New Icon Scotland Chair and Committee

Last year, Christa Gerdwilker ACR was confirmed as new chair of Icon Scotland. She is taking over from Rob Thomson ACR after his impressive seven year tenure in the post. Here is a message from Christa….

Since joining the Icon Scotland committee last year, I have been blown away by the enthusiasm of its members and the range of activities that are undertaken by the committee. Rob is leaving big boots to fill but after receiving a warm and supportive welcome, I am very much looking forward to working with my fellow committee members. A successful committee is bit like a swan – calm and apparently effortless from the outside but working steadfastly underneath to maintain direction and momentum. In this case, the most outward sign of the work done by the committee is probably the great programme of events that have been put on every year, culminating in our prestigious annual Plenderleith lecture. However, in the background Icon Scotland also collaborates with external heritage bodies on national policy and heritage strategy consultations while supporting Icon UK in its activities. I very much hope to continue in this vein to provide Icon Scotland members with a representative body that delivers for them.

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Read all about it! Conservation of Newspapers

This week’s blog comes from Claire Hutchison, Icon Intern at the National Library of Scotland…

Newspapers.

Let’s be honest, most of you reading this probably haven’t bought one in a while, or at all! With the internet and social media, who needs a hard copy? We are constantly bombarded with information – it makes sense that we would forget how information used to be received.

My project work as an Icon intern at the National Library of Scotland (NLS) has been looking to preserve that information. We have thousands of newspapers within our collection that are not in the best condition.  My work focuses on a handful of regional Scottish newspapers titles that at risk; their contents are in danger of being permanently lost. For this project, I have been looking into the conservation, preservation and rehousing of the titles. This also includes the environmental controls best suited for newsprint.

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The newspaper collection at the National Library of Scotland

As many of you know, newspapers tend to be daily and normally get thrown out the next day. As a result, the paper is not of the highest quality. Wood pulps are used; these contain lignin, a polymer within the cellulose structure that gives off carboxylic acids and deteriorates the paper. When a newspaper ages, it will become discoloured and brittle. The edges of the newspaper will start to break off into confetti-like pieces putting the text block around the edges at risk of being lost. Normally, the lignin is removed from pulp but as newsprint is short-lived in use they did not remove it. Various alkaline treatments exist to remove acids from paper; but the risks outweigh the benefits when treating large and fragile formats such as newsprint.

Below are some examples of the newspapers within the collection; these were bound by the NLS in volumes of various sizes. Some have been boxed as loose issues or kept in their original binding. The volumes can be very heavy and hard to handle at their size. The majority of the damage is structural; certain titles such as Edinburgh Evening News are regularly requested by readers and this traffic is partly to blame. The binding is also very heavy which takes its toll on the lightweight paper. Common issues faced include brittle edges, tears, creasing and losses. The bindings tend to be in a better condition and have protected the paper to some extent; however the addition of straps and buckles to the binding has caused significant damage to the edge of the paper. Some have been tied too tightly which has warped the boards and torn the paper behind the buckles.

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Example of the damage caused by the buckles along the brittle edges of the paper.

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 Another example of large and successive tears within the volume, likely caused by poor handling.

My work began with a condition assessment of roughly 2000 volumes. Whilst doing this, I researched different methods in the conservation of newsprint both structurally and chemically.  The time and cost efficiency of each method was compared before creating a 2 phase treatment plan for the newspapers.  Currently, a ‘less is more’ approach has been used to improve the structural integrity of the newsprint. Conservation has also been prioritised according to condition. Work has started on those in a ‘fair’ condition to improve accessibility.  These include simple repairs with a reversible adhesive and a dyed Japanese tissue paper.  Any straps or buckles have also been cut off whilst conservation work has progressed; it is a simple yet satisfying task that should improve their condition in the long term.

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Before and after treatment with 10% Methyl Cellulose and Japanese tissue. The repairs are strong, subtle and do not obstruct the legibility.

In the coming months, I will be continuing my research into the preventive side of the project and repairing poorer condition volumes.  I will also be implementing a new fragile formats policy to ensure that the newspapers are handled with care and issued with their overall condition in mind.

Paper Conservators in Scotland News and Ideas Exchange 2019

When: 12.45pm for 1pm start, Wednesday 15th May 2019
Where: The Board Room, National Library of Scotland, George IV Bridge Edinburgh EH1 1EW
Cost: Free! Refreshments included. Thanks to Icon Scotland Group for financial support.

