Spotlight on Scotland’s Private Sector

Sara Crofts meets up with private conservators in Scotland

Isobel Griffin

The Icon Scotland Group was delighted to welcome Sara Crofts to Scotland for our Annual Plenderleith Memorial Lecture in November, and Sara made time the next day to meet with a group of private conservators working in Scotland. They were Sarah Gerrish, Graciela Ainsworth, Karen Dundas, Gretel Evans, Wilma Bouwmeester and Anna Trist, plus Helen Creasy, Tuula Pardoe and Will Murray from the Scottish Conservation Studio. We would have liked to invite more people but we were limited by space, so we’re hoping this blog will be useful to all those who we couldn’t accommodate in person, and indeed to private conservators from all parts of the UK.

The meeting was held at the Scottish Conservation Studio’s premises at Hopetoun House near Edinburgh, with wonderful refreshments kindly provided by the resident conservators. We began with a quick tour of ‘work on the go’, which included archival items and  navigational instruments being prepared for the David Livingstone Museum, textiles being conserved for Edinburgh City Museums and a wonderful umbrella stand from the Glasgow School of Art Mackintosh building. Many interesting topics came up during the tour, including the worrying decline in requests for training from local museums; the importance of keeping copies of the conservation reports produced for local museums; and the potential to use big projects which have employed many different conservation specialisms for advocacy purposes.

The tour was followed by a round-table discussion, as follows:

Volunteering for Icon – private conservators are keen to volunteer, but it is particularly challenging for them because they are giving up time when they could be earning money. It is particularly challenging for conservators from Scotland because the training for aspects of volunteering such as being PACR mentors almost always takes place in London.

The discontinuation of the standard contract which used to be available through the Icon website – this is probably mourned by private conservators everywhere, but Sara explained that Icon’s lawyers have advised that it is too risky for Icon to provide a template contract.

Business skills assistance – there is an ongoing need for this amongst private conservators. Sara noted that Icon is currently pulling together private practice training material covering insurance, health and safety and so on, and that it might be possible to create a business skills hub of shared resources. Icon would welcome further suggestions of what is needed.

Slow payment of invoices by clients – this was clearly a big issue for every conservator around the table! Sara said that she will flag the need for swift payment of small conservation practices when she meets with senior figures from major institutions. It was also suggested that Icon could help with lobbying for conservation practices to be put into the same category as building contractors, where they would have to be paid within two weeks.

CSCS cards – in theory these are required by conservators working on construction sites, although it was noted that in practice some sites don’t seem to expect that conservators will have them. Concern was expressed that the online training required to obtain a card used to be fairly quick and straightforward, but has since become very time-consuming, and that it would be helpful if Icon could lobby for this to change.

New conservation register – there were differing levels of satisfaction with the current version of the conservation register, suggesting that it is working for some conservators but not for others. Sara explained that the specification for the new register came from a review that was undertaken around three years ago. There were concerns that the new register will list individuals rather than businesses, but it was clarified that individuals can link themselves to businesses and that it will still be possible to search for businesses. Searching by postcode will also be possible. The news that individuals will be able to update their own pages whenever they want was also welcomed. Sara noted that it crucial the conservation profession buys in to the new register, and that the prototype will undergo user testing, plus feedback will be gathered once the register is up and running.

Cross-sector working – many private conservators sometimes work with other heritage professionals, and Sara told us about a joined up piece of work Icon is undertaking with groups such as archaeologists and historic building specialists, to help clients identify the right professional for a particular job.

Recommending colleagues – private conservators often provide recommendations for colleagues, and there was discussion about the best way to do this through a practice’s website. It was agreed that featuring case studies which name relevant colleagues on a website is a good way of showcasing colleagues’ work without directly recommending them.

Promoting private practices – Sara noted that she would be very keen for short films about private practices to be shown through the Icon website.

Conservation training in the UK – this was an issue that everyone was concerned about. Sara noted that Icon is holding a round table meeting in January with education providers, big clients, big institutions and so on, to understand the current situation and ask whether there are other ways of providing training.

