Mental wellness during Covid by Wilma Bouwmeester

When the country went into lockdown and working from home became part of life for many, I paid little attention to the advice on ‘how to work from home’. As an independent collection care consultant, I’d worked from home for many years and advice on the ‘working-from-home-dress-code’ puzzled me. But as the weeks became months, the effect of Covid on those around me also started to affect me, and my brain too went into a Covid-fog. Creative initiatives came to very little despite feeling enthused by Grayson Perry’s Art Club, and a jacket I’d started to sew in the first weeks still sits on the mannequin unfinished.

Prior to Covid, I had started to think of redirecting my attention and personal development away from objects and towards people. As a consultant I visit many different workplaces, where my role is usually task-focussed and technical (whether installing or calibrating monitoring equipment, or designing and discussing a sustainable environmental control system). Often however there comes a moment when the conversation turns to the strains of working conditions, the challenges of reduced budgets or the threat of redundancy. People are visibly relieved when able to voice the stresses and strains of the daily grind. Putting such feelings into words can help to process them and give them a place.

I had made the first moves in a new direction when Covid hit, and as a result found myself embarking on a Counselling Skills course via Zoom! For eight weekends, spread over 12 weeks, I was glued to my laptop, staring at some twenty-five stamp sized faces, and spending time in ‘triads’ observing, listening and talking to strangers. I felt thoroughly outside my comfort zone, and it was like learning a new language, the language of silence, of listening, of emotions, of acknowledging and letting people be heard. It is hard to overestimate the power of being listened to without judgement, without well-meant but unasked-for advice, and be heard with empathy, genuine interest, and acceptance, from one fallible human being to another. 

Covid-19 is showing its impact in many different ways. For some, it’s an opportunity to be creative, expressive and make the most of some free time. For others it may bring stress, anxiety, depression  or despair.  Whereas we readily share the state of our physical health, our newest diet or latest fitbit-results with those around us, our mental wellbeing remains largely hidden for fear of being judged and deemed a failure. Feelings of shame about appearing to ‘not cope’ can paralyse and stop us from moving on.

Mental wellbeing is important, now more than ever, and if you are struggling with what life throws at you, chances are others are too, for one reason or another, and might also welcome a chat that goes a little deeper. If you feel affected by the changes of Covid, lockdown or other life events, pick up the phone to a friend, sign up for the DialUp app, or ring me on 07739 988087 and ask to be listened to. Chances are you’ll feel a lot better for it!

An insight into Geology Conservation at National Museums of Scotland with Vicen Carrió ACR

A Jurassic Pinna Lanceolata specimen [an extinct species of mollusc] found in Skye by Hugh Miller in 19th Century

National Museums Scotland hold around 250,000 Palaeobiological specimens in a modern purpose built, environmentally controlled store. The collection covers all the major groups of fossil invertebrates, plants and trace fossils. There are the historic collections of early pioneers of Scottish Palaeobiology such as Hugh Miller and Charles Peach as well as world class collections of Palaeozoic fishes and early tetrapods. Members of the Palaeobiology Section of the Department of Natural Sciences at NMS are involved in internationally important research projects, such as TW;eed [Tetrapod World: early evolution and diversity] Project. Vicen Carrió ACR is the conservator and preparator of the Palaeobiology Section.

Holoptychius [extinct genus of bony fish] found in Thurso by Hugh Miller in 19th Century

Vicen’s responsibilities include the conservation and preparation of fossils, providing advice on geological conservation and preparation techniques to other departments within the museum and to visitors working on the NMS collections. On a [pre- Covid 19] visit to Vicen’s conservation lab, I had the privilege to view specimens from the collection and learn a little about the fascinating world of Geology Conservation. It is extremely difficult to grasp the age of these objects, many form the Palaeozoic period which was between 543-251 million years ago. Scotland is rich in specimens of early life on earth from this period such as Gyracanthus [extinct genus of fish with very long, round, sculpted fin- spines].

