Conservators at the Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijk Are Donating Their Face Masks and Gloves to Front-Line Medical Workers

Erma Hermens, an art historian at the Rijksmuseum, announced the conservators' initiative on Twitter.

A conservator at work. Photo by Fabian Strauch/picture alliance via Getty Images.
A conservator at work. Photo by Fabian Strauch/picture alliance via Getty Images.

Conservators at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam are rounding up their supplies of face masks and surgical gloves to donate to medical workers in hospitals, who are in urgent need of protective medical gear amid a global shortage.

The Rijksmuseum’s technical art historian, Erma Hermens announced the initiative on Twitter following an internal conversation with the museum’s conservators, and called on others to join the museum’s efforts.

“RT this please!” she wrote in her post, in which she tagged the Stedelijk Museum, the Mauritshuis, and the Van Gogh Museum, as well as the Twitter accounts for museum and conservation trade organizations. “Every little bit helps!”

Both the Stedelijk Museum and the Van Gogh Museum, when reached by Artnet News, confirmed that they will participate. The Mauritshuis says that, while its conservators would like to donate items as well, “unfortunately, we do not have suitable materials in stock to share.”

“I did not expect for it to take off so much, but the reaction has been fantastic, and so many more museums are now looking into it,” Hermens tells Artnet News. Asked for further details about the initiative, Hermens and the Rijksmuseum declined to provide additional information.

Conservators use face masks when they treat art objects that are, or could be, infested with toxic molds and fungi, or which have been treated with hazardous substances, such as pesticides, in the past.

They also wear gloves to avoid damaging artworks with the oils on their fingers. Some of the protective items they use include disposable paper gowns, goggles, gloves, and N95 masks, which are currently in great demand. 

China has dramatically ramped up its production of face masks to meet ballooning demand. But in the meantime, horror stories are emerging of hospital workers going without necessary medical gear, or even resorting to jerry-rigging their own items out of office supplies. In London, paramedics have even been asked to ration one mask per two workers.

There have been more than 2,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Netherlands. The Rijksmuseum, as well as other major museums in the country, have been shuttered since March 12 after the country went into semi-lockdown with a ban on gatherings of more than 100 people.


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