Summer in the Conservation Lab

By Rebekah Engelland, Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory Intern

During my summer internship with the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory (MAC Lab), I learned much about the conservation of archeological materials. As a pre-program conservation intern looking at graduate schools, I knew very little about conservation practices. I first focused on the treatment of iron, spending time in the air abrasive unit (essentially a microscopic sand blaster), practicing on non-archeological iron that had corroded. Once I felt comfortable with the air abrasive unit, I moved on to iron from archeological sites that required conservation. The next step in treating iron is to remove the chlorides, one of the critical components to rust. Every week I had to check the amount of chlorides in six different containers as the salts were extracted from the artifacts and drawn into a caustic solution.

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Working on the Fifth Regiment Armory’s World War I Memorial in Baltimore

Following iron, I learned how to clean copper alloy artifacts, which involved using a scalpel under a microscope to remove soil and corrosion until I came down on a stable patina layer. I also cleaned white metal artifacts (tin, aluminum and lead) and applied a protective coating once no more soil or corrosion remained. For silver-plated items, I learned to use electrolytic reduction, an electrochemical technique, to help take off the outer layer of tarnish and limit the amount of polishing before I applied a protective coating of wax. Lead required a different approach, and I used electrolytic consolidation to reduce the corrosion on the surface of the lead artifacts.

Throughout the summer, I also had the opportunity to go out into the field and help on projects. MAC Lab Conservator Heather Rardin and I had the chance to see a laser cleaning demonstration at the Fifth Regiment Armory’s World War I Memorial in Baltimore, where the Conservation of Sculpture and Objects Studio, Inc. removed previous paint layers and dirt from both bronze and stone with a laser custom-built for conservation. One of the assistants let me try out the laser to clean a few feathers on one of the bronze eagles.

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Removing ship’s timbers at Alexandria’s historic waterfront

At the Alexandria, Virginia waterfront, MAC Lab Head Conservator Nichole Doub and I helped Alexandria Archaeology’s team with on-site conservation as they deconstructed a ship’s hull before an underground parking garage was built. The ship, along with two others, was deliberately sunk to be part of a late 18th century wharf. By the time I joined the project, the team was removing the ship’s timbers using a crane. Nichole guided the deconstruction process, making sure the team did as little damage as possible to the remains of the ship. We returned a couple days later and helped the team remove the ship’s keel, which I helped strap to the crane. It was incredible playing a small role in saving a part of Alexandria’s history.

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Cleaning statues in Prince Frederick

On another excursion, Heather and I went to the Prince Frederick courthouse and helped Howard Wellman Conservation LLC treat three statues. The marble and limestone bases were treated with a biocide and then scrubbed down. To coat the bronze statue, we used a blow torch to heat up the metal. Then we applied a protective layer of wax with the brush, heating it up more with the blow torch to remove the brush strokes. These treatments would protect the statues against both corrosion and biological growths, though they would need to be repeated every few years.

Over the summer I received an extensive education on archeological and object conservation from the amazing staff at the MAC Lab. This experience makes me feel much more prepared to apply to graduate conservation programs. I want to thank everyone at the MAC Lab for taking the time to teach me and making this a truly incredible internship.

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New Pieces of History at the MAC Lab

By Patricia Samford, Director, Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory

It somehow seems appropriate that the acquisition by the State of Maryland of many of Baltimore’s most important artifact collections would occur during April — Maryland’s Archaeology Month.  These collections, which were generated through the work of the Baltimore Center for Urban Archaeology, will be curated by the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory (MAC Lab) at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum.

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A privy filled in the early 19th century at the Clagett’s Brewery site (18BC38) yielded 432 ceramic and glass vessels, including this unusual scratch blue pearlware chamberpot bearing the initials of England’s King George.

The formation of the Baltimore Center for Urban Archaeology in April of 1983 was arguably the single most influential action affecting archaeology in the city.  Baltimore mayor William Donald Schaefer, impressed by the Archaeology in Annapolis project, decided that a similar program was needed to promote heritage tourism in Baltimore. Mayor Schaefer envisioned excavations as a way, through the media and public visitation, of promoting Fallswalk, a new historic walking trail along Jones Falls.  In establishing the Center, Schaefer instituted the first public archaeology program ever funded by a major U. S. city.

