Exhibiting and Preserving Historic Artifacts at TSLAC

TSLAC opened its new exhibit, A Home for Texas History, on February 22, 2022. When cultural institutions display their collections, it’s important to follow exhibition best practices. These guidelines help preserve historic collections by limiting the risks and aging affects inherent to exhibiting artifacts. By following exhibition best practices, TSLAC is able to make collections accessible to the public, while also ensuring that iconic artifacts will still be available, and legible, to future generations.

The “Travis Letter” displayed in low light and its explanatory panel.

Why are the light levels low in the display cases?  Light causes inks and pigments to fade over a relatively short time. It speeds up the aging process of fragile materials such as brittle papers, photographs, and textiles. We keep the lights low in exhibit cases where our most vulnerable materials are displayed. In the current exhibit, this applies most of all to documents written with iron gall ink, the common ink in use during the 19th century.

Why is the exhibition period limited? Exhibition standards limit the number of hours fragile items can be on display during any five-year period. At TSLAC, we track the amount of time that items are exhibited and this information becomes a part of each object’s preservation history. The more fragile documents in A Home for Texas History will be removed from the exhibit cases and replaced with other collection items before the end of the six-month exhibit. Keeping display periods within established guidelines is another way we safeguard treasured historic collections.

What other measures are being taken to preserve the materials during the exhibit? TSLAC staff check the exhibit cases every day to make sure the artifacts remain in good condition. The cases with items that are most prone to fading and aging from light exposure are being draped when the building is closed. This way, we can limit light exposure to only the hours that visitors will be viewing the documents and artifacts.