Conserving the Scottish Session Papers: A Pilot Project

In this week’s blog, we find out more about an interesting new project taking place at the University of Edinburgh to conserve a large collection of bound volumes….

The Centre for Research Collections (CRC) at the University of Edinburgh is currently undertaking an exciting 6-month pilot project to conserve the Scottish Session Papers in preparation for digitisation.

The collections are held across three institutions: the Advocate’s Library, the Signet Library and the CRC. The collections consist of around 6,500 volumes, comprising of multiple case papers in one volume. The case papers of the Scottish Court of Session are the most significant untapped printed source for the history, society and literature of Scotland from 1710 to 1850.  They cover an extraordinary period in the nation’s history from the immediate aftermath of the Union of 1707 through the Jacobite wars, the Enlightenment, the agricultural and industrial revolutions and the building of Walter Scott’s Edinburgh.

The aim of the project is to determine the most efficient and effective way to conserve the volumes before digitisation, as well as to calculate the time needed to do this, and the associated costs. Efficient workflows that focus on minimal intervention are key to ensure the collections are conserved quickly and are robust enough for digitisation. For this stage of the project, we have taken a selection of 300 volumes from all three institutions in four different condition categories:

  • Good – the volume has minimal surface dirt
  • Fair – the volume has moderate surface dirt, and/or detached labels
  • Poor – the volume has moderate or extensive surface dirt, and/or detached boards
  • Unusable – sewing has broken and the text block is split in multiple places
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Example of an ‘unusable’ book. Text block has broken in half

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The Secret of Surfaces. Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) – Training Course

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The Secret of Surfaces – Eventbrite link

Delivered by Marta Pilarska, Historic Environment Scotland

28th September, 10.00 am – 5 pm

The Green Room, Stirling Castle, Castle Esplanade, Stirling FK8 1EJ

£10.00 regular tickets

£8.00  students

RTI is a non-invasive imaging technique for documenting the surfaces of archaeological objects, intricately carved stonework, works of art or archive material.

Combining the data from many images of the object, RTI produces files that show the object’s surface interactively in detail. A special RTI Viewer software enables us to manipulate the light source within the image  – making us see the object lit from different angles. This creates a 3D effect of the virtual surface structure.

The RTI training course will show the possibilities of documentation for a range of objects and materials – from the mapping of archaeological artefacts to monitoring flaking paint layers or the growth of mould on archival documents, to detecting fine details of wax seals.

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Marta Pilarska will take the attendees through the basic steps of taking RTI-compatible photographs, capturing and processing the images with the software to create interactive RTI image files.

Museum and heritage professionals, conservators and everyone interested in RTI are welcome.

Attendees may bring their own objects to image. During the session, we will be able to capture 3-4 datasets and the final selection of objects to be documented will be made on the day of the event. However, pre-event consultations regarding suggested objects are encouraged. Original objects, whether works on paper or 3D objects are ideal although you might find less valuable (but still historic) artefacts easier to transport. Small to medium size historic objects from ‘handling collections’ are ideal.

Participants bringing their own laptop are asked to make sure their laptops are PAT tested!

Marta Pilarska is an artworks conservator and digital heritage specialist. Her professional interests focus on exploring how digital technologies combined with conservation science can aid heritage preservation.

A visit to The Scottish Conservation Studio

 

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The drive to Hopetoun House -possibly the most beautiful commute to work in existence.

The Scottish Conservation Studio has been in existence for thirteen years. Previously, Helen Creasy, Tuula Pardoe and Will Murray were employed by the Scottish Museum Council [now, ‘Museums Galleries Scotland’] in Edinburgh, their work restricted to member museums only. Faced with redundancy in 2005, they decided to set up in partnership and began looking for a suitable studio. Having trawled around various business units, a call came through from Hopetoun House Preservation Trust…would they be interested in renting a purpose converted conservation studio at Hopetoun? …and so the dye was cast.

Hopetoun House, an 18th century stately home near South Queensferry, set in a deer park on the banks of the Forth has Georgian interiors filled with tapestries, fine period furniture, paintings, clocks, books and all manner of historic collections. HHPT in an effort to find a use for the redundant carriage house and to provide a working space for the long established team of voluntary ‘Tapestry Ladies’, had carefully and cleverly converted the building into a large, adaptable studio with a floodable floor for washing tapestries and flexible working space over two main rooms.