Conservation of Specimens from Historic Collections

Care of historic geology collections is a very interdisciplinary area of conservation because of the variety of material that is encountered: paper labels attached to the specimens, wood, plaster moulds and casts, glass, pigments, nails, minerals, plastic and varnishes.

Gyracanthus spines- found in Motherwell and Cowdenbeath in 20th Century

The Gyracanthus spines can be between 9cm -50cm long and are fragile. When collected they were often found in pieces. Inappropriate support and handling make the spines weak and prone to stress fractures and breakages. The deterioration of historic treatments using non archival adhesives can also lead to the failure of joints, as well as a lack of support underneath the specimen with the consequence of collapse. Vicen stressed the importance of inert materials in the construction of custom made supports for the specimens [Ethafoam, Plastazote, Corex or honeycomb cardboard or aluminium] and the use of appropriate, reversible adhesives.

The historic collections contain fossils in a variety of styles of display with many pros and cons. Some materials have been imbedded in plaster, fixed to glass plates or encased in wood. The hygroscopic nature of the plaster and wood can result in cracking of the specimens [as seen above]. Removal of these inappropriate supports is necessary to preserve the heritage for the future.

Fossilised fish in historic plaster and wood box

Working in the Field – The TW;eed Project

The TW;eed Project was a NERC funded project to study newly discovered tetrapod [four-legged animal] fossils that were found in the Scottish Borders. The fossils are from the earliest Carboniferous, a time when very little was known about life on earth and when tetrapods had just ventured to land. The poster below details the consolidation of wet specimens from the river bed and the preparations necessary prior to transportation of the fossils back to the museum conservation lab.

Uncovering Recently Discovered Fossils from Rock Substrate

The skill and experience involved in the excavation of newly discovered fossils from rocks cannot be underestimated. This work is undertaken very slowly under high magnification as the dimensions and shape of the fossil within the rock are only revealed as the substrate is carefully removed. Knowledge of the fossil’s anatomy and the characteristics of the encasing rock are essential as the matrix can break at weak points.

Rock Specimens from Scotland

The map required some of the physical techniques needed in geological preparation such as precise cutting to shape and the use of a combination of adhesives. The rocks when grained and mixed with some adhesives camouflage or enhance different areas of the map.

Vicen is experienced in a variety of physical and chemical techniques including making acetate peels, moulding and casting, acid preparation, field techniques, thin section, polishing and preventative conservation.

Vicen Carrió ACR studied Biology at the University of Valencia, Spain, before moving to Edinburgh in 1992. Having first worked with Professor Euan Clarkson, University of Edinburgh, in Silurian gastropod fossils she gained funding to study the conservation of fossils, minerals and rocks. Since 1997 she has developed her career in geological conservation and has undertaken research in different areas of the collection, presenting numerous talks at conferences and seminars nationally and internationally. These conferences have helped her to develop new techniques in conservation and to keep up to date with new products and technology as they are developed. She now has an international reputation as a geological conservator, being invited as key speaker to international conferences in her field.

Conservators in Lockdown: Notes from our ISG Committee on Life and Work, Part 4

Catherine Haworth, our Deputy Secretary, shares her experience in this blog post:

A few lockdown thoughts from a Preventive Conservation Mum

So, how many weeks are we on now? To be honest I lost track after about five. Although I feel like I’ve had a couple of phases to my lockdown.

First there was the pre-lockdown scramble, which I think we could all see coming, but still felt rushed and surreal. At that point we didn’t have any understanding of what our new lives would be like. We tidied labs and work spaces, made sure nobody left any packets of biscuits behind (pest management never far from the thoughts of a Preventive professional), and dutifully copied all the files we would need for doing some work at home. I also panic bought Sylvanian families, whilst everyone else was after hand sanitizer and bread flour, as my daughter turned four on the first day of lockdown.

Then we were all at home. Day one had the distraction of a birthday. We had princess dresses and cake to get us through! This couldn’t be all bad? But birthdays don’t last forever and there was work to be done and home schooling to be attempted.

