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

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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!
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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.