Sticky situation: Interdisciplinary decision making in the conservation of a child’s bedroom cupboard door, Gwen Thomas, Museums & Galleries Edinburgh
The Museum of Childhood acquired a bedroom cupboard door that over the course of the owner’s childhood was covered in hundreds of stickers. The talk focuses on the dialogue between the conservator and curator when making decisions about the object.
Resumption survey: A simple analytic tool for checking the condition of collections after lockdown, Simona Cenci ACR, National Library of Scotland
During lockdown, Simona designed a resumption survey to be carried out in the National Library of Scotland library stores prior to re-opening. The talk will illustrate the challenges encountered, and methodological outcomes.
Peeling Back the Layers: Treatment of a large Scottish sampler, Anna Robinson, University of Glasgow
The presentation will summarize how the treatment of a large Scottish sampler at the
CTC was adapted as layers of framing and support materials were removed, and new aspects of the sampler revealed.
Creating a Conservation YouTube Channel: Curating conservation content for the general public, Lucilla Ronai, National Library of Australia
After one year managing a conservation YouTube channel, and sharing conservation content with conservators and the general public, Lucilla will share the main lessons learned and how it has made her see this profession differently.
Surviving insurance claim documentation with a smile, Ruth Honeybone ACR & Daryl Green, University of Edinburgh
Daryl and Ruth will guide you through some of the hoops and hurdles of writing a successful insurance claim to fund the conservation of damaged collections.
A new instalment of Icon Scotland Group’s ideas-sharing Take 5 series, with 5 new 5-minute presentations by 5 different conservators about some of their recent projects:
Senses Working Over Time: tactile engagement for written heritage, by Victoria Stevens ACR, Victoria Stevens ACR Library and Archive Conservation and Preservation Ltd.
Written heritage conservation is all about access: taking practical steps that enable people to engage with the information objects contain safely and without risk to them or the objects themselves. As a library and archive conservator, Victoria Stevens has developed a strong appreciation of how much information and knowledge may be gained from touch, sound, smell and sometimes even taste, all of which complement and broaden the written information items contain to form a much deeper appreciation and understanding of an object’s history and its previous use.
The Take 5 Engagement programme takes this non-visual information an object has to give as its focus. There are many people who experience barriers to conventional learning, and who may respond more positively and completely to information through senses other than sight and reading alone. Based on fun and accessible workshops, some of which may be delivered online, the Take 5 project uses the material properties of archive and library objects and conservation techniques combined to increase understanding and confidence, provide a sense of personal pride in achievement and break down physical and cultural barriers to learning and inclusion in libraries and archives.
The presentation will set out these aims, demonstrate how and to whom they may be delivered and discuss longer term goals for the project.
Conservation of an Iranian Tile Panel at the National Museums of Scotland, by Holly Daws, National Museums of Scotland.
The talk will detail the ongoing conservation work of a 17th Century tile panel which is planned for display as part of the Arts of Iran exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland. The panel is dated from the Safavid period and is associated with the garden palace Bagh-i Sa’adatabad in Isfahan, Iran. The tile panel is one of the few intact examples from this period in museum collections worldwide.
The tile panel has been in storage since 2008 due to its condition and heavy mounting. Previous restorations have aged, discoloured and are failing. Further to this, areas of original material have been overpainted. The aim of the treatment is to remove the tiles from the existing backing, to improve the appearance and stability of the tiles and to remount on a light support structure.
The talk will briefly outline: Historical context, condition of the panels, the aim of the project, treatment stages so far, and future treatments.
Learn by doing: the casting, finishing and patinating of bronzes, by Heleen van Santen, freelance metal conservator.
The presentation of a collaboration between a conservator, a designer and a bronze foundry, using their different expertises to experiment with the casting, finishing and patination of bronze.
The goal of this project was to learn by doing, building on Heleen van Santen’s metallurgical and technical experience as a conservator, the process and aesthetic eye of the designer and the practical know-how of the foundry. This collaboration resulted in an archive of 81 different patinas that will be permanently displayed at the foundry, and a free digital publication to inspire future makers to incorporate patination into their projects. For the field of conservation, learning more about the manufacturing and finishing of cast bronzes can be used to help us better understand cultural heritage objects.
Conservation Live: public engagement from a digital distance, by Lesley Stevenson ACR FIIC, National Galleries of Scotland.
Lesley will outline a conservation project currently underway at the National Galleries of Scotland. Robert Scott Lauder’s Christ Teacheth Humility is being prepared for new displays focussing on Scottish art that are due to open later in 2022. Originally planned to be shared live with visitors, Covid restrictions and the inevitable disruption to the NGS public programme, necessitated a change in direction for this initiative. The transfer of all public engagement to digital platforms resulted in this conservator facing challenges to her outreach and IT skills.
Conditional Confusion: considering variations in language used for object documentation, by Beth Gillions, Centre for Textile Conservation, University of Glasgow
Documenting object condition can be pivotal to informing conservation treatments, determining object roles, and limiting or enabling object use and display. Yet within the heritage field object condition reports are generated in a variety of ways, by a range of individuals of diverse types and levels of training. This presentation will consider the reasons variations in terminology exist and highlight some preliminary ideas about how this may impact upon our preservation of, and approaches to historic objects.
