One of the Museum of Moab’s top attractions is a three-dimensional balsa wood map of the 900 square miles surrounding Moab.
John Urbanek, who died a few years ago, spent 20 years carving the map, which is based on U.S. Geological Survey topographical maps.
But the work of art is in danger.
Museum Director Travis Schenck says low humidity in the museum is causing the wooden panels to contract, putting more space between each piece over time. The museum constantly runs a humidifier, he said, but when the front door opens, a rush of low-humidity air flows into the building.
“Whatever weather is out there blows right in,” Schenck said.
The problem is exacerbated by a space at the bottom of one of the two doors, which allows a constant draft to enter the facility. The other door is stuck and can’t be opened at all, according to Schenck.
He says humidity levels don’t affect many artifacts in the museum, but the topographical map is of particular concern because of its uniqueness.
“This is a one-of-a-kind object,” he said. “We can’t replace this map. But if we’re proactive, it should last another 50 or 60 years.”
Anne Urbanek, John Urbanek’s widow, said he spent two hours a day, five days a week on the project after he took early retirement from a government career at age 55.
“He had the time and patience to do that,” Anne said. “I was so glad [the museum] took it because it needs to be out where people can see it. It is beautiful.”
Schenck contacted conservators at The Smithsonian Institution and others in Utah in search of a way to preserve the map. No one was able to provide a solution, other than raising the humidity in the building.
The museum’s 113-year-old player piano also is threatened when the humidity falls, Schenck says. The piano, which still operates properly, has all of its original parts.
Schenck believes the answer to the problem is replacing the front doors with new doors that are tighter and will keep the weather out more effectively. He said he has talked with the Grand County building inspector about design requirements and has gotten estimates from contractors. The cost, he says, will fall in the $20,000 range.
Because Schenck doesn’t want to take that money out of the museum’s general operating fund, which would jeopardize other exhibits, he is planning to launch a fundraising campaign during the next year.
“We can get grants, but most of those need matching funds,” Schenck said.
Community members are invited to make a tax-deductible donation by coming to the museum, 118 E. Center St., or by going online at www.moabmuseum.org. Becoming a museum member will be a financial benefit in itself, the director said.
Schenck invites local residents to stop by the museum to see the exhibits that are in jeopardy as well as other displays.
“We want to make sure every object is preserved,” he said.