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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