Here at Icon Scotland Group we are currently planning our events programme for 2021. To whet appetites, over the next few weeks we will be looking back at some highlights from 2019-2020. Firstly, from 2019, Isobel Griffin recollects, Icon Chief Executive Sara Crofts’ meeting with private conservators in Scotland:
Spotlight on Scotland’s Private Sector
Sara Crofts meets up with private conservators in Scotland
The Icon Scotland Group was delighted to welcome Sara Crofts to Scotland for our Annual Plenderleith Memorial Lecture in November, and Sara made time the next day to meet with a group of private conservators working in Scotland. They were Sarah Gerrish, Graciela Ainsworth, Karen Dundas, Gretel Evans, Wilma Bouwmeester and Anna Trist, plus Helen Creasy, Tuula Pardoe and Will Murray from the Scottish Conservation Studio. We would have liked to invite more people but we were limited by space, so we’re hoping this blog will be useful to all those who we couldn’t accommodate in person, and indeed to private conservators from all parts of the UK.
The meeting was held at the Scottish Conservation Studio’s premises at Hopetoun House near Edinburgh, with wonderful refreshments kindly provided by the resident conservators. We began with a quick tour of ‘work on the go’, which included archival items and navigational instruments being prepared for the David Livingstone Museum, textiles being conserved for Edinburgh City Museums and a wonderful umbrella stand from the Glasgow School of Art Mackintosh building. Many interesting topics came up during the tour, including the worrying decline in requests for training from local museums; the importance of keeping copies of the conservation reports produced for local museums; and the potential to use big projects which have employed many different conservation specialisms for advocacy purposes.
The tour was followed by a round-table discussion, as follows:
Volunteering for Icon – private conservators are keen to volunteer, but it is particularly challenging for them because they are giving up time when they could be earning money. It is particularly challenging for conservators from Scotland because the training for aspects of volunteering such as being PACR mentors almost always takes place in London.
The discontinuation of the standard contract which used to be available through the Icon website – this is probably mourned by private conservators everywhere, but Sara explained that Icon’s lawyers have advised that it is too risky for Icon to provide a template contract.
Business skills assistance – there is an ongoing need for this amongst private conservators. Sara noted that Icon is currently pulling together private practice training material covering insurance, health and safety and so on, and that it might be possible to create a business skills hub of shared resources. Icon would welcome further suggestions of what is needed.
Slow payment of invoices by clients – this was clearly a big issue for every conservator around the table! Sara said that she will flag the need for swift payment of small conservation practices when she meets with senior figures from major institutions. It was also suggested that Icon could help with lobbying for conservation practices to be put into the same category as building contractors, where they would have to be paid within two weeks.
CSCS cards – in theory these are required by conservators working on construction sites, although it was noted that in practice some sites don’t seem to expect that conservators will have them. Concern was expressed that the online training required to obtain a card used to be fairly quick and straightforward, but has since become very time-consuming, and that it would be helpful if Icon could lobby for this to change.
New conservation register – there were differing levels of satisfaction with the current version of the conservation register, suggesting that it is working for some conservators but not for others. Sara explained that the specification for the new register came from a review that was undertaken around three years ago. There were concerns that the new register will list individuals rather than businesses, but it was clarified that individuals can link themselves to businesses and that it will still be possible to search for businesses. Searching by postcode will also be possible. The news that individuals will be able to update their own pages whenever they want was also welcomed. Sara noted that it crucial the conservation profession buys in to the new register, and that the prototype will undergo user testing, plus feedback will be gathered once the register is up and running.
Cross-sector working – many private conservators sometimes work with other heritage professionals, and Sara told us about a joined up piece of work Icon is undertaking with groups such as archaeologists and historic building specialists, to help clients identify the right professional for a particular job.
Recommending colleagues – private conservators often provide recommendations for colleagues, and there was discussion about the best way to do this through a practice’s website. It was agreed that featuring case studies which name relevant colleagues on a website is a good way of showcasing colleagues’ work without directly recommending them.
Promoting private practices – Sara noted that she would be very keen for short films about private practices to be shown through the Icon website.
Conservation training in the UK – this was an issue that everyone was concerned about. Sara noted that Icon is holding a round table meeting in January with education providers, big clients, big institutions and so on, to understand the current situation and ask whether there are other ways of providing training.
Making training events more accessible – it was noted that for conservators who cannot easily travel to London, it would be very helpful if more lectures and conferences were recorded and made available online.
Labour Market Intelligence – Sara explained that Icon is currently undertaking a project with funding from Historic England. This will provide a toolkit which any part of the heritage sector can customise and use to undertake its own research. Icon will issue its own survey once the toolkit is ready, and it is crucial to get input to this as widely as possible.
All in all it was an extremely productive afternoon. Sara ended by thanking everyone for their input, and encouraging further ideas and questions to be sent directly to her – firstname.lastname@example.org. We found her visit hugely enjoyable and useful, and would encourage her to ‘haste ye back’, as we say in Scotland!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Catherine Haworth, our Deputy Secretary, shares her experience in this blog post:
A few lockdown thoughts from a Preventive Conservation Mum
Doors closed: The tractor store, usually with lights on, as part of the museum’s open storage display.
Keeping the tractors dust free
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.
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 email@example.com 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!
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
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!
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.