Travels through Conservation: A Very Special Vacuum

By Director of Conservation Lois Olcott Price

Bill Smith vacuums the carpet with care.

Winterthur’s annual closure in January and February ends the bustle of visitors for Yuletide, but brings a different kind of hustle as staff turn to the many projects that require the closure of public spaces. For the Preventive Conservation team it means meticulous floor-to-ceiling cleaning of selected spaces. This year it also included special attention for Winterthur’s historic eastern and western carpets. The historic carpets are protected by runners and guests never walk on them, but, unfortunately, they still collect dust just like every other surface. And the dust can be abrasive and chemically reactive and can attract pests. Because of their age, many carpets are quite fragile with fibers that are brittle and easily abraded–definitely not candidates for vigorous vacuuming.

Vacuuming the billiard table

A visit to the seventh floor revealed the Preventive Conservation team using variable control HEPA vacuums to gently vacuum the carpets with a small hand held tool. The variable control allows just enough suction to remove dirt without damaging the vulnerable fibers. For particularly fragile carpets, they vacuum through a fiberglass mesh that provides additional protection.

Felt holds dust in a manner similar to carpets, so the 18th-century billiard table originally from Wye House, the Lloyd family home in Maryland, got special attention.  

The Billiard Room on the seventh floor. Photo by Lizzie Himmel.

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