Defusing the Yarn Bomb Dilemma

I have a bit of a fascination with Wonder Woman (Linda Carter vintage) and as a result I sometimes like to give myself non-traditional super hero status. Once, on Halloween I dressed up as “Museum Girl” with one of my super powers being the ability to spot corrosion from a mile away. Museum Girl is my alter-ego, because I’m a self-professed geek. I have worked in the museum field for over a decade, specifically with collections. I’ve been fortunate to work with a variety of collections; everything from photographs to clothing to airplane parts to archaeological specimens. I love learning their significance, figuring out how to safely display them, what they can tell me about the past and what role I can play in their stewardship.

Super hero status aside, as Collections Management Advisor for the Government of Yukon, my role is to provide collections management advice and recommendations to museums as well as direction and leadership on developing the policies and procedures necessary for properly managing museum collections. I was approached early on in the Knitting for History: Yarn Bombing the DC-3 project by Yukon Transportation Museum (YTM) Executive Director/ Curator Casey McLaughlin to provide advice to ensure the safety of the DC-3 from a museological perspective. Because of this perspective, the project presented some challenges for me as my advice comes from this context.

My concern was rooted in the concept of public trust – museums have a legal and ethical responsibility to hold their collection in trust for the public. So, a question arose in my head: what type of message would the museum be sending about how it cares for and preserves the artifacts in its collection by participating in this project? And when I asked myself that question, I wasn’t sure of the answer. I also had concerns about the DC-3 in terms of the impact of the project on her. At the onset of the project, there were still a lot of variables: What type of yarn will be used? Will it be abrasive? What about the dyes in the yarn -how will they react with weather?  Will the dyes bleed and transfer to the DC-3? What are the safety issues? How will it be installed?  These are the questions that keep a faux super hero awake at night.

Yet after meeting with project partners I realized that while unconventional, the approach to the project was very responsible and professional. Consultation, support and advice were obtained from an industrial conservator, an architect, an aircraft maintenance engineer as well as from my colleague, conservator Valery Monahan and me.  After several meetings and discussions, my questions and concerns were addressed: synthetic yarns will be used and washed prior to installation to ensure dyes will not bleed. A test run will be done on a truck (with the owner’s permission) to prepare for any unanticipated issues. The installation will be for a set and limited amount of time, to reduce any impact of the yarn on the DC-3. Installers will have or will undergo specialized training, as safely working on a snorkel lift is necessary for installing the project. Most importantly, all involved in the project agreed from the onset that the safety of the DC-3 was a top priority.

After participating in the process, I think this is where advice solely from a collections perspective and the reality of running a not-for-profit museum can sometimes collide. Museums today are expected to be more and to do more, usually with fewer resources. YTM has made great strides in the last few years to engage the community, raise its profile and increase the level of care it provides to its collection. But this process is ongoing, and community support and participation are vital to the success of any museum. Basically, it’s a big balancing act – between providing public access and preservation.

Community support for the project combined with support for and a clearer understanding of the museological obligations of the museum is an amazing objective for the project. I think if the public gains a better understanding of what museums do; why they do it and what level of time, money and effort it takes to do it and if the public can be in involved in that process, then they will be much more supportive to museums on so many levels.

So I realized that this project was not just about yarn bombing. It’s an opportunity to educate the public on how museums care for their collections – discussions on what is involved to ensure the DC-3 isn’t harmed; science-themed experiments to test the yarns and dyes; and dialogue about the history of the aircraft and its connection to the North. Rather than “craftivism”, this project is all about “craftucation”.  I can’t speak for Wonder Woman, but I know Museum Girl is on board.