The second phase had started. How does the family unit undertake it’s 1.6 FTE of work, school a P3 and entertain a four year old? Whilst also trying to learn new methods of working and schooling. I’d not heard of Zoom in mid-March, now we use it for meetings, family gatherings and, piano and dance lessons!

Finding new patterns to the day was the key to us all surviving. The kids needed routine and I needed some space to think. We’d all been trying to work round the kitchen table. This was not producing the desired result! Now you’ll find me in a quiet spot at 7am, cup of tea in hand and environmental monitoring graphs to look through. After a couple of hours it’s then time to swap roles, and we have our day of schooling. At 3pm another slot of quiet time with many thanks to David Attenborough and the BBC, without whom this family would not have survived lockdown.

How do you preserve the collections from home? As I mentioned we’ve been doing daily checks of our environmental monitoring system, which allows us to pick up on unusual patterns and check out areas where humidifiers or air handling are not behaving as they should. Also, in addition to the security presence on site, Collections Care team members have been visiting all our sites on a regular basis. It’s been my job to visit the collections at the National Museum of Rural Life. We’ve had issues with clothes moth in organic collections here previously, and sadly on my first lockdown visit there were enough moths to make me take a closer look. Luckily I found the source, and was able to put a couple of saddles into the freezer. On a later visit I found moth again, and deposited a stuffed cat in the freezer!


Cat for freezing

Now we’re looking to re-opening and while front of house work out visitor routes and designers come up with signage, our team has been working out how to clean displays whilst maintaining social distancing. This means some of our usual methods must be put on hold as we try to limit the amount of working at height and other jobs that require working closely together. We have long poles, largely designed for window cleaning, adapted with various microfibre heads. But my favourite is the air blower, which (gently) blasts fluff into the air, although you do have to go back and clean up the mess the next day! But I’m happy to go back to the National Museum of Rural Life as I also get to take a peek at the farm animals, and was delighted to be able to meet Georgina the Clydesdale foal.

Georgina and her mum, Anna



‘Take 5’ Webinar

Take 5

5 speakers | 5 talks | 5 minutes

20.08.2020 | 4-5 pm | Zoom
contribute before 31.07.2020

Following on from our successful ‘Knowledge Exchange’ webinar, Icon Scotland are pleased to invite contributions to our first ‘Take 5’ webinars. The one-hour online event will feature 5 x 5-minute presentations followed by a Q&A session.

We are inviting contributions from across the heritage conservation sector: whether it’s a case study you’d like to present, a project you are working on, or some research or training you have done during the lockdown. It’s fine to present a ‘work in progress’ and it can be a great way to get ideas and suggestions from colleagues.

We are asking for:

A 5-minute talk with an accompanying PowerPoint presentation to share visual content with the event attendees. The presentations will be conducted via Zoom and a moderator will be on hand to introduce the presentations and handle the question and answer portion of the event as an informal and friendly discussion.

If you would like to give a presentation at this event please send your name and the title of your talk to by 31st of July.

The webinar is planned to take place on Thursday the 20th August via Zoom.


If you have any questions please do not hesitate to get in contact!


Conservators in Lockdown: Notes from our ISG Committee on Life and Work, Part 3

In today’s post, we hear from Tatjana Wischniowski [Events Team] and Anna Zwagerman [Events Team, Iconnect & Communication]

Tatjana Wischniowski is a painting conservator based in St Andrews

20200220_140750 - Kopie
Here are some snapshots of my pen and ink drawings of the shells I found while walking or running at the beach (East Sands and West Sands). I go running 5 days a week since the lockdown, there are a great number of interesting shells I have been seeing and still need to draw.
I am particularly fascinated by the shapes and lines and traces of colour that can be detected on those shells, giving them their character.
The magnifying lamp I would normally use for conservation work, such as consolidation of flaking paint layers or closing tears in canvas paintings, now helps to see the pattterns on small shells.
Anna Zwagerman is the Conservation Officer at Culture Perth and Kinross
I have been at home with my toddler since the start of lockdown.
At Culture Perth & Kinross (CPK) we were backup for redeployment into essential roles, but this did not prove necessary. I have kept up to date with work emails, an article I wrote before lockdown was published in Icon news (see link), and I cycled around the city with said toddler to post letters through people’s doors asking them to donate their rainbows to the museum. I am waiting for news from both the nursery and work to see when I can get back!

