Ladies and Gentlemen, Introducing the Agents of Deterioration!

As part of the museum’s mission, the curatorial staff plans to have occasional workshops and instruction about caring for objects in both museum and home settings.  To get things rolling, the curatorial department thought that introducing some of our topics to the blog-o-sphere might be interesting.  This blog entry will be one of several on this subject.

Villa Finale  is a house, and by its very nature it is not hermetically sealed.  Light, air and little creatures often get in to houses and act naturally, i.e.: they damage the organic materials that make up most of a home’s furnishings.  We don’t have any current issues here, but we do have signs of some of the ever-present Agents of Deterioration!!  The agents, as we like to call them, are made up of things such as insects, sunlight, humidity, extreme temperatures, even oils from human hands.   Surprisingly, poor object handling is the number one cause of object deterioration in museums.

An adult beetle.

An adult beetle.

Villa Finale has had a couple of  obvious run-ins with the agents, one was evidence of Furniture Beetle, or Powder Post Beetle, infestation blogged about here.    Furniture Beetles, in larval form, are known as “woodworms”.  These creatures have a penchant for chewing through old wood and weakening it.  They get there by way of adult beetles flying in to a dwelling, or entering literally in another piece of furniture as larvae or even eggs. 

The adult female beetle lays from twenty to sixty eggs on the surface or crevices of wood furniture.  In a mere six to ten days, cute little newborn larvae hatch and begin munching their way through the piece of furniture so thoughtfully provided to them by their mother.   They create galleries and tunnels, eventually emerging an incredible two to five years later through exit holes.  The adult beetles then fly off and “meet” other beetles and start the cycle all over again.

Pieces with active infestation are easy to spot.  There will be very fine sawdust around the piece and in any exit holes.   Here are some exit holes in an Italian table in Villa Finale’s front hall. 

Exit holes.

Exit holes.

Exit holes.

Exit holes.









These are no longer active,  but nevertheless damaging because the tunnels have irreversibly weakened the legs of the table. 

Infestation can be prevented if  adult beetles are trapped or never enter the dwelling or museum in the first place.  Traps that are the most effective work with an irresistible attractant-Furniture Beetle pheromones!  These traps should be available on-line through Insects Limited, but as of this writing, the traps were still in development.  So, prevention is the key.  If infestation is detected, or if a piece brought into a building has exit holes, the item can be placed in a verylarge plastic bag and sealed for both observation and treatment.  A  furniture conservator or exterminator should advise at that juncture.  Giant furniture bags are available on-line at Gaylord Bros, Inc.

Both museum artifacts and pieces in the home need to be checked for infestation of any insect at least once a month.  This is roughly the period during which most insects pass from one developmental stage to another-with, of course, the exception of the Furniture Beetle!  So, keep your eyes to the floor, look for sawdust, and, until next time (light damage!) this is your curator signing off!

–Meg Nowack

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