Mini Museum #1, A Short Trip to the Other Side of the World, Production Begins, Curse of Mummy Wrap, The Mystery of Gratitude
It's been awhile since the last update. Thank you for your patience! I have been very busy working on the production run!
At this time, we are still on schedule. I am also pleased to report that all acrylic mini museums have been assembled and we have started the final polishing.
This is a long update and there are a few surprises -- like pictures of me without a beard! I won't address all of the questions in this update, but please know that details are coming.
Mini Museum #1
Let me begin by sharing a wonderful picture:
Yes, this is the actual mini museum #1.
Each and every acrylic mini museum receives a label like this one. The numbers note the position in the batch. Small, Medium, and Large mini museums all have different batch sizes, but since we built the Large mini museums first, this really is the #1 of #1's.
After the label is affixed, a special glue is applied to all of the specimen locations. The glue is applied with a brush and roughly conforms to the size and shape of each specimen. Below I am applying the glue:
Note: When the second layer of acrylic is applied, the "frosted" surface will become clear. The outside will also be buffed.
After the glue is applied, one begins the process of carefully placing each and every specimen.
Once the specimens are placed, additional adjustments are made to ensure that each and every specimen is in the best possible position before the glue cures.
So this is how one builds a single mini museum. But how does one build many?
I'll come back to that in a moment, but first I need to take a little trip...
A Short Trip to the Other Side of the World
As I mentioned in update #17, I made the decision to work with a partner I have used in the past to help with the production run. After meeting in their Virginia office, which happens to be right around the corner from my house, we decided the best location for this work would be in Dongguan, China. So, not long after I sent update #19, I packed all of the specimens and left for China.
It sounds so simple, doesn't it? Just pack up and go! But really, one does not simply send delicate and rare specimens through the post.
Packing for the trip involved the complete rebuilding of stock carry-on luggage. I spent several days building out the cases, and the placement of each specimen was carefully recorded and labeled. Below is a picture of one case fully loaded. Each container is customized to fit the need of the specimens within.
We weren't entirely certain what would happen when we showed up at the airport with some of the rarest bits of the universe and human history, but aside from some raised eyebrows in the security area it was really straightforward. Just a few long flights, and we were in Hong Kong ready to cross into China.
After nearly a month in China, I have many pictures and stories. I will share those at a later date, but I want to say that it has been an incredibly enriching experience. Even if it is wet at times!
Production facilities in China are often quite small, sometimes just 1000 square feet or even smaller. More often than not they are highly specialized operations. Many are family owned.
Over the last few weeks, I've spent each day on the production line working hand in hand with the team. Here I am placing the tricky Apollo 11 specimen:
Not only am I placing specimens, but I am adjusting the positions on each and every mini museum that is produced.
In the picture above, I am working on a set of Large mini museums. In the picture below, I am adjusting a run of Medium mini museums.
This phase of the project has been immensely satisfying in a way that one can only describe as peaceful. I am so grateful to all of you and to everyone who has worked to make this possible.
Curse of Mummy Wrap
With the initial assembly complete, I'd like to take a moment share details about one of the most difficult specimens I had to prepare... Ancient Egyptian Mummy Wrap.
Mummy wrap is embedded with a substance called bitumen. You will be able to read about bitumen in the companion guide, but it is basically a tar-like substance. After thousands of years, it becomes hard, making extraction of the linen very difficult. Then, once one has the linen, it is unbelievably fragile. Even a slight shift in the air can tear it apart.
Below is a macro image of the linen. This gorgeous bit of weave held together for about 30 seconds before it fell apart:
Though I have to say it is quite moving to watch the fibers sort of dissolve into dust, it is also absolutely terrifying. However, after some experimentation, I devised a method of preparation that took advantage of the bitumen present in the wrap and resulted in one of the most beautiful specimens I've produced.
To begin, after separating large pieces of linen, they were soaked in laboratory grade acetone:
This process is repeated several times, resulting in the pieces you see below:
The process was very time intensive, taking several days from beginning to end. Thankfully, the weather was great because most of the work had to happen outside.
After soaking and drying, the linen fragments are not nearly as fragile, but they can still fall apart. So, I applied resin to each piece with a small brush. Below is a picture of a large piece of linen after several coats of resin.
Once cured, the linen is ready to cut. The image below shows specimens prepped for transport.
The Mystery of Gratitude
If you looked closely at the production pictures, you may have noticed the Mystery Specimen has morphed into "Gratitude". You may also have noticed that Dracula Soil has changed shape. I am saving the answer to these mysteries for another update - along with my beard - but I am going to reveal one mystery now... the identity of the friends who are taking all these crazy pictures of me!
When I look back over the past year, I am amazed at the the number of friends who helped make the mini museum project possible. You know helpers Andrea and Stephanie (for whose kind care I am incredibly grateful), but there are many others.
We will have a team photo soon, but I want to single out two tireless supporters: Willie Vadnais and Jamie Grove. Quite frankly, without their love, encouragement, and hard work, I'm not sure there is a mini museum project at all.
The picture above was taken outside Dulles Airport (from the left: Willie, Jamie, and some guy who looks like me). China lay ahead along with the next phase of the project. I think we look pretty happy, though I have to say we were all dead tired.
These two men have provided immeasurable support both professional and personal. They have been partners in every sense of the word. They are also among my dearest friends. Thank you both so very, very much.
Oh, before I go...
There will be no science update this time around. As you can see, all of my efforts have been focused on producing the very best mini museums for all of you. Speaking of which, I'd like to share one last picture:
The image above is an early, end-to-end test prior to the start of production. I wanted you all to see just how clear and beautiful the final product will be. I am so happy with the result. We are one step closer!
Ok, now it's back to work!