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Arts, Sports & Culture

Past Comes Back to Life at Preservation Fair

Antique buffs came together at the Carnegie Museums in Oakland Saturday for the 2011 Preservation Fair, bringing artifacts and heirlooms — as well as considerable expertise — in tow.

Carnegie Mellon librarian Charlotte Tancin is one of the organizers of this year's fair. She said it's important for the public to understand preservation.

"Librarians and archivists are really savvy with this sort of thing," said Tancin. "We have to deal with this in our collections all the time, but the average person has things in their home from their family — they don't have any idea what to do with them, and the stuff deteriorates. We want people to save their own stuff and have it for the future for their families."

To that end, about 30 conservators set up shop at the Carnegie to teach museum-goers how to preserve their antique books, clothing, photographs, and other artifacts.

Nancy Boomhower is in the business of preserving and restoring textiles. She said it's not uncommon for people in this region to possess hand-made clothing and blankets from centuries past.

"Western Pennsylvania, northeastern Ohio — we have an enormous amount of quilts of all kinds. The ladies were very prolific quilters, [and] seamstresses," said Boomhower, with a laugh, "especially from the 1800s up to the 1920s, before department stores."

Boomhower said it's especially important to restore and preserve clothing hand-made by one's ancestors. She said typical restoration jobs can cost anywhere from $200 to $1000, but simply preserving an item as-is can be less costly.

Librarian Charlotte Tancin said it's uncertain how preservation will work in the future.

"Where I work, we have correspondence from the 18th Century, from botanists on both sides of the Atlantic. Well nowadays, botanists are just doing email, and many of them don't even save their email," said Tancin. "What traces of their work, and their thought, and their interactions are going to be left for the future?"

Tancin said the Preservation Fair gets these conversations started every few years at the Carnegie Museums. For more information and a list of preservation experts, visit the Fair's website.