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Collections Care During Closure

Your History, Your Art, Your Cultural Heritage

Megan Kane, Collections Registrar

May 5, 2020


While our galleries may be closed to visitors, the Museum of Sonoma County continues our important and vital work of caring for our shared history and artistic heritage. We currently steward a collection of over 18,000 objects of historical, artistic, and cultural importance, not to mention the more than 125 additional items on loan from other cultural institutions and members of the public. It is our job as a museum and a collecting institution to ensure that these objects are protected and cared for so that they are available to share with you for generations to come.

Porcelain statues of Chinese Guardian lions, also known as Foo Dogs, from the temple in Santa Rosa's historic Chinatown; Song Wong Bourbeau Collection

One of the most important aspects of caring for a museum collection is creating and maintaining an environment that ensures the long-term preservation of our objects. Unstable temperatures and excessive light can cause permanent damage, and even destruction, to some of the fragile objects in our collection. We carefully and constantly monitor the temperature, relative humidity, and light levels in our collections storage facilities and our exhibition galleries. This means that we must run our thermostats all day, every day to guarantee that our collection and the objects in our care are safe. This of course not only takes power, but also people to monitor the environment in real time and to maintain our heating and cooling units.


Pests are another potential threat to our collection. Silverfish, moths, and carpet beetles all find parts of our collection absolutely irresistible, from the paper of our archives and records, to the fabric of historic clothing and furniture and canvas of paintings. To combat these threats, we carefully monitor our storage facilities and galleries and deploy a variety of pest traps and specialized baits. These traps and baits must be replaced every few months to be effective and a trained staff member must examine these traps on a regular basis to evaluate how safe our collections are.

Marguerite Wildenhain, "Family: Mother, Father, Child," ca 1960s; Marguerite Wildenhain Collection

Aside from keeping pests out and humidity changes at bay, the Museum ensures that no degrading elements are introduced to our collections. We use specialized tissue paper, plastics, and even special cardboard boxes to house and store the collection. Normal packaging materials often contain acids and other chemicals that can be released as the materials breakdown and harm, or even destroy, fragile objects. For instance, acids in some papers and glues will discolor and eat away at photographs, losing the image forever. Even our specialized housing materials do not last forever and must be refreshed over time to continue to safeguard our unique collection for the long-term.


Caring for a museum collection may seem like a passive task, but it is in fact an active verb that takes many people and many more hours to do, and right now we need your help. Being closed has a significant financial impact on our organization. Help us continue to care for our collections by making a donation today. You have entrusted us, the Museum of Sonoma County, with your history, your art, and your cultural heritage, and that is a great responsibility that we endeavor to fulfill every day. Our doors may be closed at the moment, but the trained staff members at your Museum are still hard at work caring for the collection so that we can share it with you now online, soon in our galleries, and for many, many years to come.

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