Caring for outdoor objects

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Debra Daly Hartin, Wendy Baker, Robert Barclay and George Prytulak

Caring for outdoor objects is part of CCI’s Preventive conservation guidelines for collections online resource. This section presents key aspects of managing the care of objects in heritage collections in an outdoor setting based on the principles of preventive conservation and risk management.

Table of contents

Understanding outdoor objects and planning ahead

Outdoor collections

Typical objects accessioned in museum collections and displayed outdoors include bells from fire halls or churches, ships’ anchors, chains and bollards, machinery, large vehicles, including trains, military and farm equipment and monumental, sculptural works of art. Often, these objects are positioned in front of the museum to act as advertisements. The materials used in these objects are as varied as the objects themselves.

When considering the care of outdoor objects, it is useful to distinguish between two groups of outdoor collections. The first group is represented by objects that were always intended for outdoor display or use and whose manufacture and material components were designed to withstand the outdoor environment (Figure 1). Into this group fall, for instance, cast metal sculptures, outdoor murals and transportation vehicles (carriages, carts, cars, trains, etc.). These objects require periodic inspection to guard against damage from physical forces, thieves and vandals. Periodic and regular maintenance is necessary (e.g. to renew protective surface finishes to prevent degradation). Bases, plinths, mounting brackets and supporting armatures are also part of the object or work of art, and the entire assembly, having been designed for outdoor conditions, should be capable of withstanding the local outdoor environment with reasonable vigilance on the part of the owner and with regularly scheduled maintenance.

© Government of Canada, Canadian Conservation Institute. CCI 130102-0045 Figure 1. Sound the Alarm by Robert K. Spaith, bronze and wood sculpture, 1999, part of the “Ghost Collection ” of public art in the City of Red Deer, Alberta.