Historic items restored after People’s Center fire
PABLO — The Three Chiefs Culture Center, formerly the People’s Center, welcomed back numerous historic pieces that were restored after being damaged in a fire at the museum in September, 2020.
Covered by soot and ash, several of the items were 19th century tribal artifacts and needed careful, proper care.
“Every piece is different,” explained conservator Nancy Fonicello of Ancient Artways Conservation. “Some pieces could take two hours or 40, it really depends.”
With a background in chemistry, Fonicello does conservation work worldwide with a specialization in Native American pieces. The importance of conservation, she explained, is to maintain the original artist’s intention, restoring only what is there without replacing anything. She explained it could be quite challenging at times, citing the example that one piece in the collection had had soot inside of its beads, and the removal of any component is an absolute last resort in conservation.
Additionally, several of the pieces were made up of different materials that each required specific care without overlap. The solvent used to clean one portion had to be carefully selected to avoid negatively impacting another. For example, caution in cleaning beads was needed in order to avoid accidental bleeding of fabric or erosion of paint in a different part of a garment.
Some of the items worn by Chief Charlo himself were included in the conservation work: a beaded vest and two cuffs, one of which was nearly unrecognizable when coated in soot, were restored to their original vibrant blue. The items had been submitted separately, but as Torosian spent hours cleaning the items, she began to notice distinct similarities that told her they were created by the same artist. A trip to the archives proved her theory, as a photo of Charlo wearing all three pieces was unearthed.
The Three Chiefs staff said Fonicello and her team worked diligently to restore the pieces to their original condition and achieved impressive results. Each item displayed had a photo of its damaged condition exhibited by its side so visitors can compare the damage to the carefully cleaned result. Fonicello extended credit to the staff of the Three Chiefs center as well, as they were ready and willing to learn several techniques to help with the conservation effort themselves.
Program Director Marie Torosian expressed her sincere thanks to Fonicello for leading the conservation effort for their center. “It’s an emotional thing,” Torosian said to a room full of community members who came to show their support. “I know her heart is in each one of these pieces as she’s cared for them… I can’t be more thankful to her.”