Conservators in Lockdown: Notes from our ISG Committee on Life and Work, Part 2

Now eleven weeks into lockdown it is a good time to take stock of how we have all been affected by this unprecedented period both professionally and personally. In a spirit of connecting to our conservation community here in Scotland and further afield, we the ISG Committee hope to reduce feelings of isolation and open channels of communication by sharing our experiences. 

Our second instalment is from Secretary Gwen Thomas:

I am the Collections Care Officer for City of Edinburgh Council’s Museums & Galleries. From around March 10th I expected a lockdown to come our way – one of my colleagues has family living in Italy and France so we were kept abreast of what was happening there, and saw it was only a matter of time before we were working from home too. From around March 13th council staff were told to take our laptops home, if we had them each day. I tried to prepare our store by cleaning as deeply as possible, tidying the lab, and emptying the fridge and waste bins each day. On the very last day I was allowed in the office – March 20th, by which point everyone else was working from home – I had a large delivery of packing materials booked in and there was no way I could divert two large pallets of boxes and acid free tissue to my house. So I spent the afternoon squirrelling Really useful boxes throughout the store, and getting rid of all the combustible waste that came with the delivery! Safety first.


I have been working from home since March 23rd, which has meant setting up a makeshift office in my spare room and having tea breaks with my dogs (in person) or with colleagues over video chat. It’s been difficult adjusting to being almost entirely desk based; normally I will mix and match practical and computer tasks throughout the day, and I am used to walking across the city between our museum venues on a regular basis. Being sedentary is not for me! However I am lucky to be able to walk to our store once a week and check the building and collection with a colleague. I’ve been delivering online training sessions for colleagues, including a crash course in pest identification and maintaining environmental sensors for my amazing visitor services colleagues who are checking other venues that I can’t get to on foot. I’ve been so touched by their enthusiasm and willingness to carry out collections monitoring tasks, and their vigilance when reporting any issues. We’ve already seen water ingress from a broken tap, and clothes moth numbers increase. Or rather, I haven’t, but everyone has been outstanding at communicating everything they have found!


I’ve been remotely monitoring our Hanwell sensors. However, quite a few batteries were flat and I had put in an order for replacements just before lockdown, which I fortunately managed to redivert to my home address. Then came the long drawn out process of posting (by mail or by hand) the suitable number of batteries to the different colleagues checking different museum venues. A mundane task but so important during a period of under-occupancy in our buildings.


An interventive conservation project has been in progress throughout this period, and I have kept in regular touch with the freelance conservator about the work, including video meetings so he can show us the problems and progress in real time. He is still able to work as he is alone in his workshop, but other considerations like transporting the objects back up and then reinstalling them are very much on my mind. We were able to arrange an interim payment, fortunately, as the cashflow of freelancers is also a real worry for our sector.


I have also been working on data cleaning and materials guidance for our collections review project which we are now trying to do from home. Tricky when you aren’t with the collection! It means our project staff have to do quite a lot of mundane data editing with none of the fun of working with objects. However, we have also started working on blogs and other online content; this means that when we are checking the store we are also taking photography requests. Some mornings it almost feels normal, except that the two of us are dodging around each other trying to maintain a 2m distance. I really can’t wait until I can get back into the store properly and start filling our beautiful new boxes.

Conservators in Lockdown: Notes from our ISG Committee on Life and Work

Now eleven weeks into lockdown it is a good time to take stock of how we have all been affected by this unprecedented period both professionally and personally. In a spirit of connecting to our conservation community here in Scotland and further afield, we the ISG Committee hope to reduce feelings of isolation and open channels of communication by sharing our experiences. 

