At the end of this chapter you should:
be aware of how vulnerable objects are when they are being handled; and
have an appreciation of the need for careful handling.
Objects are most vulnerable to damage when they are being moved—even over short distances.
Although it seems unlikely that damage could occur when an object is being moved only a short distance, there are many examples of it happening. Try carrying a single sheet of paper from one room to another. If you hold it by one corner, it can very easily crease while you are walking. This irreversible damage may be acceptable on a sheet of blank paper, but would be disastrous on a valuable print or watercolour. Think about what can happen if someone rushes out of a door right into your path while you are carrying a glass bowl.
- Accidents do occur so it is important to:
- handle objects with care;
- provide adequate support to objects;
- plan your movements;
- ensure there is a space to place the items when you arrive.
- ensure the route is clear; andPlanning and care minimises risk and reduces the chance of accidents happening. This section summarises the do’s and don’ts of handling for a range of objects.
General rules for handling objects
Objects are most likely to be damaged when they are being handled or moved—no matter what the distance.
Never rush when handling objects—even when you’re under pressure or working to a deadline. Accidents are more likely to happen when you’re hurrying.
use both hands when carrying an object, so that you can properly support it; and
make sure you have enough people to lift your object safely. If you don’t have enough people, get help or wait until help is available.
- try to carry too many things at a time. You won’t be able to support each object properly and you might drop things and hurt yourself;
- try to save time by overloading trolleys or by stacking things on top of each other once you have moved them; or
- speed with trolleys, trucks and boxes. Always avoid abrupt stops and jerks.
Be organised and plan ahead
Eliminate unnecessary movement of objects. Be organised and know where you’re going to put each object before you pick it up. Reducing the number of movements reduces the risk of damage.
Plan coordinated action in advance. Make sure you have enough people to lift your object safely. When more than one person is needed, for example, when moving a large piece of machinery, appoint someone to coordinate the activity.
Make sure you have the equipment you need to do the job properly.
Plan your route and think ahead when you are moving an object. If you do this you are less likely to have accidents or encounter obstructions.
If you are moving items on a trolley, plan your route to avoid uneven floor surfaces. In this way you can avoid shock and vibration damaging the object.
Provide support and protection to your objects
Examine the object you’re going to handle or move, and note its weakness or any damage; then ensure that you support it so that handling and movement don’t make the object weaker.
Never put both light-weight and heavy objects in the same carrying-box or container. The heavy object could fall over and severely damage the lighter ones.
Always use separation battens, foam padding or some kind of cushioning material between pieces when you have more than one object in a single box. All padding must be resilient and capable of absorbing and dissipating shock.
When you have finished the move, never discard any packing material until it has been thoroughly searched. It would be awful to throw away a small item or part of an item which was caught up in the packing.
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Note any damage that occurs during the move
Remember, no matter how small a broken or rough edge is, it may be sharp enough to damage an item nearby.
All accidents should be recorded. When reporting a damage, describe it briefly, noting the nature, location and severity of the damage and record the date of your report. A sample report form follows.
Remember that fine arts insurance policies do not cover loss or damage caused by unskilled handling. Don’t ask volunteers to handle valuable objects without first giving them some instructions. They need to read this information, and be helped and supervised.
You can’t replace a unique object, even if your insurance claim is successful.
Handling art on paper and documents
Handle paper as little as possible because it is highly susceptible to physical damage such as creasing and tearing. When you have to handle paper, make sure your hands are clean. Wearing gloves provides added protection. Cotton gloves are often recommended, but they are not always appropriate because they can make it much harder to pick up individual sheets of paper. Clean, close-fitting, surgical gloves are a good alternative to cotton gloves.
Use commonsense when handling fragile paper. Remember that old paper can be very brittle, and all paper is vulnerable to damage. So it is important to provide proper support.
If you have to pick up paper to examine it closely, it is better to place it on a rigid support, like a piece of cardboard, and lift the board. Holding it in your hand increases the risk of damage.
If you must carry paper over any distance, it should be carried horizontally on a rigid support, and with a covering material to stop the paper being picked up by the breeze. Sandwiching paper between two pieces of acid-free board will protect it well.
Even if your documents or works of art are mounted already, don’t tuck them under your arm to carry them. They should be supported as described above.
