Hill House, Helensburgh

In the first of a series of blog posts about the major project to conserve Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Hill House in Helensburgh. Hazel Neill writes about her visit there to meet Business Manager, Fritha Costain on 20thAugust 2018

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Hill House was built between 1902-1904, high above the town with views south over the Firth of Clyde. In an example of ‘Total Design’ Mackintosh spent three months living with his clients, the Blackie family, in order to perfect his vision and plan every detail of the exterior and interior fittings and furniture. The house has had two private owners before being taken over by the Architects Society of Scotland and finally acquired by The National Trust for Scotland in 1985.

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Before going inside the house, Fritha gave me some background history and outlined some of the inherent structural issues that have been a permanent problem since the building was completed; the greatest being the nature of the construction materials and their constant contact with water…of which there is no shortage in the west coast of Scotland. Indeed, the site, a former potato field with a heavy clay soil, is situated directly beneath a reservoir and at times of heavy rain, water has been seen running through the cellar space.

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In compliance of the strictures of the Luss Estate, Hill House was constructed of red sandstone from their quarry with additional sections of the building built with brick, as seen above.  A pioneer in the use of innovative technology and materials, Mackintosh eschewed traditional lime render harling and opted for the use of Portland cement render instead.

Frost cracks in this extremely hard, impermeable material have allowed water to permeate and soak into the sandstone since the building was constructed. Over time the dew point within the stone may also have shifted towards the interior of the building creating serious problems with condensation and damp.

Since the National Trust for Scotland took over the care of the building various interventions have been undertaken to address this problem with differing levels of success. Then, in 2015, it was decided that rather than continue with a repair programme it would be far better to initiate a research and development project. The following year Edinburgh based firm, LDN Architects were appointed and the idea of ‘The Box’ was formed.

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The Box is a £4.5 million project designed to allow the building to dry out and conservation work to be undertaken. It will be up for a maximum of ten years during which time a research project lasting approximately three years will be carried out. The Box will encase the building and extend up to 2.5 metres around it. It is constructed of a firm steel structure covered in a chain mail of steel mesh with a solid roof. The mesh will allow airflow and insects to circulate but will prevent free water and birds from getting in. It is likely that Hill House will remain visible through The Box in certain lighting conditions, though this remains to be seen.

Rather than prevent access, this project plans to combine conservation with the visitor experience by including a visitor centre on three floors and walkways around and over the top of the building, thereby enhancing appreciation of the house and increasing public awareness of the conservation issues and, as the project progresses, of the solutions developed.

The National Trust for Scotland conservation and architectural heritage teams will seek consultation from conservation professionals, both nationally and internationally, and it is possible that the project may lead to the development of new materials and techniques.

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Initial treatments may involve removal of the harling [only 25% of which is believed to be original], installing heating to move the dew point within the sandstone, addressing issues with some of the windows and improving the drainage across the site. Some of the key elements of the collection have been removed and housed offsite.

Officially closed at present, Hill House will re-open in Spring next year.

Thank you to Fritha Costain and The National Trust for Scotland for a fascinating visit.

 

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Golden notes: comments on the Icon 2018 Practical Gilding Course

This week’s blog comes from Daniel Sanchez Villavicencio, PhD student in History of Art, who recently attended the 3-day Practical Gilding Course organised by Icon Scotland in September 2018…

As part of the activities organised by the Scotland Group of the Institute of Conservation (Icon), the Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Art History (CTCTAH), University of Glasgow had the privilege to host a 3-day practical gilding course, between the 3rd and 5th of September 2018. Taught by the Head Frames Conservator of the Royal Museums Greenwich, Tim Ritson, and attended by a diverse group of 11 conservators and 2 students from Australia, Canada, England, France, Mexico, Northern Ireland, Norway, Scotland and Wales, the course aimed to familiarise the participants with the materials and techniques of the two traditional methods of gilding: water based, and oil based.

Conservator Tim Ritson applying a layer of white size (diluted rabbit skin glue with chalk). Image credit: Daniel Sanchez

Conservator Tim Ritson applying a layer of white size (diluted rabbit skin glue with chalk). Image credit: Daniel Sanchez

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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.