Making training events more accessible – it was noted that for conservators who cannot easily travel to London, it would be very helpful if more lectures and conferences were recorded and made available online.

Labour Market Intelligence – Sara explained that Icon is currently undertaking a project with funding from Historic England. This will provide a toolkit which any part of the heritage sector can customise and use to undertake its own research. Icon will issue its own survey once the toolkit is ready, and it is crucial to get input to this as widely as possible.

All in all it was an extremely productive afternoon. Sara ended by thanking everyone for their input, and encouraging further ideas and questions to be sent directly to her – sara.crofts@icon.org.uk. We found her visit hugely enjoyable and useful, and would encourage her to ‘haste ye back’, as we say in Scotland!

 

Isobel Griffin, Vice Chair, Icon Scotland Group

3D Documentation of Heritage Artefacts: Introduction to Photogrammetry – Training Course

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3D Documentation of Heritage Artefacts: Introduction to Photogrammetry – Training Course 

Delivered by Marta Pilarska (@M_Pilarska), 3D Digitisation Project Manager at the Scottish Maritime Museum (@Scotmaritime) 

Date: 18 March 2020, 10.30 am – 4:30 pm 

Venue: Scottish Maritime Museum, Linthouse Building, Harbour Rd, Irvine KA12 8BT 

£ 50.00 regular tickets 

£ 40.00 Icon members 

£ 25.00 students 

Photogrammetry is a photography-based 3D imaging technique for documenting a variety of objects. From archaeological finds and intricately carved stonework to works of art or large-scale collections. 

By combining the data from many images of the object, photogrammetry produces a digital 3D model of the object. 

The training day will introduce course participants to methods of 3D digital documentation of historic objects, encouraging them to explore 3D documentation techniques. The session will cover basic data capture procedures and processing workflows enabling delivery of digital 3D models. The course will aim to create an understanding of the requirements, capabilities, and limitations of the technology. 

The Photogrammetry training course will show the possibilities of 3D documentation for a range of objects and materials. We will discuss what types of materials lend themselves well to photogrammetry and which present more challenges. 

Attendees are encouraged to bring their cameras/mobile phones and laptops with the photogrammetry software pre-installed. The installation instructions along with download packages can be found on the software manufacturer’s website: https://www.capturingreality.com/RealityCapture-PPI. 

During the session, we will be able to capture one dataset in a studio setup, however, attendees will also be encouraged to capture their datasets while in the museum. This will allow everyone to work with a unique set of images and will enable the creation of a broader understanding of technical requirements and workflows. 

The course is aimed at museum and heritage professionals and conservators, but everyone interested in photogrammetry is welcome. 

Marta Pilarska is an objects conservator and digital heritage specialist. Her professional interests focus on exploring how digital technologies combined with conservation science can aid heritage preservation. 

See link below for tickets:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/3d-documentation-of-heritage-artefacts-introduction-to-photogrammetry-tickets-90224254173?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

Icon19 Highlights in Edinburgh: Provisional Programme Announced

We are pleased to announce that the provisional programme for our upcoming event in Edinburgh

Icon Scotland Group: Icon Conference Highlights

is now finalised with all speakers confirmed!
Please find the information below:

Icon Scotland Group: Icon Conference Highlights
City Arts Centre
Friday 20 March, 9.20-16.45

This is a one day conference organised by the Icon Scotland Group, featuring 12 of the talks that were given at the Icon 2019 conference in Belfast. There will be plenty of time for questions and discussion, plus opportunities for networking and socialising. Please contact Isobel Griffin (igriffin@nationalgalleries.org) if you have questions about this event. Tickets cost from £20-£40 and are available here.

 

Conservation In Action: Saving the Perth Mummy at Perth Museum and Art Gallery

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Perth Museum and Art Gallery is due to undergo a transformation in the next couple of years with the development of the old City Hall into the new Perth Museum and the remodelling the present building into a dedicated Art Gallery.