This now annual event is an opportunity for us to get together to share news and information about our current work. We are looking for 5 minute presentations about a topic that you think your paper colleagues would be interested to hear about. We invite paper people in (and near) Scotland of all levels of experience to contribute, and are hoping to have a very supportive and non judgemental afternoon.

There will be tea, coffee and cake at the start, at the end, and in the middle, giving plenty of opportunity to chat with colleagues. Contributions of baking are welcome.

Your topic might be about

  • An interesting treatment you are or have recently been involved with
  • A treatment that threw up challenges
  • A conservation problem you are faced with that you would like colleagues’ ideas on
  • A new technique or piece of equipment that you have been using

Some of the many interesting topics presented last year included the treatment of photos, books, parchment and chocolate (!); decision making processes; a triumph in controlling a difficult environment; exhibition preparations; monitoring vibrations near a big building project; a nifty new piece of kit to cut infills – and so much more!

Presentations will be strictly limited to 5 minutes. To help on the technical side we would like people to send digital submissions for their presentations in advance to Mary Garner m.garner@nls.uk

The space is limited to about 40 people. We are hoping that up to 20 presentations will be given. Booking priority is given to people offering to present.

Please send requests to present / attend to helencreasy@gmail.com

Don’t be shy! There are lots of us paper conservators in Scotland and we meet up all too rarely. We hope that this event, like the previous four years, will connect us better so we can continue to support and help each other in the future.

Events Questionnaire 2018

Last year’s event questionnaire was really useful to us, so once again, we would like to know what kind of training and events you’d particularly like to see in Scotland!

The survey will close on 20 January 2019. Please follow the link below and let us know what events you’d like us to host in Scotland next year! All comments and suggestions are welcome!

https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/P3QFPN8

Managing Moths at Newhailes House

Newhailes House brings three centuries of history to life. Originally built in the 17th century, this Palladian house was owned by the influential Dalrymple family and featured prominently during the Scottish Enlightenment. The National Trust for Scotland, through the Collections Conservation team, is embarking on a 4-month integrated pest management project to manage the moths at Newhailes House.

The project will involve treating a number of objects in the property for moths as well as a deep clean of affected rooms. We’re looking for a team of volunteers to help complete the project from mid-January through the end of March 2019.

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Call for Papers – Monuments in Monuments, 2019 Conference

Monuments in Monuments Conference, Monday 2 September to Wednesday 4 September 2019, the Engine Shed, Stirling

Are you a conservation professional? We’re inviting contributions for abstracts for our conference next year on the conservation of stone monuments and objects inside traditional buildings.

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About the conference

Our Monuments in Monuments Conference is an exciting, three-day international conference that offers the opportunity for conservation practitioners to network and share experiences.

The conference aims to examine the conservation of immobile stone monuments, structures or objects inside traditional buildings, and their conservation challenges.

Bringing together international conservation practitioners from across the world, we’ll explore innovative and traditional approaches to stone conservation inside traditional buildings. We’ll also examine whether a holistic conservation approach is possible.

We’re running the conference at our dedicated conservation centre in Stirling, the Engine Shed, and delegates will also have the opportunity to visit some of the most iconic heritage sites in Scotland to explore these issues first-hand.

The key themes

We’re inviting abstract submissions under these five key themes:

  • Investigation & survey: The role of imaging, heritage science, material characterisation and analysis
  • Creating a protective building envelope: Materials and design approaches to the external structure that supports the conservation of internal structures
  • Conservation challenges: Preventive and remedial conservation of sculptural elements inside historic spaces including:
    • Environmental control
    • Salt reduction
    • Controlling moisture ingress
    • Consolidation
    • Cleaning
    • Repair
  • Conservation in context: Use and adaptation of traditional buildings and their impact on internal monuments
  • Stakeholder engagement: The roles and responsibilities of communities, owners, visitors and other stakeholders to achieve sustainable conservation of a ‘living’ space

Get involved

We’re inviting abstracts from professionals who have an interest or expertise in stone conservation.

Your abstract should be:

  • No more than 300 words
  • Submitted in PDF format

If you’d like to submit an abstract, send all of the above to MiM2019@hes.scot by Thursday 31 January 2019. This is an extended deadline.

If your abstract is successful, you’ll be invited to submit a paper to present at our conference.

Please note our other deadlines:

Friday 22 February 2019: We’ll send notice of all successful abstracts

Tuesday 23 April: Deadline for full papers

Friday 31 May: Papers reviewed and returned to authors for final amendments

Friday 14 June: Receipt of finalised papers

Book your tickets and get more information here.

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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.

 

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.