Over the next fifteen years, the Baltimore Center for Urban Archaeology conducted historical research on 53 city properties, resulting in 21 excavations. Some of the most important projects included the Clagett Brewery (18BC38)—one of Baltimore’s earliest breweries—along Jones Falls, and Cheapside Wharf (18BC55), where the Inner Harbor is located today. The center’s work generated around 500 boxes of artifacts—collections that have revealed important evidence about the city’s past and its important role as a port city.

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Members of an Archaeological Conservancy tour admire artifacts from the privy at Clagett’s Brewery

Elizabeth A. Comer directed the BCUA from its inception in 1983 until 1988, when she left to work in tourism in the Schaefer administration. Upon her departure the direction of the BCUA was shared by Kristen Stevens Peters and Louise Akerson. Louise, who had been the BCUA’s Lab Director since 1983, assumed overall direction of the BCUA when Kristin left in 1990, and continued in that role until her retirement in 1996. Esther Doyle Read was the final director of the BCUA until it was dissolved, along with the City Life Museums, in 1997. The collections generated through the center’s work were acquired by the Maryland Historical Society. For the next twenty years, the collections and the records associated with the excavations were unavailable to researchers and students. Negotiations between the State of Maryland, the City of Baltimore and the Maryland Historical Society resulted in the collections being turned over to the state in April of 2018.

The MAC Lab has already begun to make the collections available to the public.  A sample of artifacts from the Clagett Brewery Site was on display during Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum’s Discovering Archaeology Day event on April 21st and they were also popular with the Archaeological Conservancy tour of the lab.  Over the next several months, artifacts from the collections will begin to be added to the Diagnostic Artifacts in Maryland website and also to Maryland Unearthed, a website that allows the public and researchers to learn more about the collections at the lab.   For more information about this collection or the work of the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, please contact patricia.samford@maryland.gov.

Author’s note: This is a slighly updated version of the original article with a few factual errors corrected.

Liberty Grace Church of God, Baltimore City – Community Outreach and a Historic Bowling Alley (Guest Blog)

By Dr. Terris King, Senior Pastor, Liberty Grace Church of God

The things that bring people together are often surprising. And so it was with a bowling alley tucked into the basement of a West Baltimore church. As the current Senior Pastor of Liberty Grace Church of God, Baltimore, Maryland, I was inspired to renovate the church’s abandoned bowling alley after reading Antero Pietila’s first book, “Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City,” which highlights the struggle of Jewish and African American immigrants as they settled throughout Baltimore. According to Pietila, a cozy little West Baltimore neighborhood called Ashburton became the first neighborhood in Baltimore and in the nation to openly embrace integration with African Americans, Jews and whites living together. But when a church was sold to a predominately African American congregation, and that congregation closed the basement bowling alley that served as a gathering place for the community, Jewish residents and members of the Beth Tefillah congregation were among those who left the neighborhood.

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Liberty Grace Church of God in Ashburton

Since 2015, Liberty Grace Church of God has worked to reimagine the church as a central place for community gathering, while providing community members with nutrition education and exercise in order combat obesity and chronic diseases like diabetes. It started with nutritious, healthy food delivered by the Maryland Food Bank. The church is so focused on this initiative that it established the Grace Foundation, a non-profit to lead the nutrition project and serve the community. The Grace Foundation has also successfully piloted exercise, Zumba and meditation programs. The renovation of the historic bowling alley is an upcoming stage in this larger project to increase exercise and activity levels in the community. With additional funding, the Grance Foundation hopes to renovate their facility, including an outdoor kitchen, into a teaching kitchen with classrooms for the community.

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Current condition of the historic bowling alley

With over 20 years in ministry and executive-level service in health care, I have used my dual career experience to bring nutrition education to Baltimore city. I see the church as a major asset in improving the well-being of West Baltimore’s citizens, beginning with the Ashburton community. I believe the bowling alley will be a community draw that rivals the success of the food giveaway and am excited about this building becoming the epicenter of the community once again.

