dismantled and stored in a climate-modified tent within the PANYNJ’s 9/11-related storage facility, Hangar 17 at JFK Airport. As an object, the flight of stairs was very different from furniture normally encountered in museum settings. Its meaning resided not in its form or the artistry of its construction and decoration, but rather in its power to evoke and represent the poignancy of its original purpose. The inscriptions, written in everything from stable graphite and chalk to highly fugitive felt-tip inks, served to endow the entire structure with meaning.
Treatment of the stairs involved replacement of the original nails with stainless steel removable fasteners, insertion of some small new structural elements to replace missing elements that were part of the larger platform, the creation of 3D computer drawings of the stairs for the design team, and the digital photography documentation of all inscriptions on all surfaces of the stairs. All of these treatment efforts had to have as their primary goal the preservation of the fleeting inscriptions, left by people suffering profound loss, recording their thoughts, prayers, hopes and memories on this once temporary, but now transformed, piece of assembled lumber.

Speakers
avatar for John Childs

John Childs

Senior Conservator, Art Preservation Services


Friday May 31, 2013 11:00am - 11:30am
JW Marriott Meeting Room 204-205 10 S West St Indianapolis, IN 46204

Attendees (8)