Our first blog post is from our Chair, Christa Gerdwilker:


The Canine Chickens

This has been a time for counting your chickens or in my case, maybe, dogs. It has been a time for appreciating what we have around us – home, work, garden, pets, partner, neighbours, communication technology, keyworkers, NHS, village shop –  and realising what we miss – my choirs, hairdresser, trips to the beach, live music, meeting friends, hugs, family and so much more. It is a time where mutual support melts your heart and careless actions can break it. Seeing the response from conservators across the UK in collating PPE and trying to help in this health crisis has made me even more proud of my profession, if that is possible. I am so impressed but not surprised by how Icon and its members have rapidly adapted to finding new ways of keeping connected, keeping engaged and developing new ways of working, providing support and sharing knowledge and expertise. While at the same time many of us are faced with so much uncertainty about our futures which we all had to work so hard for in the first place. Our work tends to be more than just a job, it is a vocation and a highly skilled one, too. The best there is. So it hurt when many of us were told that we weren’t essential to business operations. And it is devastating to hear stories of possible museum closures and job losses. While those of us in good health and with extra time have enjoyed the glorious weather this spring, it has been a deceiving time, disquieting, the calm before the storm perhaps. I will try and remember to count all my ‘chickens’ to help me get through the uncertain times ahead and look forward to those other things I have missed but which will come again.


Lockdown blog by Dougal – Christa’s dog

Yesterday was the first day I got back to the beach in an ETERNITY! And only because my brother by another mother (and father) had to go to the vet near the beach. It was glorious! We have been staying at home, ‘shielding’ because my other human is ‘vulnerable’.  For the first 6 weeks of this lockdown Christa was, in fact, pretty much locked into her new office. Apart from lots of trips to the kitchen for cups of coffee and treats for her; not me. Serves her right that her waistline is expanding. We have a garden to play in and woods nearby and it’s been great not having to go anywhere in the car. But for the last 5 weeks she has been ‘furried’ or something and she has not been allowed to work. Her hair has, indeed gone a bit furry. You’d think she’d use this extra time to play with me. But oh no, she’s painted the house, she’s hitting a big stone with a hammer and metal stick and she’s still in her office a lot looking at that screen and tapping on the desk. Apparently she is trying to learn some new tricks. And she does some weird howling at the computer on the days she would normally go to choir. But we have had more cuddle time in the evenings on the sofa. And she’s even sketched me. Apparently she has to go back to work soon and I don’t know how I will cope with that. I think she is a bit unsure, too.

News and Ideas Exchange 2020 Online Seminar Series

The Icon Scotland Group is excited to be launching a new, online ideas sharing and networking event based on the successful format of the ‘Paper Conservators in Scotland: 5 Minute Presentations’ series. We are looking for volunteers, from all disciplines and locations, to contribute to these events. You could tell us about a project you are working on, or some research or training you have done during lockdown. It’s fine to present a ‘work in progress’ and it can be a great way to get ideas and suggestions from colleagues.

We are asking for:

  1. A 5-minute talk with an accompanying PowerPoint presentation to share visual content with the event attendees. The presentations will be conducted via Zoom and a moderator will be on hand to introduce the presentations and handle the question and answer portion of the event as an informal and friendly discussion.
  2. 3 short tweets about your presentation so that our social media team can publicise this exciting event in real time and encourage wider discussion on the topic.

If you would like to give a presentation at this event please send your name and the title of your talk to by 24 May. Dates and times for the event will be released as soon as they are finalised and we will do our best to accommodate all those who are interested. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to get in contact.


Screen Shot 2020-05-13 at 09.42.07

Paper Conservators in Scotland: 5 Minute Presentations (2015 Event)

Historic Environment Scotland Survey

In these unprecedented times, Historic Environment Scotland have launched a new survey to understand the impacts of this fast-changing situation on the historic environment sector across Scotland. 

 To paint as broad and accurate a picture as possible, please take the time to share your views. You can help us understand the current position and outlook as businesses, organisations and community groups within Scotland’s historic environment sector. 

The survey will be open until Thursday 30 April and takes less than 15 minutes to complete!
Take the survey here