Placing them in folders, Mylar pockets, Copysafe sleeves or polyethylene bags provides extra protection—with the exception of pastels and chalks, (see below).
Remember, the safest way to carry prints, drawings, watercolours and documents over long distances is in specially designed portfolios or Solander boxes.
If you’re handling more than one paper item, separate each one with a sheet of tissue paper or good-quality paper—preferably acid-free.
If chalks, pastels, watercolours or pencil are abraded or smudged, the damage is permanent. Never allow rough paper or board to come into contact with these media. Do not place plastics such as Mylar, polyethylene or Perspex near chalks or pastels as the static attracts the loosely bound pigment. Don’t allow anything to rub them. It is best not to stack these types of works.
Never allow newsprint, wrapping paper or any printed matter to come into contact with prints, drawings, watercolours or documents. The inks may off-set onto your valued object.
Remember that mounts on works are visible when the works are on display, so take steps to avoid soiling the mounts. Direct handling of mounts can lead to soiling, so it is advisable to wear clean, cotton gloves when handling mounted works.
Don’t mend paper using self-adhesive ‘sticky’ tapes of any kind. These tapes go through a number of stages when they deteriorate:
- firstly, the adhesive becomes very sticky and will be easily absorbed into the paper; and
- in the next stage, the adhesive changes chemically and begins to yellow and eventually turns a dark orange. At this stage the adhesive is almost totally insoluble and, therefore, the stains cannot be removed.
Never use rubber cement or wood glue with works on paper. These adhesives can discolour badly as they age.
Large works which require two people to carry them should be placed between two pieces of mount board. The route to be followed should be cleared of obstacles; and if there are doors that need to be opened, make sure there is a third person available to open them.
Don’t use ink or markers near works on paper and documents—use pencil only.
Paper clips, even plastic ones, can damage fragile paper. Avoid them.
Rolled plans and works on paper should not be secured with rubber bands, because these will perish over time. Use cotton tape.
If you are rolling large paper items, roll them onto a tube to support them—rather than placing them inside the tube—this way you avoid damage by creasing.
For more information
When removing a book from the shelf don’t pull it by the top of the spine, because you can cause a great deal of damage this way. Pulling a book from a shelf by the top of the spine will eventually break the spine at the joint. This can lead to the joint splitting along the full length of the spine.
The correct way to take a book from a shelf is to push the books on either side of it further into the shelf and hold the book firmly with your hand around the spine and your fingers on one cover and your thumb on the other.
For this reason, it is wise to leave some space between your books and the back of the shelf when you first set them up on a shelf.
When you have to handle books, make sure your hands are clean, otherwise you can leave dirty marks on the bindings and the pages. You can wear gloves for added protection—cotton gloves are often recommended, but they are not always appropriate because they can make it much harder to turn the pages. Close-fitting surgical gloves are a good alternative to cotton gloves. But cotton gloves should be worn when handling books with gold leaf decorations on the covers or on the foredge of the textblock.
Books should be opened gently: the spine and the sewing can be broken if the book is forced open. If you’re using a book which cannot open flat, give it some support so that you don’t strain its structure.
When opening new or newly bound books, don’t open them from the centre. Start from the front and then the back, and open them gradually, section by section, until you reach the middle. This gradually eases them open and flexes the new structure gently. Opening them at the middle and forcing them to open flat can break the structure.
It is always best to turn pages slowly and with care. It is very easy to tear the paper if you are flicking through the pages quickly.
Don’t lick your fingers to turn the pages: the moisture can set dirt into the paper. You can also transfer dirt and germs from the paper to your mouth. If the book has been fumigated against insects or mould, you may be putting yourself at risk.
If you are carrying valuable books, put them in a sturdy box. Don’t try to carry lots of books at once. You could hurt yourself, and if you drop the books you will damage them.
The covers of books can be severely disfigured by abrasion and scratching. This is especially noticeable with very smooth, calf-leather bindings. Don’t stack valuable or delicate books, or carry them in such a way that they will rub against each other.
If books do get damaged, be aware that some repairs can cause further damage. For this reason it is recommended that you do not use sticky tapes of any kind.