This major project will allow much greater access to the city’s diverse collections, of which only 0.05 % is exhibited presently. In preparation for the move and for potential display, a project to conserve part of the collection is underway.

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In an effort to engage and immerse the public in this work as much as possible, conservation officer Anna Zwagerman has curated the ‘Conservation in Action’ exhibition. The aim is to give a comprehensive overview of some of the material and ethical issues faced by conservators in caring for museum collections. Specimens with various forms of degradation are shown relating to natural ageing, pest infestation as well as problems associated with historic conservation treatments. The catastrophic flood of 1993 is referenced and the results of benign neglect of collections are also visible in the rather macabre specimen jars thirsty for fluid.

However, the central element of the exhibition is the opportunity for visitors to witness conservators at work on one of the treasures of the collection, the Perth Mummy Ta-Kr-Hb.

IMG_3389A temporary, glazed conservation studio forms the centre of the exhibition.

Inside visitors will be able to see conservators either undertaking certain aspects of the conservation of the mummy, the treatment of social history objects [such as the cleaning of a silver cloche presently on show] or volunteers working on the digitisation of the collections. When unoccupied, a film highlighting the work on the mummy will be shown on a screen at the back of the studio.

Will Murray of the Scottish Conservation Studio has been contracted to carry out the stabilisation of the mummy and sarcophagus with the expert guidance of Helena and Richard Jaeschke, who will spend three days with Will studying the mummy and forming a plan of action. Having undertaken a thorough investigation and with the information provided by a scan at Manchester Children’s Hospital, Will has an understanding of the condition of the human remains within the bituminous wrappings. However, the focus of this project is to stabilise the outer linens, to improve the stability and support of the mummy and to treat damages to the sarcophagus.

Whilst much of this process will be observable by the public, the highly sensitive nature of conserving human remains and the necessity for privacy to enable serious concentration dictates that certain procedures will be carried out in private. The ethical considerations regarding this treatment are paramount.

Make a trip to Perth Museum and Art Gallery to learn more about this fascinating project…on display until 19th April 2020.

Saving Ta-Kr-Hb; Conserving Perth’s Mummy

Perth Museum and Art Gallery need to raise £7,395 to conserve Perth’s much-loved Egyptian Mummy, Ta-Kr-Hb, so her story can be shared with visitors at the new City Hall Museum. Please see link below to contribute to this wonderful cause.

https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/CPKmummy

 

Conserving the Collections: An Update — GSA Archives

This week GSA’s Collections Development Officer Michelle Kaye provides an update on conservation activities. I’m pleased to share an update on the status of the conservation of material from the Archives and Collections that was affected by the fire in GSA’s Mackintosh Building in May 2014. 1,080 more words

via Conserving the Collections: An Update — GSA Archives

How does it feel to be an intern at the National Library of Scotland?

Thinking about conservation volunteering in Scotland? Find out what it’s like to volunteer at the National Library in Scotland in this article by Marie Renaudin, conservation student from Lyon, France… 

It was kind of hard to find a proper title to this article, I have to admit. How to strike people when you just want to tell everyone how fortunate you are to be an intern in book and paper conservation at the NLS? (Well no, they did not pay me to say that…). As the end is coming soon now, I was lucky to be asked to write a little something on the ICON blog about my impression. The story begins 5 years ago, on my first year of BA in conservation-restoration in Lyon (France), the time when I applied to do a three-month internship at the NLS. I wanted so much to be able to work with this place of great treasures one day that I decided to apply at the very beginning of my studies. As you can imagine, great place cannot stay secret for long, and unfortunately there was no space within 4 years. As my motivation was stronger than ever I have asked if I could be offered my candidature 4 years in advance – that is something we normally don’t do, and with a happy surprise they agreed!

Tear mending in the Ms.3.1.12, National Library of Scotland

Tear mending in the Ms.3.1.12, National Library of Scotland

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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.

 

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.

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.