Mold closes Afro-American museum

Published: Friday, January 06, 2012 @ 9:12 PM
Updated: Friday, January 06, 2012 @ 9:12 PM

WILBERFORCE — The National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center is remaining closed during an important time in its year while a $430,000 clean-up is undertaken to remove mold from the building.

Museum Director Charles Wash said the problem came to his attention this past summer when he noticed a moldy smell around one of the exhibits. Blotchy white mold spores were spreading on a picture frame and other artifacts.

Experts from The Ohio State University determined the problem was serious enough to close the building. The museum closed in August.
The closure means the facility will be shuttered during Martin Luther King Jr. Day this month and Black History Month in February.

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“You’re almost mortified that you have to close to the public,” Wash said. “We view this institution as part of the community and when you have to close it you feel like, in a sense, you’re letting a part of the community down”.

Carolyn Mazloomi, a West Chester-based art historian and curator, has been affiliated with  the museum since 1990. Mazloomi said problems with the building began years ago, with occasional leaks in the roof near the front of the building during rainstorms.

“I could not help but be concerned early on at a workshop. There were buckets in the main hall to catch the water,” Mazloomi said.

Mazloomi said artists and curators need a pristine environment for their works of art.

“Mold is not good for anything. For textiles it is totally deadly. Had I known that it was there, I would not have had my exhibitions at the museum,” Mazloomi said.

Wash, who became the director in November, said high levels of humidity in the museum last year contributed to mold growth.

Most museums monitor humidity daily to preserve artifacts. Wash is unsure how the humidity level was allowed to rise so much.
Ann Hinebaugh, an objects conservator for ICA-Art Conservation in Cleveland, said her organization worked with two other museums across the country that faced the same problem.

The museum, operated by the Ohio Historical Society, opened on the Central State University campus in 1988.

The initial cost of the cleanup will be $431,949. A panel of state lawmakers is set to approve the money for the museum next week.

The museum director said each of the thousands of artifacts must be cleaned by hand and removed to be stored at another location. That includes priceless photographs, furniture, clothing and other items. Later, every wall, ceiling and floor must be cleaned.

The largest item in the museum’s collection, a restored 1957 Chevrolet automobile, was the first item to be cleaned and removed this week.

Leaking windows will be fixed while the heating and air conditioning system is overhauled.

Sen. Chris Widener, R-Springfield, supports funding for the project.

“We are grateful that the director and the board were able to find a way to figure out what the problem is and we think we have a way to fund it so we can get this facility back open,” Widener said.

Hinebaugh’s group has been hired by the state to train workers on how to clean the artifacts.

The staff hopes it can reopen by July or August.