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IN THE PITT RIVERS MUSEUM
Conservation: The Care of Baskets
Most baskets were originally made as a container to withstand rough and everyday use. The materials used for making the basket, as well as its later treatment, will dictate how well a basket survives.
Handling
Old baskets should never be lifted by the handle or rim. These areas may well have become brittle and weak. It is always better to use both hands to lift the basket, while trying to support it at the base.
Cleaning
The Canadian Conservation Institute points out that in a museum context:
'It should be noted that what appears as 'dirt', may in fact be evidence of the basket's previous use. These deposits (seeds, berry stains, etc) are very important and should not be removed".

If a basket is very dusty, it can be cleaned by using a soft brush to lift the dust into a gauze-covered vacuum nozzle. The dust is thus removed without being re-deposited elsewhere. Loose fibres or applied decorations should not be disturbed when using this method.

If stains need to be removed, first test a less obvious area with a slightly damp cotton wool bud to see how the material reacts. If you are satisfied with the result proceed on the stain, but do not expect to always get a good result. Stains are often very stubborn and it may be better to treat the stain as part of the history of the object.

Re-shaping
HumidificationIf a basket has become misshapen but not broken, it can be sealed in a large, clear, polythene bag alongside moistened tissue in a bowl. The humidity in the bag will rise and be absorbed by the basket. After a day or two it should be possible to very gently re-shape the basket and fill it with tissue paper as support. The basket should be dried out slowly by placing it back in the polythene bag without the water and leaving one end partially open to allow the basket to slowly return to the ambient conditions. This can take up to a week. Do not leave the basket in conditions of high humidity without checking regularly, as mould spores may begin to form and cause greater problems.
Storage
Fragile baskets or unusual shaped ones should be well supported. They can be lightly filled with tissue paper to maintain the shape.

The climatic conditions in which baskets are kept should not be damp (for the reasons mentioned above), nor should they be kept too dry as this will cause embrittlement. If the conditions fluctuate rapidly, the baskets will expand and contract, which weakens the fibres.

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Current Impression: 21-apr-2004