University of Glasgow, Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Art History, Open Day

In this week’s blog, Hazel Neill recalls her visit to the University of Glasgow, Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Art History, Open Day

On Friday 17th March, the University of Glasgow, Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Art History welcomed visitors to an open day. Over the course of the afternoon, the staff and students were on hand to discuss their fascinating projects and research with an unrelentingly busy throng of people.

The enormous complexity of the field of textile conservation was evident in the work of the MPhil Textile Conservation students. The projects, of both the first and second year students, encompass many forms of textile in two and three dimensions with all manner of additional, problematical elements, including gold leaf, dyes, inks and paper.

First year projects- embroidered samplers

In discussing their work, the students stressed the importance of respecting the cultural significance of the artifacts and explained the many forms of investigation [including scientific analysis] utilised to discover the nature of the materials and techniques employed in their construction before any conservation work can begin. Three second year projects, using objects from Glasgow Museums, are briefly mentioned below.

A 19th Century straw bonnet with multifarious fabric decoration illustrated the difficulties inherent in conserving complicated artifacts and revealed that de-construction can be a crucial part of treatment. Bevan O’Daly described her work in researching the safest way to consolidate a maker’s gold leaf stamp on the indescribably fragile, heat and solvent sensitive silk lining of the bonnet.

Silk bonnet lining with gold stamp

Lorna Rowley demonstrated in her observation and study of a Japanese silk, figured cloth that physical evidence of ageing and degradation can suggest the purpose of a fragment of textile. Light fading of half of the textile [separated by a partially split fold line] has, combined with in-depth historical research, led her to the supposition that the cloth may be the binding edge of a floor mat from the residence of an individual of high-status.

Japanese silk figured cloth

It was informative to discover that not all textiles are woven; the waterproof parka made of seal gut sewn together with threads made of tendon was a notable example on display. In its present rigid, brittle, folded state with numerous splits adhered with a degraded pressure sensitive tape, Aisling Macken has formed a treatment proposal to reverse the historic treatment and conserve and re-house the object.

Seal-gut parka

The University’s Hunterian Museum and Glasgow Museums’ collections are just two of the institutions in Scotland that provide the Centre with a rich seam of artifacts from all over the world. It is therefore possible for the students on the MLitt Technical Art History: Making and Meaning course to collaborate with curators in the analysis and research of the materials and techniques used by a variety of artists from the Renaissance onwards.

The knowledge that comes from reading historical treatises is intensified and enriched for the students by their practical production of materials using recipes from these texts as well as their scientific analysis of paint, fibre and pigment samples. The technical skill and depth of empirical knowledge was evident in the students’ mock-ups, including a beautiful gilded panel with punched decoration and test squares of differing grounds, paint media and pigments, on stretched canvas and primed board.

Mock up gilded and painted panel with punched decoration

Lake pigments created by the MLitt Technical Art History students

Intern, Riley Cruttenden discussed how he and his fellow students, created two forms of lake pigment from Mexican cochineal beetles; the resultant differing hues determined by the nature of the substrate.

Dr Anita Quye, Senior Lecturer in Conservation Science, detailed the connections the CTCTAH has with other departments within the University, including engineering, chemistry and archaeology. This cross-departmental collaboration creates the perfect environment for in-depth and specific study of textiles and related materials. The Dye-versity project, on the variability of the first commercially available coal-tar ‘aniline’ dyes being a case in point.

Collaboration on a global level is fundamental to the three-year Pacific Barkcloth project, funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council. In this project, led by Professor Frances Lennard, CTCTAH will collaborate with barkcloth specialists and botanists from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in order to investigate this poorly understood, ancient, sacred and extremely complex Pacific art form.

Dr Jing Han was on hand to discuss her research into the historical and chemical composition of dyes used in Chinese costume and textiles from the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Through study of original texts and treatises for her PhD, Jing has been able to clarify and enrich the current understanding of the production of these high status artifacts.

The open day was very stimulating and enlightening, thanks to the generosity of the staff and students in sharing insights into their fascinating work.

Mounted costume on display

For more information see link below:

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