Preserving Musical Artifacts at the National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota
Founded in 1973, the National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota is home to more than 15,000 historic musical instruments and related artifacts reaching across cultures and historical periods. Most of these items are extremely rare and irreplaceable, including the earliest-known cello and playable harpsichord (both 16th-century), as well as a set of stringed instruments by Antonio Stradivari.
The museum is housed in the University of South Dakota’s historic Carnegie library building, which was built in 1910 and will soon undergo architectural expansion. The museum’s curatorial team has faced many of the challenges that come with any building of that age, including monitoring for temperature and humidity excursions.
Besides the age of the building, other monitoring challenges the team has faced include the facility’s multiple floors and differently sized rooms, varying climates from the weather extremes in South Dakota, and differing temperature and humidity levels from the influx of visitors – all of which can affect preservation of the museum’s priceless musical artifacts.
Accurate and reliable monitoring of temperature and humidity is imperative for institutions like the National Music Museum. For example, a combination of very low humidity with high temperature could cause wooden musical instruments to shrink and crack. And if the museum experienced very high relative humidity, wooden instruments could warp and become moldy. Metal instruments could be damaged by the high water content in the air.
The National Music Museum staff previously relied on hygrothermographs to monitor environmental conditions, but they were not able to monitor the entire building. And Emanuele Marconi, the museum’s conservator, surmised that certain galleries were more stable in temperature and humidity than others.
In order to obtain the accurate, reliable monitoring needed, the museum’s staff tested a number of options and decided on the HOBO MX1101 temperature/relative humidity data logger, one of the preservation-management solutions from Onset. With 28 of the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)-enabled loggers now deployed in the museum’s galleries and storage facilities, the staff can effectively monitor the variety of spaces housing the museum’s diverse collection — from wood and brass instruments, to sheet music, books, and uniforms.
With the self-contained wireless MX1101s in place, Marconi and other museum staff can use mobile phones or tablets to configure the loggers, download the data and upload them to the server, and set alerts if temperature or humidity levels exceed user-set thresholds – all with no additional dedicated equipment required. Data from the loggers informs the staff about which areas have more stable or less stable climates, and which have optimal environmental parameters.
“The MX1101 loggers allow us to get a picture of the whole structure that we didn’t have before; we can monitor individual spaces throughout the building, helping better preserve the museum’s collection of irreplaceable musical artifacts,” said Marconi. “The Bluetooth functionality is especially useful because many of the loggers are positioned in hard-to-reach places — such as on top or inside of display cases, or hidden behind and under instruments.”
With upgrades to the facility’s HVAC system and construction of the 16,000-square-foot architectural addition soon under way, Marconi is confident that the HOBO MX1101 loggers will play a crucial role in preserving the National Music Museum’s prized treasures, now and well into the future.