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Caring for rescued possessions

During this incredibly trying time many people have lost a lot, if not all, of their treasured possessions. For the items people have managed to rescue which have sustained damage it may be challenging to know what to do.

Unfortunately there isn’t a one size fits all answer to this question and much depends on the individual item and the material it is made from. Many items require specialised consideration and to get advice for individual items there are a number of available resources online – Te Papa has good guidelines at, which also provides links into other institutions such as the National Library. Our Collections team can also been contacted for advice.

There are some basic principles however which may be of some assistance. Firstly you should consider your own health & safety as, sadly, material may be contaminated and we recommend if at all possible wearing gloves and masks when handling salvaged items. Some of the following advice will be implausible for people given the situations they are dealing with and I acknowledge that – however hopefully this will be helpful for some.

A big risk following flooding and dealing with wet items is mould and, if at all possible, items should be kept in well-ventilated areas or in a space with a dehumidifier and a fan running. Water logged items can be more fragile and you need to carefully support each item as you move it.

It is not a good idea to dry items like wood in the sun. Items shouldn’t be stacked on top of each other to dry as they can end up sticking to each other causing more damage – this is particularly important for photographs and paper.

If you have paper or books that have already stuck together it is recommended to freeze them and then seek specialised advice from a conservator. To free items they should be wrapped in tissue to provide a buffer and then carefully sealed in polythene plastic and placed where you think they will avoid freezer burn (please be aware freezing is not suitable for all objects).

We do not have conservators at MTG but you can go to for a list of professional conservators, or reach out to one of the major metropolitan institutions for example Te Papa, National Library, Auckland Museum or Auckland Art Gallery for some advice on finding an appropriate conservator for your needs.

Furniture, carvings and paintings are prone to warping and need to be allowed to dry slowly. Again keep them out of the sun and in a well ventilated area if at all possible. Fans are good for keeping air moving and reducing the risk of mould growth.

Each individual item will be unique and have its own requirements so please be mindful that this is generic advice and may not be right for your specific items.

I realise all of this can be overwhelming on top of everything else that people are dealing with and hope this advice is of some help as you try to rescue your treasures.

Kia kaha Hawke’s Bay.

Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today newspaper 10 March 2023 and written by Laura Vodanovich, Director at MTG Hawke’s Bay.

16 March 2023

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