Museum cold rooms help preserve history

January 11, 2010 3:14:26 PM PST
Some people have to bundle up to work outside in the cold. But others have to pile on the layers to work indoors.And they're bundling up inside a museum. It's not exactly the kind of place you'd think you'd have to wear special clothes for, but when it comes to some art, cold temperatures are best.

So if you think it's cold outside, head inside the cold room at the Museum of the City of New York.

You need to let one door close before you open the other door, and while you're there, you need to suit up in a down vest.

It's a chilly 50 degrees once you are inside, and it's where the museum stores hundreds of thousands of photographs.

"It's a fantastic collection," curator Thomas Mellins said.

And the best way to preserve those photos is in cooler temperatures and at 50 percent humidity. The facility is the museum's first expansion since being built in 1932.

Photos document city life, from the streets to the views. And before the photos end up in exhibits, like a current one from Look Magazine, they're found there.

Mellins looks at just about everything in the collection when he curates. He often spends hours in an even colder room, where the temperature is just 40 degrees - best for negatives.

Eventually all of the museum's images will be digitized, but the originals will be always be kept in there.

They are moments of New York's history, preserved for all time.

"The preservation of photography is really a commitment museums are making now," Mellins said.

The city's only other cold room for art is at the Museum of Modern Art. The cold rooms are not open to the public, but, of course, the exhibits are.

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