These tapes go through a number of stages when they deteriorate. Firstly, the adhesive becomes very sticky and will be easily absorbed into paper, bookcloths and leather. In the next stage, the adhesive changes chemically and begins to yellow and eventually turns a dark orange. At this stage, the adhesive is almost totally insoluble and, therefore, the stains cannot be removed. Once the adhesive become insoluble, the tape usually falls away: so the repair has failed and you still have the damage. In addition to the original damage, the paper is now badly stained as well.
Paper clips, even plastic ones, can damage and distort paper. They should not be used for attaching labels or marking your place. Metal paper clips rust over time and stain paper.
For more information
Because photographs are highly susceptible to physical damage from improper and frequent handling they should be handled as little as possible.
When you must handle them, make sure your hands are clean. You can wear gloves for added protection—cotton gloves are often recommended, but they are not always appropriate because they can make it much harder to pick up individual photographs. Clean, close-fitting surgical gloves are a good alternative to cotton gloves.
Old photographs can be very brittle, particularly if they already have tears and creases. So it is important to support them properly when you handle them. New photographs also need support, so that they are not damaged.
If you must pick up a photograph to examine it closely, it is better to place it on a rigid support, like a piece of cardboard, and lift the board. Holding it in your hand may cause it to curl and increases the risk of damage.
If photographs are carried over any distance, carry them horizontally and supported on a rigid support, like a piece of cardboard. Place a board over the top of the photograph to prevent it being picked up by the breeze.
Even if photographs are mounted on cardboard already, don’t tuck them under your arm to carry them. They should be supported as described above. Many old photographs were mounted on board which becomes very brittle over time. If these boards break, the photographs attached will break as well. Placing them in folders, Mylar pockets, Copysafe sleeves or polyethylene bags provides extra protection.
Photographic emulsions are easily scratched
and need to be protected when you are handling more than one photograph at a time. You can protect them by separating them or interleaving them—ideally with archival materials such as photographic storage paper, Mylar or acid-free glassine. For short-term interleaving, silicon release paper or other papers with a very smooth surface can be used.
Papers which are very opaque, white and with a very smooth almost shiny surface are not suitable for interleaving. These papers are called ‘coated papers’ and have a finely ground mineral coating. When they are wet they become very sticky.
Photographs which are used frequently should be photographically copied. The copy prints can be used as the working records, instead of the originals.
Paper clips, even plastic ones, damage and distort photographs. They should not be used for attaching labels, even temporary ones, to photographs. If you need to place a temporary label with a photograph, write it in pencil on a piece of paper large enough to fold around the whole photograph.
Don’t mend photographs using self-adhesive sticky tapes of any kind. These tapes go through a number of stages when they deteriorate.
Firstly, the adhesive becomes very sticky and will be absorbed easily into paper and emulsions.
In the next stage, the adhesive changes chemically, and begins to yellow and eventually turns a dark orange. At this stage the adhesive is almost totally insoluble and the stains cannot be removed.
If you have a damaged photograph, place it in a protective sleeve or wrapper to prevent further damage until you can get advice from a conservator.
For more information
Handling stretched paintings and framed works
To properly support and protect your paintings, it is better to never carry more than one painting at a time.
Before moving any painting, make sure that there is no flaking paint and that the work is secure in its frame. If there is flaking paint on the painting, leave it face-up while making sure that there are no loose pieces on the frame, and consult a conservator.
If you have to move it yourself, carry it flat and face-up, so that you don’t lose any paint while you are moving. Don’t touch the canvas or the paint surface directly.
If your canvas painting does not have a backboard, check that the stretcher wedges are secured: they can do a lot of damage if they fall between the canvas and the stretcher.
It is advisable to wear white, cotton gloves while handling paintings and frames, particularly when handling gilded frames. Perspiration and skin oils can leave permanent marks on gilt surfaces.
Always hold paintings at points where the frame is strong. Ornate frames are especially vulnerable to damage. Never grip them by any of the ornate areas of the frame, because they may not be very strong and could break.
Never carry a painting by the top of its frame or stretcher—carry it with one hand underneath and one hand at the side, or if small, one hand on each side.
If the work is unframed, it is better to move it using handling straps or a travelling frame. Both of these allow you to carry paintings without touching the paint surface. If neither of these are available, then carry unframed, stretched paintings on the outer edges without touching either the front or back of the canvas. Never allow fingers to touch the paint surface.
