Writing on baby food jars and drawing floor plans and other exercises in frustration

It’s not easy to write on glass. Or plastic, or fabric, or wooden dowels. Or safety pins, for that matter. Especially in a way that makes it both so that it won’t come off unless you deliberately take it off, and yet will come off easily without leaving traces if you do want to remove it. But I learned how on Saturday, in an accession number marking workshop in my collections class.

Oddly enough, the plastic is the most difficult item to write on while meeting those requirements. There are dozens, probably hundreds, of plastic formulations, and every single one of them reacts differently to inks and paints. So we cheated on that one, putting our prescription bottles into ziploc bags and writing the accession number on the bag. The safety pins are a cheat, too. Make a label out of acid-free paper and tie it to the tiny brass safety pin with teflon dental floss (did you know there was such a thing? I didn’t) and write on the label.

I had an unexpected leg up on the fabric labeling, which consisted of writing the accession number on a piece of twill tape with a Pigma pen (a permanent-ink pen I was familiar with from using it to write labels for quilts) then loosely stitching the tape to the piece of fabric. I was quite amazed at how many of my classmates had a hard time with this exercise – doesn’t everyone sew? I guess not.

The paper items (a book, a menu, and a photograph) were relatively simple. Number 2 pencil. The main catch for those was making sure the numbers were written in the correctly consistent places and not pressing too hard.

Then came the wooden dowel and the baby food jar, and frustration finally hit. First a layer of a special kind of clear lacquer, then the number, again written with the Pigma pen, then another layer of lacquer over the top. The lacquer makes the number removable with acetone, and it takes forever to dry.  It also gets gloppy in the bottle as it dries, and it dries much faster in the bottle than on the item (trust me). The ink is slow-drying on the non-porous lacquer, too. Oh, and did I mention that I’m lefthanded? And write using the typical leftie’s hand position crooked over the pen? If there’s one thing I learned about writing on three-dimensional objects Saturday, it’s that I need something of the same height to rest my wrist on in order to write legibly. Also, it’s a good thing accession numbers are short (less than ten digits), because otherwise I’d have lacquer and/or ink all over the side of my hand. It was challenging, I’ll give them that.

So, why were we writing on all these objects? Because, the way all library books have call numbers (even fiction, although fiction “call numbers” aren’t actually numbers), all objects in a museum have accession numbers. Actually, library books have accession numbers, too, but we won’t get into that (sorry, you can take the girl out of the library, but you can’t take the library out of the girl). An accession number is how you connect an item’s documentation to the item itself. In other words, it’s how you hang onto the important details. And details, as we all know, are very important [g] .

As are the details in a floor plan when you’re designing an exhibit. Which is why I spent about an hour yesterday afternoon measuring a real, physical room (the auditorium at our local senior center) for the hypothetical exhibit which will become the final project for my exhibits class.  I know where every light switch, fire extinguisher and electric outlet is in that room. Now I just need to come up with the subject of said exhibit.

Anyone have any ideas?