Cabots Museum – Preserving the Past or Not

Saving Cabots Museum

DESERT HOT SPRINGS, CA From high in their Ivory Tower they issued the decree: Send us the experts to tell us what we have and how we can protect it. Cabots Museum was in need of an inventory and advice on how to protect their priceless artifacts.

And so a group of esteemed and knowledgeable experts answered the call.  And they viewed. And they took notes.  And they huddled to discuss their observations.

Finally, the Balboa Art Conservation Center in San Diego produced a comprehensive report on the work they did 623 days ago. March 16-17, 2010 to be exact.

Among other things, the report pointed out that the recently installed $100,000 landscaping and irrigation system was severely damaging the pueblo.  Water needed to nourish the non-native plants was washing away the adobe walls and foundations.  The solution was simply to move the plants to another location and not use, or remove, the pricey irrigation system.

Cabot’s Museum has suffered from years of neglect and the report strongly suggested action.

Betsy Court, Chief Conservator of Paintings, and Lauren Cox, a Mellon Fellow, both from the Balboa Art Conservation Center, noted “that a written Maintenance Schedule and Housekeeping Plan be developed” to prevent dust from further damaging paintings and textiles.  “There is not a regular budget for housekeeping or building maintenance, but funds should be regularly allocated,” further stated Court and Cox.

Their highly-detailed, 47-page report recommends changes in minute detail for Cabots Museum.

“Initiating an environmental monitoring program is strongly recommended” because they found evidence that changes in temperature and humidity were also taking their toll upon the displays.  City leaders we urged to initiate these and other measures to protect the valuable artifacts.

In the beginning, simple air conditioning, fans and dehumidifiers would have been adequate and achieved at a minimal expense to provide a quick fix, with more sophisticated equipment employed later for a more permanent solution.  To start with, the report recommended spending $500 on a basic piece of equipment for environmental monitoring.

The report also suggested that windows be covered rather inexpensively to reduce the need to vacuum and dust.  A large HEPA vacuum, already in place, could be still used, but it was “…recommended that a smaller HEPA vacuum be purchased for cleaning the exhibit areas.”

Lighting was identified to be a major problem. It was found that lights were “accidentally left on occasionally,” and thus posed a fire hazard. It was noted that simple motion detectors would solve the problem.

Lighting used to illuminate charcoal sketches was “more than 1,000 times the recommended 5-foot candles of light for works of art on paper.”

UV light needed to be filtered out using simple plastic UV screens over windows.  Very light-sensitive artifacts like Cabot’s original daybook was exposed to light levels 20 times higher than is usually recommended, and thus in danger of permanent irreversible damage.

Installing light meters to monitor light levels was suggested so that lighting systems could be adjusted as necessary.  “The Pueblo currently does not have any equipment for measuring visible or UV light, and it is recommended that meters be purchased so lighting conditions can be monitored and adjusted as necessary.”

Lighting is a major problem, but even more disconcerting is the fact that some items in the museum are fakes.  It was noted that some photographs and other paper objects had been replaced with replicas.  The most extraordinary fact revealed in the expert’s report was that less than one percent of the collection had been cataloged.

“The collection of the Pueblo is widely varied. The types of collections listed roughly from the largest to smallest holdings includes ethnographic objects (Native American textiles, headdresses, pottery, moccasins, burial urns, baskets, sculpture, etc.) photographic materials, geological specimens, works of art on paper (by Cabot and others), paintings (by Cabot and others), textiles, furniture, sculpture, taxidermy specimens, musical instruments and artifacts of Cabot and Portia’s daily lives.  It is not possible to give exact numbers as the collection is only partially inventoried…”

This report was discovered November 21, 2011 by DHS Councilman Russell Betts as he was seeking answers to his questions regarding the security and location of this city property. Ancient artifacts and priceless art were discovered in Cabots Museum four years ago.  The City of Desert Hot Springs has repeatedly refused to provide answers to Public Record Act requests from this newspaper seeking public information as to the status and location of these irreplaceable treasures.  As of press time, it is not known of the city has implemented any of the recommended changes.

Councilman Russell Betts, who also requested to be shown the “missing” artifacts, has so far been denied access to view any of the artifacts removed from Cabots Museum.

first published on Cactus Thorns and copyright
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Dean M Gray

Writer, Artist & Publisher at Desert Vortex News
Dean started in the newspaper business at the age of nine earning 90 cents a week walking 3 miles delivering a newspaper door to door. He then began writing his way out of a paper bag and traveling uphill.

For over 40 years Dean has been published in a variety of small newspapers and magazines. As publisher he founded an alternative city weekly newspaper in 2008 and published over 200 uninterrupted issues over 4 years to over 20,000 readers via 800 locations (and online) before selling the business. Now online with over 3 million readers worldwide.

Dean is a Master Carpenter and the author of the biography of Hilda M Gray, desert homesteader. He served as Planning Commissioner for the city of Desert Hot Springs from January 2014 to January 2015 when he resigned.

Dean M Gray is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors and lives in Palm Desert, California.

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