The arrangement between The Scottish Conservation Studio and HHPT is mutually advantageous: the conservators care for the Hopetoun House collections as part of their rent, as well as undertaking work for a much broader client base than was possible at the Scottish Museum Council.

Helen and Tuula work in the main rooms, sharing the large washing room once a week with the Tapestry Ladies. Will works in the former ‘tack and harness rooms’, a separate space to isolate the inevitable dust and debris produced in conserving metal away form the paper and textiles next door.  These rooms remain largely unadapted, evidence of their former use in the hooks around the paneled walls.

On the day of my visit, Helen was working with freelance paper conservator Anna Trist  and student conservator Leonie Rok from Stuttgart.

They were working on a variety objects ranging from ambrotypes, a form of early photograph, to Charles Rennie Mackintosh watercolours on tracing paper. Tuula was working on a beautiful mid 18th century chaise longue from Hopetoun House; the original pink silk upholstery shattered and incredibly fragile having been exposed to natural light for over two hundred years. It appeared that in some places only the warp threads remained. Conservation was well underway, the silk threads supported on a piece of carefully dyed fabric and protected with similarly dyed net.

Will explained the breadth of materials and objects that he works with from the ancient to the relatively modern, his ongoing work with various Scottish War Memorials, often funded by the War Memorials Trust, and his work on an early anchor discovered in the Solway Firth. He explained the use of carbon dating of iron, made possible through traces of charcoal remaining within the metal from the smelting process.

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It was a really fascinating visit, many thanks to all at The Scottish Conservation Studio.

NCS Conference Series – ‘Passive Aggressive?’

The National Conservation Service (NCS) is very pleased to announce the third of four conferences called ‘Passive Aggressive? – Changing the Climate in Archival and Museum Storage’.  The first two events in July, one hosted at The National Archives (UK) and the second at National Library of Wales hosted by CyMAL, were very well attended and well received.  All four are being generously sponsored by Bruynzeel Storage Systems Ltd, in order to make the conferences free to delegates.

We are delighted that The National Galleries of Scotland and the Icon Scotland Group have offered to partner with us to provide the third of these conferences, to be held at the Hawthornden Lecture Theatre, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh on the 20th of September 2018 from 10:00 until 17:00.

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Parchment Conservation Workshop

Location: National Library of Scotland, 33 Salisbury Place, Edinburgh EH9 1SL

Date: 22-23 November 2018

Time: 09:00-17:00 each day

Tickets: Icon Members £150, Non-Icon Members £180

Booking through Eventbrite

This course will be delivered by Lara Artemis ACR and Mariluz Beltran de Guevara ACR, and will involve a mixture of taught and practical sessions.

Introduction to the history of materials and techniques in parchment conservation

This session will include an overview of the early history of parchment conservation and will give participants an opportunity to try out the range of techniques and the materials applied through the years up to the present day. The session will also encourage discourse on the various preservation issues that may have since been created through the use of some of the materials and techniques. This will then take the practical session towards current theory into practice, which will include the evolution of more appropriate materials and techniques, especially in view of our greater understanding of the preservation needs of parchment.

Parchment conservation and preservation in the 21st Century

This session will include an overview of some of the current practices in parchment conservation, with specific focus on practical analysis and remoistenable techniques and materials. You will also have the chance to undertake parchment mounting techniques.  Again, the session will encourage discussion on future thinking and the challenges that may be ahead of us as specialist conservators.

There are 15 places available and tickets cost £150 for Icon members and £180 for non-members.  Ticket price includes lunch and refreshments. Sales go live on 2 July and close on 20 November at 17:00 or whenever the event sells out.

Refund policy: Refunds will be given up to 30 days before the event

Questions about this event can be emailed to Isobel Griffin (i.griffin@nls.uk)

Project Search at Dumfries Museum

In this week’s blog, Ross Thorburn describes his work treating the ‘Maxwelltown and District Cycling Club Challenge Cup’ trophy from 1893.

 

My name is Ross and I am an intern for a course called Project Search, which is run by Dumfries and Galloway College and Dumfries and Galloway Council. The course gives people who have learning difficulties like me an opportunity for work experience in a bid to develop skills to get a job in the future. On the course we are given three work placements, each lasting for 12 weeks. I worked at Dumfries Museum and Camera Obscura for my second work placement through Project Search.