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Don’t put your fingers around the stretcher bars, or between the stretcher and the canvas because you could cause the paint to crack and flake in that area.
Remember to carry wrapped paintings with extra care, because you cannot see what you are touching.
Before putting a painting down on the floor, ensure that there are padded, wooden blocks or foam blocks in place. These blocks provide a softer surface than the floor, and keep paintings off the ground.
When you put the painting down, don’t set it down on one corner—always set it down along one complete edge.
A large painting must be moved by two people, regardless of the weight involved. Never attempt to move a large painting alone.
If you are moving paintings on a trolley, it is wise to have two people to accompany the loaded trolley. With two people, one can hold the paintings in place, while the other can open doors. Accidents are more likely if one person tries to do everything.
Trolleys should be padded to prevent damage to frames.
If any damage does occur during the move, carefully collect and save any pieces, no matter how small— even tiny paint flakes—and document the damage.
Glazed artworks should be carried with care. Acrylic glazing such as Perspex is easily scratched, and glass can break if dropped or knocked.
If you are transporting paintings which are glazed with glass, tape the glass with masking tape. This will hold the pieces of glass together if it breaks, reducing the risk of damage to the work.
Make sure that you put tape on the glass only. If it gets onto the frame it can damage paint or finishes when it is removed.
For small frames, one strip of tape vertically in the centre of the glass, one horizontal strip and one strip on each diagonal will be sufficient. Larger frames will need more.
If you fold the tape back on itself at one end of each strip, it will be easier to remove. Remove the tape as soon as possible after the move. Pull the tape off at a very low angle and pull gently.
There is no need to tape Perspex or Plexiglas, and the tape can be difficult to remove—so don’t tape these glazing materials.
Handling unstretched paintings
Unstretched paintings can be difficult to handle. If they are allowed to flop or move too much, the paint can begin to come away from the surface of the canvas. It is very important that unstretched paintings are well supported.
If the paintings are small enough to be moved flat, put a rigid support under them so that they can be handled easily without flopping and distorting. A sheet of Foam-Cor or a strong mount board would be suitable.
Larger unstretched paintings may need to be rolled to be carried.
The roller should be as large in diameter as possible, preferably at least 200mm. The larger the painting, the larger the diameter of the roller should be.
Rollers can be specially made of light-weight materials, such as:
Ribloc—ask the manufacturer to make the roller with the ribs on the inside, if possible;
PVC pipe, a 300mm diameter pipe is a good size for most works.
Rollers should be covered with a layer of padding, either polyethylene foam, such as Plastazote, or Dacron wadding covered with clean, white, cotton fabric, to compensate for any irregularities in the painting’s thickness.
It is very important that paintings are rolled the right way, painted-side out, and that they are properly interleaved and the roller properly padded. If the paint layer is on the inside when the painting is rolled, the paint will become compressed and will develop creases that will remain in the painting after it has been unrolled.
It is best to roll the painting with an interleaving layer of Tyvek to prevent any transfer of pigment. The Tyvek should be larger in length and width than the painting.
When rolled, the painting should be tied firmly, but not tightly, with cotton tape in several places along the roll.
If more than one painting is to be rolled on a roller, the paintings should be laid out flat and interleaved with Protecta Foam, as for flat storage. Once this is done, the paintings should be rolled onto the roller all at the same time. Remember, all the paintings should be painted-side out.
For more information
Handling electronic media
Audio-recordings, video-recordings, floppy disks and CD-ROMs need to be handled carefully to avoid physical damage and contamination.
Even when your hands appear clean, traces of sweat and oil are present. If these are deposited on a recording they can attract dust or promote mould growth. To keep electronic media in the best working condition, it is recommended that you:
- handle magnetic and digital media carefully, avoiding skin-contact with magnetic or optical surfaces. Handle only the cassette
of audio and video recordings, and only the edges of floppy disks and CD-ROMs;
- prohibit eating, drinking and smoking in all areas where magnetic and/or digital media are used or stored;
- carry reel-to-reel tapes by the hub or centre;
- don’t carry your video camera or video tapes in a bag with liquids or food that could damage the video materials;
- secure digital media in storage boxes so that they cannot flex; and
- put digital media away as soon as it has been used.
If the materials are being used outside the museum, gallery or library, give users the above instructions.
