CONSERVATION OF THE HISTORIC ORGANS
PROTECTION OF THE ORGANS
Conservation of the organs begins with their protection. There are certain risks to the organs which cannot be prevented, such as their deterioration over time or their destruction from natural disasters, particularly earthquakes or fires. But the risk of deliberate damage or destruction based on ignorance is preventable and combating this ignorance has proved to be our greatest challenge. In many communities, the organs have not functioned for years, the local people have no memory of their sound or even realize that they were once musical instruments, and see them only as old, termite-ridden, cumbersome pieces of furniture in the choir loft.
Organs may be dismembered for their parts, and we have found pieces of the organs used to repair roofs and altarpieces, as part of fences, and just thrown away in piles of garbage near the church. Even more dangerous are the “modernization” projects, when the municipal or church authority decides to throw out everything that is damaged, looks bad, or doesn´t work anymore. For this reason a countless number of religious objects, not just the organs, have been lost.
In 1999, more than two hundred Oaxacan churches were severly affected by earthquakes, and several organs were badly damaged or came apart when they were lowered from the choir loft with ropes and then raised up again during roof repair projects.
In addition, the recent phenomenon of migration to the north has drastically reduced the population in many communities, which along with the shortage of priests means that many churches are rarely open. As a consequence, the local people have lost contact with the furnishings of their churches and sometimes when they accompany us to the choir loft, admit that this is the first time they have ever been up there or seen the organ.
The IOHIO has made dozens of field trips to protect, document and conserve the organs. This work is ongoing because the organs require constant check ups, and we always hope that there won´t be too many unpleasant surprises awaiting us if some time has passed since our last visit to a particular community. Our activities are supported by a letter of authorization from the Oaxaca Regional Center of the INAH, printed information about the organs and the IOHIO, and the permission of the local authorities, some of whom are always present while we carry out our work.
Protective measures include the following:
Moving the organ back to its original position or to another safe place in the church if it has been moved elsewhere.
Contacting the architects of the INAH for evaluation of structural problems in the churches which may put the organs at risk, particularly during an earthquake.
Constructing replacement keyboard covers for organs which have lost them and as a result, have lost some or all of their keys. These wooden covers are painted to replicate the original color and blend in with the organ, but do not pretend to match the historical material perfectly.
Making replacement boards, also painted to match the exterior, for those missing in the organ cases so as to better protect the interiors.
Installing posts connected by rope to establish an off-limits zone around the decorated organs. This helps to protect them from the vandalism of people who pick and scratch at the paint, remove loose pieces, and leave graffiti on the case
Placing a plastic-encased label on or near the organ which shows the logo of the CONACULTA/INAH, representing its authority as the protector of the national patrimony and states: “The historic organ of (the name of the community) is part of the national patrimony and is protected by the Federal Law for Archeological, Artistic and Historical Zones and Monuments. Take care of it because it is a part of the history of your community.”
Placing a second label bearing the logo of the IOHIO and including the specific or approximate date of the organ´s construction, the name of the builder if known, special characteristics of the organ, and things which the community should and should not do to protect and conserve it:
YES - restrict access to the choir loft and keep the area clean
Our principal objective is to inform the people in the community that the organ has its own rights and that they cannot do with it as they please (fix it, restore it, sell it, take it apart, or destroy it). Copies of these labels are left in the municipal or church office as a reference.
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