Structural Repair of a Makah Basket: Conservation Challenges

Structural Repair of a Makah Basket: Conservation Challenges

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Image 1:  Makah basket from Agua Caliente Cultural Museum collections prior to conservation treatment


Image 2:  Supporting the damaged structure


Image 3:  Humidification

Image 4:  Mending and realignment


Image 5:  Joining the two sides of the tear


Image 6:  The last step in the conservation process is toning the frankensteins to blend in with the basket.  This image is the repaired basket after months of conservation and repair work

One of the most concerning issues in dealing with the conservation of this basket was the damage caused to the rim.  This damage appears to have occurred primarily from a singular event during which the rim and first few rows of horizontal elements from the top were violently crushed, causing the vertical warp elements in this area to snap into multiple pieces, and the horizontal rows of wefts to come free from the broken warp elements in this area.

The repair to the structure of the basket occured in a number of steps,
including the addition of new materials to replace those which were lost or too heavily damaged to support the basket after re-shaping and mending.    

Step 1: Supporting the Damaged Structure
A two-part circular form was created out of a heat molded plastic with a telescopic handle to push out the two pieces, thus lending internal support to the walls of the basket (Image 2).

Step 2: Humidification
After some initial realignment of the broken elements, the basket was placed into a chamber at a controlled relative humidity of 70 to 73 percent in order to soften the fibres, allowing for the re-shaping of the basket and the mending of the broken elements (Image 3).

Step 3: Mending and Realignment
After humidification, the rows involved in the torn area are looped back on to the broken warps where possible.  When the warps were missing or too badly damaged, bamboo slivers where inserted to lend structural stability to the basket and to help realign the wefts (Image 4).

These newly mended elements are held in place using Japanese tissue paper wound into thin strips called ‘Franksensteins’ and adhered using a mixture of wheat starch paste and methylcellulose.  The adhesives were chosen because they will remain reversible using water and do not pose a danger to the object.

Step 4: Joining the Two Sides of the Tear
After aligning and mending the three rows at the top of the tear and the four rows under the tear, the two mended areas were joined using more frankensteins on both the interior and exterior face of the basket (Image 5).

Step 5: Toning the Frankensteins
After mending is complete, the frankensteins are toned to a color similar to that of the basket to keep them from being visually obstrusive.  The color was chosen to be close but not identical so that from afar, they are invisible, but from near, they can be seen (Image 6).

– Cindy Lee Scott