For more information
The most important rule for handling textiles is: do not handle textiles unless you must. Always keep handling to a minimum.
Whenever possible wear clean, cotton gloves when handling textiles. Sometimes this is not practical, so make sure your hands are clean. Always wash them before handling a textile. This will prevent the transfer of body-oil and dirt to the textiles.
Keeping your hands clean is particularly important with textiles incorporating metal thread, because the metal will tarnish in reaction to acids from the skin.
It is important to remove jewellery such as rings, bracelets and necklaces when handling textiles. They might catch on the textiles and pull threads or tear the textiles.
When you do handle textiles, they should always be properly supported. Textiles that appear strong may, in fact, have areas of weakness which are not immediately visible. As a rule, all historic textiles should be regarded as fragile.
When handling flat textiles:
never pick them up by one corner. Always support the weight of the textile evenly;
small textiles should be carried either on a tray, in a box or on a board;
larger textiles should be rolled, and carried on the roller. Hold onto the part of the roller extending beyond the textile; and
never try to move a textile by yourself, if the size and weight of the textile indicate that you need two people. Carrying large textiles incorrectly can damage them, and the person carrying them could be injured.
When handling costumes, remember:
costumes should never be picked up by the shoulders;
always slide your arms under the costume and then lift;
ideally costumes should be moved in boxes or on a board; and
don’t carry items on a hanger without using your arms for additional support.
When handling accessories:
generally accessories should be transported on boards or in boxes. However, there are exceptions to this rule. Use your commonsense to decide the most appropriate way to handle them; and remember, accessories should always be evenly supported. For example, don’t pick up a bag by its handle: use two hands to support it.
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Handling ethnographic or composite objects
Handle ethnographic material as little as possible.
If the object is made up of different materials, examine it carefully to find the strongest, most stable part, so that you can handle it there.
Do NOT wear cotton gloves for objects with flaking or powdery pigment surfaces, for example, Aboriginal bark paintings. The cotton gloves can pick up the pigment. If you must touch pigmented areas, wear disposable surgical gloves.
Remember that feathers are fragile and, if possible, should not be handled. If you must pick up single feathers, handle them at the rachis, that is, the vein portion.
For more information
For more information on caring for ethnographic materials, please see the chapter on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Cultural Material in Cultural Material.
Handling metal objects
The most important point to remember when you are handling metal items—from silverware to iron tools—is to wear clean, cotton gloves.
This is essential, because perspiration from hands contains chlorides and other salts which corrode metal objects.
Always weigh a metal object before trying to lift it. You may need two people or the use of a trolley for the move. It is better to find this out before you lift the object. Problems arise when you lift an object that is too heavy or too awkward to carry.
Never lift or carry objects by the handles, rims or any projecting part. Often handles and rims are damaged and can be weak or partially detached. Although handles may have been originally designed for carrying, no museum object should be carried by its handles.
Be careful of sharp corners and edges—they could damage other objects or hurt you.
Secure and support any moving parts on an object before you attempt to move it. This way, you minimise the risk of damage to the object and to other objects; and reduce the risk of injuring yourself.
For more information
Handling outdoor sculpture and machinery
Always devise an action plan before moving large outdoor objects; the plan should outline the steps of the move, the equipment needed and the number of people required.
When planning a move, it is important to consider the size, weight and shape of the object, and to make sure that the object can be moved without damage and without injury to people.
If it is a valuable or significant object, you may need to get advice from a conservator on how best to move the item. This is particularly important with items of sculpture that may have parts which cannot bear the weight of the whole.
Check the load-bearing capacities of all the equipment to be used, and the floor loadings if relevant, and make sure equipment is in good working order.
Carefully examine each piece of furniture before moving it. The feet and bases of cabinets, legs of tables, and legs and arms of chairs generally cannot withstand strain.
Only move one piece of furniture at a time, otherwise you put yourself and the item at risk. Never slide furniture along the floor—all furniture must be carried.
Never lift a piece of furniture by any projecting part. The decorative parts of furniture were not intended to bear the entire weight of the whole piece.
Never lift a chair by the arms or the back. Chairs should always be lifted by the seat rails.
Don’t lift a table by its top. Tables should be lifted by their legs if at all possible: this supports the top from below and avoids straining the joints.
