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Interview with Harry Adams, OEC Specialist in Artifact and Exhibit Packing

Q: What do you do here at OEC?
A: I make sure that the various parts of exhibits, including artifacts, are packed safely and securely. I design, layout, and build the crates that will be used to pack exhibits for travel.

Q: Have you had a favorite project so far?
A: I once had to figure out how best to pack an 8-10 inch sandpiper. The box I made folded up around the bird like a lily and supported the body from underneath. Then I made a cap that went on top to secure everything.

When I had just started working at OEC, I impressed my supervisor by finding an innovative way to pack a set of powder-filled glass vials that were placed upside-down into a board. George Washington Carver made this display in order to hold some of the compounds he had synthesized. Instead of just cavity packing it (embedding it in foam), I made a box with a double box lid similar to a tackle box or doctor’s satchel. The bottom plate holding the vials sat embedded in foam in the bottom of the box and the two parts of the lid closed around the vials, giving them support.

Q: Your most challenging project?
A: The First Ladies exhibit was challenging because it required packing many different types of artifacts. We built crates with foam-filled drawers in order to handle the variety of objects. The crates were so nice they almost could have been furniture!

Q: What is your favorite part of your job?
A: Besides the variety of projects that I get to work on, I enjoy finding solutions to the challenges of artifact packing. It is always challenging because the objects vary so much, from large to very delicate.

Q: How did you get started in this business?
A: I graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in Philosophy, but I took several courses in woodworking for fun while I was in college and high school. After college, I was apprenticed at a cabinet shop and then I got a job teaching woodworking for a couple of years. When I came to OEC in 1990, I was assigned the specialty of packing where I joined a team with two other packers. Here, I received my initial training. Now, I am the only packer and I do roughly the same amount of work as all three of us did before.

I’ve taken several graduate courses at George Washington University in registrarial work (caring for museums), and several courses given by the Smithsonian in packing and artifact care. I also look at what other packers do to see what works and what doesn’t.

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