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3-Day Practical Gilding Course

Location: Centre for Textile Conservation, The Robertson Building, Level 3, 56 Dumbarton Road, Glasgow G11 6AQ

Date: 3rd – 5th September 2018 (10:00 – 16:00 each day)

Tickets: Student – £150, Icon member – £250, Non-Icon member – £300

Booking through Eventbrite

This course aims to  familiarise  the  students  with materials,  methods  and  techniques  of  both  water  and  oil gilding.    The  course  will  give  participants  the  opportunity to  learn  a  variety  of  skills  relating  to  gilding  using traditional materials  and  techniques.    Participants will take away with them a gilded frame.

This practical course will cover some information about gilding conservation, making it particularly useful to newly qualified conservators; however it is also suited to anyone with an interest in gilding – beginner, refresher or someone with experience.

To quote the Tutor, Tim Ritson, “Gilding skills are very transferable and even as an experienced gilder I’m always interested in picking up new techniques.”

All tools and materials are included in the cost.  Lunch, tea and coffee will be provided.

 Tutor: Tim Ritson

Head of Frames Conservation at the Royal Museums Greenwich

Tim first discovered the skills and techniques of gilding and frame making while working at the Queensland Art Gallery, Australia. Since then, Tim has developed his passion, gaining specialist knowledge, skills and experience in the art of gilding, carving and frame making. After working in a private conservation studio in Venice, Tim moved to The Royal Collection Trust where he spent 5 years conserving frames throughout the Royal Palaces. Tim is passionate about teaching and sharing his knowledge to promote the continuance of traditional craft skill.

Gilding Course

Birthplace Project – Multi disciplinary conservation at The David Livingstone Trust, Blantyre

 

 

Hazel Neill writes:

Housed within the walls of the 18th Century cotton mill tenement building, surrounded by parkland on the banks of the River Clyde, the David Livingstone Trust collection is rich in African heritage, Christian missionary material and Scottish social and industrial history. In portraying the remarkable life of Victorian national hero David Livingstone, this collection encapsulates and records aspects of 19th century imperialist Britain and its relationship with Africa.

 

Founded by a Christian charity in 1929 to honour and celebrate Livingstone’s humble beginnings, scientific explorations of Africa and missionary work, the museum has recently been awarded HLF, Scottish Government and HES funding for a major refurbishment of the building and conservation and re-interpretation of the collection. The de-cant of the collection to temporary storage is led  by Project Conservator, Lesley Scott.

 

I was very fortunate to be given a guided tour of the site by Lesley, back in February this year and in this blog post I hope to convey something of Lesley’s work in undertaking this first phase of the Birthplace Project.

 

The listed mill building was harled in concrete in the 1970’s and has many structural problems as a direct consequence. The restoration of the building necessitates the entire collection being moved off-site. It will then be possible to reverse the inappropriate treatments of the past and allow the building to dry out before internal work and eventual re-harling with lime based mortar is carried out.

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Lesley outlined some of the challenges involved in the de-installing, conserving and re-housing the collection, not least regarding the fourteen dioramas by Charles D’Orville Pilkington Jackson. The high relief sculptures, that illustrate important events in the explorer’s life, were inserted into original bed recesses for the mill workers beds within the tight confines of the workers living quarters. The restoration of these painted plaster cast sculptures forms a major focus of the project and is being undertaken by Graciela Ainsworth. As Lesley pointed out, the plaster, glass and wood constructions around the sculptures were ‘built to last’ and have proved very difficult to de-construct.

 

There are three different elements to the collections. The Blantyre Works Collection, David Livingstone Personal Collection and the African Collections with a further Collection of Interest held at the National Library of Scotland.

 

 

Rich in ethnographic material many objects are highly sensitive to environmental and biological agents of deterioration and require careful handling and much consideration in terms of future storage and display.

 

As well as conservation, one of the many challenges of the Birthplace Project is to sensitively re-interprete the collection for a modern audience and, as their website says, to create a ‘place of inspiration to promote dialogue between the people of Scotland and Sub-Saharan Africa’.  There is a powerful and uncomfortable resonance to the slave related artefacts as well as to much of the colonial and missionary material and it will be fascinating to see how this is tackled in the future.

 

The diversity and complexity of Lesley’s work is considerable, taking in all manner of material including costume, paintings, historic metal, ivory, gold and Livingstone’s well travelled scientific and medical equipment.

 

She is undertaking a condition survey and prioritising the most vulnerable objects for conservation and will be seeking tenders from conservators in appropriate fields in due course.

