My Best Friend is a Vacuum: A Tribute to R2D2, the Faithful HEPA-Vac

  • cleaning nile crocodile
  • cleaning polar world diorama
  • R2 vacuuming marine life diorama
  • Cleaned marine life diorama
cleaning nile crocodile
 

My Best Friend is a Vacuum: A Tribute to R2D2, the Faithful HEPA-Vac

Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History - Spring 2017

This semester, I was lucky enough to be an intern with Gretchen Anderson, the conservator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. I learned a lot. I cleaned a lot. And throughout all of this cleaning, I was always accompanied by R2-D2, the trusty HEPA vacuum. For most conservators, HEPA vacuums are the most efficient for the gentle cleaning of objects. For every diorama we were cleaning, R2-D2 was invariably by our side, waiting patiently to collect our dust.

One of the first dioramas that I used R2-D2 on was the Nile Crocodiles in the Wildlife Halls. I never thought I would get up and personal with a Nile Crocodile and live to tell about it, but fortunately, these were dead. By wrapping a piece of vellux around R2-D2’s nozzle, we could gently suction away the dust and soot particles. This was a technique we used for most of the open-air dioramas.  

During my internship, we also cleaned the Polar World exhibit. Bundled up in sweatshirts, we spent the week tidying up the various open-air dioramas in the exhibit. There was one minor issue, however; the artificial snow had trapped our number one enemy-dust-and was not relinquishing it without a fight. So we decided to vacuum up the snow and remove it completely, with plans to refresh the dioramas later. Shortly after we began vacuuming up the snow we realized that R2-D2 was getting clogged; poor R2 could not handle the dust and artificial snow together. So, we had to use a different bagless vacuum, one that happened to look like a jetpack. Each project had its own unique challenges, but the artificial snow was definitely one of the most testing obstructions we encountered to cleaning the dioramas.

The most recent diorama I have been involved with is the Pennsylvania Marine Life diorama in Benedum Hall. For years, people have walked by and maybe some of them have noticed the fine layer of ocean silt that covered the exhibit. In reality, this fine layer of silt was actually the accumulation of about 30 years of dust. This was a diorama that Gretchen had been itching to get into since she first began working at the museum. After the glass was removed, we used brushes, air rockets, and of course, R2-D2, to clean the years of dust off of the objects. We also used facemasks to protect ourselves from breathing in the extremely small dust particles.

These are just a couple of the projects I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in this semester. This internship has opened up the world of professional conservation to me, and I could not be for more thankful for my mentor, Gretchen, for giving me this opportunity. And also for R2, who always cleaned up my dust for me.  

Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here