A Day in Collections: Cleaning the Fire Pumper

Snowflake & Sven’s Adventures with the Museum Collection Continue

Snowflake and Sven get a good look at this very large artifact in the Museum Collection.

You know the steam fire pumper on display in the St. Catharine Museum gallery? You know, it’s really big and red, and, when you look at it, the notion that this intricate piece of late nineteenth century technology was used to fight fires kind of boggles your mind? Yeah, that one! Well, our toy friends Snowflake and Sven recently had a chance to *really* get to know our steam fire pumper in a whole new way: by cleaning it.

Collections Technicians Will and Tanya were so awesome to let Snowflake and Sven help with the cleaning!

There’s no better way to really understand  an artifact than by cleaning and dusting all its nooks and crannies. And believe us, the steam pumper has A LOT of nooks and crannies! With the expertise of Collections Technicians Tanya and Will, this is exactly what Snowflake and Sven got to do.

Artifact Care

Here at the St. Catharines Museum we practice preservation and the ethical care of collections. This means that we’re in the business of caring for artifacts to keep them in the same condition that they came to us in. For us, an artifact’s condition is an important part of the stories, meanings, and significance attached to it. It’s our mission to preserve these stories and meanings just as much as it is to preserve the physical artifact itself.

This means that we don’t clean artifacts very often. When we do, it’s usually because the artifact going on display, or it’s already on display. Every time we clean an artifact, we put the object at risk – of exposure, of deterioration, of slipping from our hands and dropping to the ground in a million pieces. Not that this put any pressure on Snowflake or Sven…

Check out Snowflake and Sven’s Personal Protective Equipment. Safety is always first!

How Collections Technicians clean an artifact depends on its surface type and the material(s) it’s made from. In the case of the fire pumper, our team employed very delicate dusting with special brushes and a clean cloth dampened with distilled water. Tanya and Will are used to wearing protective masks and goggles when caring for artifacts. Personal Protective Equipment shields our Collections Technicians from dust and other residue that they can come into contact with an artifact. In this particular case, because the fire steam pumper is so large and cleaning it involves a lot of bending and reaching, they also wore lab coats to protect their clothing. Of course, special coats (well, more like capes) were made for Snowflake and Sven.
We thought it’d be fun to attach a Go-Pro to Will and record the cleaning.  Take a look at the time-lapse we have of our team cleaning the steam fire pumper!

Sara Nixon is Public Programmer at the St. Catharines Museum. Special thanks to Collections Technicians Will and Tanya for trusting Snowflake & Sven which such an important artifact in the Museum’s collection! 

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