Never turn a piece of furniture with its top side down, because only the legs or base were designed to carry its weight.
Tie unlocked drawers and doors in place with cotton tape, so they cannot open during the move. Don’t use ropes as they can scratch the furniture.
Don’t touch the upholstered parts of the furniture because the acids and sweat on your hands may stain and degrade fragile or aged fabrics and leathers. Wear gloves if you must handle upholstery.
Always cover upholstered areas with clean cloth, Tyvek, tissue or polyethylene sheet before moving or storing.
Don’t wrap lacquered furniture with plastic. Moisture can build up underneath plastic and this can cause the lacquer to develop white blanching. Tyvek can be used because it breathes.
Remove marble tops and protective glass from tables and cabinets before moving them. These are usually not fixed securely, and can fall off during the move. Move them separately because they are heavy and need support.
Don’t expose furniture to draughts and direct sunlight—even for short periods of time.
Remember to be especially careful of decorative and ornamental areas when handling and padding them. These areas are particularly susceptible to damage from applied pressure or impact.
Before moving a piece of furniture, take off any turned finials or other removable parts. Turned finials are usually fitted loose, and will fall off easily. If they fall, they could be damaged or could damage another part of the object.
Two people should always accompany furniture loaded on a trolley. One person can steady the items, while the other can open doors and press elevator buttons. If you try to do everything by yourself you might have problems.
Handling ceramics, glass and enamelware
Never lift or carry fragile glass, ceramic or other objects by the handles, rims or any projecting part.
Although handles were designed originally for carrying, they have often been repaired or restored, so no museum object should be carried by its handles.
Wear gloves if you’re handling objects with glazed, polished or highly finished surfaces. Cotton gloves are often recommended, but they are not always appropriate because they can make it harder to hold onto slippery glass surfaces. Clean, close-fitting surgical gloves are a good alternative to cotton gloves.
Carry small objects with two hands. One hand should support the bottom of the object, and the other hand should be placed at the side or the top to steady the object. Never carry more than one object at a time.
Always move light, fragile objects in a carrying box. Plastic cube crates are ideal for this. Separate each piece within the box with a safe packing material. This prevents abrasions, chipping and breakage.
Never allow a piece to project beyond the edges of a carrying-box, trolley or storage area.
There can be hazards involved with handling objects. Some natural history and mineral specimens can be toxic. You must be very careful when handling mouldy items also. Please see the Health and Safety chapter in Managing People for information on avoiding injury when you are lifting objects.
For more information
For more information on references about handling cultural material, please see the chapter on Transportation.
If you have questions about handling objects, contact a conservator. They can offer advice and practical solutions.
When handling objects, you should:
a) give them adequate support;
b) protect them against the oils, acids and salts in your skin;
c) think about what you are doing and plan ahead;
d) use commonsense and take steps to reduce the risks of accidents;
e) all of the above.
Which of the following statements are true?
a) Accidents are more likely to happen when you are hurrying.
b) You should keep one hand free when carrying objects, so that you can open doors.
c) Placing your fingers between the stretcher and the canvas cannot damage the painting.
d) A large painting should be moved by at least two people.
a) is vulnerable to damage and so it needs to be supported when it is being carried;
b) is best carried by one corner and allowed to move with the breeze;
c) is best repaired with sticky tape;
d) can be handled in Mylar or Copysafe sleeves for added protection.
Which of the following statements are false?
a) The covers of books can be damaged by abrasion and scratching.
b) It is always best to turn pages slowly and with care.
c) Books should be opened gently.
d) Sticky tape should not be used to repair books.
e) None of the above.
Cotton gloves can be worn when:
a) handling photographs, as they protect the photographs from the dirt, oils and acids which are on your hands
b) handling textiles, particularly those with metals threads;
c) handling metals objects because they are particularly susceptible to corrosion caused by chlorides—chlorides can be transferred from our skin to the metal surface;
d) handling flaking and powdery pigment surfaces on ethnographic material.
Answers to self-evaluation quiz
Answer: a) and d). b) and c) are false. You cannot safely and properly support an object with only one hand. If you place your fingers between the stretchers and the canvas you could crack the paint.
Answer: a) and d).
Answer: a), b) and c). Cotton gloves should not be worn when handling flaking and powdery pigment surfaces on ethnographic material.