Kalaupapa Conserves Pieces of History
By Carrie Mardorf, Chief of Cultural Resources, Kalaupapa National Historical Park
From March 9 to 20, Kalaupapa National Historical Park hosted two conservators, Curtis Sullivan and Theresa Voellinger, to conserve a number of significant objects within the park’s curatorial facility. Sullivan and Voellinger are employed at Harpers Ferry Center, a specialized National Park Service (NPS) conservation and interpretive center in West Virginia.
During the course of two weeks, nine objects associated with Kalaupapa were conserved, including a crib from Bishop Home, an end table owned by Kenso Seki, large poi board, three ledger books from the American Japanese Association Hall, an Ed Kato sketch, and birth certificate and passport of Kenso Seki.
One of the most unique pieces to be conserved was the Bishop Home crib dating to the 1920s. Throughout the 20th century, infants born at Kalaupapa were separated from their parents after birth for fear that infants would contract Hansen’s disease. Hundreds of babies were born in Kalaupapa only to be removed from the settlement and raised by ohana elsewhere. The Bishop Home crib is the last one in existence and serves as a powerful reminder of this story.
Prior to conservation treatment, the crib was in highly unstable condition with substantial wood loss from past termite infestations. The legs of the crib resembled straws with an outer wood shell and large interior voids. Sullivan, a wood conservator, cleaned the surface using special solvents to remove dirt and grime, but protect the historic paint. Next he consolidated fragile wood, allowing epoxy to soak into termite tunnels and harden paper-thin wood. Missing crib components were refabricated and installed to add extra strength, and the entire crib was realigned to be square.
While Sullivan worked on the wood objects of the collection, Voellinger worked on paper documents. Of particular note, she cleaned and stabilized a charcoal sketch of St. Francis Catholic Church drawn by Ed Kato, which had been glued to a sheet of cardboard. Over time the glue and acid from the cardboard migrated and stained the sketch paper. Voellinger safely removed the drawing from the backing, eliminated the glue residue with acetone, and reduced staining by soaking the sketch in specialized solution. Tears along the edges were mended and filled with Japanese paper. Once completed, the sketch was rehoused in an acid free matte and box.
Kalaupapa’s museum collection, first managed in 1987, contains over 364,000 objects and archival documents, primarily representing the late 20th century experiences of residents within the Kalaupapa Settlement. As with any tropical environment, the threats to wood, metal, and paper objects are great with heat, humidity, salt air and termites. This project is the first of its kind at Kalaupapa as part of efforts to mitigate these threats.
Project funding was provided by Pacific Historic Parks, the cooperating association for Kalaupapa. Mahalo to Pacific Historic Parks and all of their support!