Using the National Register to Connect Baltimore City Students with Neighborhood History (Guest Blog)

By Jeff Buchheit, Executive Director, Baltimore National Heritage Area

Since 2016, the Baltimore National Heritage Area (BNHA) has partnered with the Maryland Historical Trust and Baltimore Heritage (the city’s preservation advocacy organization) on a project that engages Baltimore City Public School students in an exploration of their local history using the research standards and processes necessary in developing nominations to the National Register of Historic Places. Through the project, students investigate Baltimore’s significant role in the Civil Rights Movement and the people and places that reflect this critical time in U.S. and Maryland history.

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Baltimore School of the Arts students prepare for their upcoming field trip.

The heritage area’s primary role is to help teachers and their students connect to historic sites and resources for researching the Civil Rights Movement. Key partner sites have included the Maryland Historical Society and the Lillie Carroll Jackson Civil Rights Museum, which operates under the stewardship of Morgan State University.

Initial planning meetings brought together the BNHA, Baltimore Heritage, Baltimore City Public Schools, the Maryland Historical Society, and the Lillie Carroll Jackson Civil Rights Museum. A handful of Baltimore City Public Schools teachers were identified based on their classroom studies in African American history and the Civil Rights Movement. Those teachers attended an October 2017 workshop during which Baltimore Heritage Executive Director Johns Hopkins provided an overview of the National Register nomination process. Following the presentation, the teachers toured the collections of the Maryland Historical Society and the Lillie Carroll Jackson Civil Rights Museum. At the end of the workshop, teachers scheduled nine field trips, five of which took place in the fall of 2017.

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Baltimore Heritage’s Johns Hopkins talks to students at the Lillie Carroll Jackson Civil Rights Museum.

Perhaps the key takeaway for the students on the field trips has been their exposure to the use of primary documents in research, and the phenomenal contributions (past and present) of Baltimore citizens in the Civil Rights Movement. The heritage area is meeting its overarching goal too: raising student awareness and pride in their history and their neighborhoods. Students have been very engaged, and the teachers are asking “What else can we do together?” — a real win-win for everyone.

Experience Maryland Archeology First Hand at Patterson Park

By Charlie Hall, State Terrestrial Archeologist

What better way to celebrate Maryland Archeology Month than by doing archeology in Maryland!

Imagine it’s September of 1814 and the British, having burned Washington just a few weeks earlier, are on their way to Baltimore.  Fort McHenry stands ready to defend the harbor from attack by the British fleet.  A 3-mile wide earthwork with 100 cannon and more than 10,000 regular, local militia, and irregulars, are in place to repulse the anticipated land attack.  Surprised by the strength of Baltimore’s defenses, the British eventually flee the field of battle.  Most Americans remember the event best through Francis Scott Key’s Star Spangled Banner.  But you have an opportunity to get close to the battle by helping archeologists investigate the War of 1812 fortifications in East Baltimore’s Patterson Park!

Rodger’s Bastion on Hampstead Hill, from the Patterson Park pagoda, Baltimore (https://www.flickr.com/photos/monumentcity/5781863781/in/photostream/)

Rodger’s Bastion on Hampstead Hill, from the Patterson Park pagoda, Baltimore

Sponsored by Baltimore Heritage, with financial support from the Maryland Heritage Areas Program, archeologists from The Louis Berger Group will supervise a cadre of volunteers every Tuesday through Saturday from April 15th until May 17th.  You can volunteer for all 25 days, or for any portion down to a single morning or afternoon.  Pre-registration is required, and it’s easy!  Simply go to the Baltimore Heritage website  and click the blue button labeled “Register as a fieldwork volunteer” (toward the bottom of the page).  Complete the on-line form and answer a few questions about your availability, experience, and interests, and then click “Submit”.  That’s it!  You’ll be contacted by someone associated with the project to schedule your volunteer time.

No experience is necessary.  Free street parking can be found nearby.  There are plenty of great eateries in the area.

Still not sure?  You might want to attend a Volunteer Workshop hosted by Baltimore Heritage on April 15th from 6:30 PM – 8:00 PM.  Light refreshments will be provided (free food!!).

See you in Patterson Park!