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100th anniversary of tragedy

Behind the scenes: Museum of Natural Science's Titanic exhibition is laid out with care

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Each item in the exhibition must be carefully placed. Photo by Whitney Radley
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A thin pair of glasses and a leather case. Photo by Whitney Radley
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A vase boasting the White Star Lines logo. Photo by Whitney Radley
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David Galusha, conservator with Premiere Exhibitions, helps set up the traveling exhibit. Photo by Whitney Radley
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The Houston Museum of Natural Science's much-anticipated Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition opens Friday, but an exclusive CultureMap sneak peek of the gallery space earlier this week indicates that there is still quite a bit to be put on display with careful, gloved hands.

David Galusha, conservator with Premier Exhibitions, meticulously placed a pair of dainty eyeglasses and a small leather case on one pedestal, and a faceted glass vase etched with the logo of the White Star Line on another.

"You'll see this White Star Logo on a lot of the artifacts in the exhibit," Galusha said — it's the logo of the Titanic's cruise line.

 "You'll see this White Star Logo on a lot of the artifacts in the exhibit," Galusha said — it's the logo of the Titanic's cruise line.

 Galusha acknowledged that each step along the way in the 300-artifact touring exhibition must be done painstakingly — not to mention the procedure involved with conserving the artifacts in the first place.

The process of conservation (not preservation or restoration, Galusha explained) first involves finding the artifacts among the debris at the site of the Titanic's wreck, where they fell on April 15, 1912. Then, Galusha said, the items are retrieved from the ocean floor two miles below, photographed and cataloged on the surface, then re-submerged in cold ocean water before undergoing the stabilization process.

A large metal wrench in the exhibition has decomposed to look like a piece of driftwood. Textiles that were discovered in a leather trunk, however, look as pristine as if the pants, vest and gloves had lain folded in a dry closet these past 100 years; the leather inhibited the growth of bacteria.

The exhibition space itself is reminiscent of the ocean floor on which the objects were found: A deep sea blue, projections of sunlight on ripples of water cast across the floor, photographs of findings and pedestals topped with artifacts lining the walls.

"You start losing yourself in different galleries," said Galusha.

As for the rumored paranormal activity surrounding the traveling exhibition?

"I've heard of that happening," smiled Galusha, who admitted to getting chill bumps while conserving the personal effects of the victims in the lab.

The exhibition will be open in Houston from Friday through Sept. 3. For details, click here.

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