 

 

Fosshape Workshop

Today’s blog was written by Gwen Thomas, Collections Care Officer for The City of Edinburgh Council. It describes a recent training event at the Glasgow Museums Resource Centre…

On Friday April 20th I was fortunate to be part of a group of 8 conservators attending the ICON Scotland Fosshape workshop at Glasgow Museums Resource Centre. The workshop was led by Glasgow Museums Textile Conservator Maggie Dobbie, who aimed to show us how flexible and versatile a material Fosshape can be in making temporary costume mounts.  She has used it with success in the past for making multiple costume mounts quickly and inexpensively, as well as being able to fashion it in a way that works for unusual objects that can’t be mounted on a standard form, such as bathing costumes.

 

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The Engine Shed, Stirling ISG Committee Annual Away Day February 2018

This year the annual ISG Committee Away Day was held at the brand new Historic Environment Scotland facility, The Engine Shed in Stirling, a centre for education and conservation of the built environment.

img_0614.jpgIn his introduction, Brian Wilkinson the Activities and Events Manager, explained that there are around half a million traditional buildings in Scotland, i.e. those that pre-date 1919. Changes in building construction after the First World War led to a gradual loss of historic practice, a skills shortage and inevitably the use of inappropriate materials resulting in preventable damage to our built heritage.

One of the prime functions of this new centre is to redress the balance by providing the skills and material knowledge to care for our traditional built heritage and to disseminate this through the building industry and the wider population: from an Advanced Professional Diploma in Technical Building Conservation [awarded by the University of Stirling], individual modules which can be utilised for CPD training to visits from primary school groups and free publications.

A traditional building itself, the Engine Shed was built somewhere between 1890 and 1910 in the former 40 acre military re-distribution complex; the precise date of construction is unknown due to the absence of military information on contemporary maps.img_0612.jpgWhen the military left the site in the 1990’s the building fell into disrepair and stood empty until acquired by HES in the early 2000’s. On the completion of a ten-year project, funded by HLF, it was officially opened on 3rd July 2017. It embodies the principles that HES are duty bound to uphold in that it is sustainable, environmentally sound, utilises only biodegradable, recycled and recyclable materials, many of which are sourced locally: Glulam beams, sheep wool insulation, ground source heat pumps, clay mortar and zinc cladding to name a few.

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Conservation Science

On our tour of the facilities, conservation scientist Callum Graham highlighted some of the non- destructive analytical techniques employed by HES and their multiple applications. An interesting example was the use of the portable XRF machine to examine fragments of the Glasgow School of Art library lights to identify the precise nature of the materials used by Macintosh in their construction…the presence of specific concentrations of copper and zinc indicated a particular grade of brass and a lead and tin solder. It was also interesting to discover that this technique can be used to determine the age of glass e.g.- the presence of strontium indicates a specific period when kelp was used in glassmaking.

Another valuable portable examination technique was the handheld thermal imaging camera. The camera detects IR radiation and is used to locate issues with historic buildings such as heat loss and water ingress.

Callum explained the use of microwave moisture sensors to measure the moisture content within the walls of buildings and the necessity of accurate stone matching in building conservation. Petrographic microscopy is an essential technique in the identification of grain structure and mineralogy in stone as an incompatible stone repair within a building can accellerate the decay of original, historic material.

Digital Documentation

The work of the Digital Documentation Team was introduced by surveyor and spatial analyst, James Hepher and digital documentation intern, Marta Pilarska. The team use photographic, photogrammetric and 3D laser scanning surveys to record the contours and topography of both the monumental e.g.- castles and coastlines to the miniature e.g. tooled leather book covers, coins and wax seals.

Different techniques are used to serve many purposes, for example: 3D laser scanning of landscapes allows the creation of a baseline record from which to map erosion, compare future data sets, to inform on the effects of interventions and to plan new conservation approaches. For smaller scale objects, digital photogrammetry utilises stereo imaging software to transform 2D images into 3D information which can then be used in the 3D printer to create scalable facsimiles, which in turn have multiple applications.

RTI [Reflectance Transformation Imaging] is, on the face of it, an affordable and accessible technique which creates a synthesised 2D image capturing a high degree of detail of the surface contours of an object.  Marta explained that using a stationary, securely mounted SLR camera, a good, portable light source and free software from ‘Cultural Heritage Imaging’ it is possible to record astonishing topographical detail that would otherwise not be immediately visible.

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The Gigamacro photogrammetry imaging system

Icon Scotland Group Committee would like to thank all of the HES staff at The Engine Shed for a very informative and enjoyable day.