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Behind the Scenes in Conservation: A Look at the Nancy Rexroth Collection

by Adam Ranz, pre-program conservation intern


Nancy Rexroth , archives , archival storage , Cassette tape storage

Over the past few months, I have had the opportunity to go through the entirety of the Nancy Rexroth Collection which has arrived here at the Museum. The collection includes both Rexroth’s photographs and archival materials that document her career. Although some pieces are still being added, I was able to compile an overall assessment of the conservation needs and best-case housing for the collection as a whole. The sheer scope of the collection meant that even a general assessment took many weeks to compile. With such a wide array of objects this collection will serve as a spectacular resource for the museum, scholars, and visitors alike.

One interesting area of the collection was a set of 15 audio cassettes recorded by the artist. These tapes offer a unique view into Rexroth’s process and give context to both her IOWA work and beyond. Magnetic cassette tapes, being a fairly unusual medium from my own experience in paper conservation, required some research into best practices for storage and archiving. Magnetic tapes should be stored resting on their edges in a cool dark place. Digitization and transcription are also key to maintaining the longevity of the tapes’ contents for future generations.

Digital files themselves have a complicated relationship with time, as certain file types can degrade or become obsolete; through my research I gathered that .wav files are likely to be the most archival of the audio formats, but with digital storage the future is never certain. This solidifies the importance of hard copies and proper care of the original to maintain the longevity of Rexroth’s words.