The conservation environment at the W. H. Mathers Museum: A long-term path to success

William P. Lull

Abstract

The basic design concept expressed in the W.H. Mathers Museum at Indiana University is among the best conservation environments found today in museums of any size. Unfortunately, most new museums don’t work right the first day. In the case of the Mathers, improving the conservation environment to finally achieve the original design goals has been an ongoing process over the past eight years since construction.

Several problems have limited the success of the environment, most due to design changes made before construction, without review or advice from the conservation environment consultant. Several important problems have been addressed, including installation of reheat controls for dehumidification, winterization of the package chiller to allow all-season cooling, trouble-shooting of the particulate filter failure, and retrofits to the cold box. The Museum still has problems with summer humidity control, evidently due to the inherent system deficiencies due to cost cuts and improper design. With one or two final modifications to bring the system consistent with the original design concept, the Museum should have a conservation environment second to none.

Most of the improvements are due to the continued efforts of the museum staff, the Indiana University Engineering Services, and one of their engineers who has taken particular interest in the Mathers environment. After the consultant leaves, after the architect leaves, after the contractor leaves, constant diligence with the right resources has proven to yield steady progress toward a first-class conservation environment. The ultimate responsibility and ability for achieving a good conservation environment lies with the institution and the user.