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
Tatjana Wischniowski is a painting conservator based in St Andrews
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Our first blog post is from our Chair, Christa Gerdwilker:
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.
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.
In these unprecedented times, Historic Environment Scotland have launched a new survey to understand the impacts of this fast-changing situation on the historic environment sector across Scotland.
To paint as broad and accurate a picture as possible, please take the time to share your views. You can help us understand the current position and outlook as businesses, organisations and community groups within Scotland’s historic environment sector.
The survey will be open until Thursday 30 April and takes less than 15 minutes to complete!
Take the survey here
Now that we are very much in lockdown until further notice, Icon Scotland Group Committee want to know how you are managing. Are you still able to work or if not are you coping in isolation? Let us know what you are doing… are you using your skills to tackle other activities? [see mobile making above].
Would you like to share your experiences with the conservation community in Scotland? Perhaps you could contribute some training or give us an insight into your work [or lack of it as a result of the pandemic]. A single or series of photographs would be welcome or perhaps a vlog could be a good way to keep in touch. We are very keen to hear from you, let’s keep connected…please send contributions to….firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you and stay safe.
Some thoughts about emergency response during a period of lockdown
By Julie Bon, ACR, Head of Collections Care, National Library of Scotland
Now that most of us are working from home, and unable to access our collections, this might be a good time to take a look at your emergency plan: can it still be enacted, if necessary, during this period of lockdown? There are some important staffing issues that you may need to consider:
There are a number of other issues to consider during this lockdown period. If thought is given to these in advance it will make any emergency response more efficient:
We all hope that the worst will not happen but we need to be ready in case it does. If thought is given to the above questions then you will be in a better position to respond, or help others to respond, should an emergency occur. Good luck and stay safe.
In this second blog post, Icon Scotland Group has compiled a list of resources for freelancers and others. We will be expanding on this list and will endeavour to keep conservators in Scotland up to date with whatever information they require:
Support for small businesses, helpline:
Includes helpline, grants for small businesses, existing grantholders
Built Environment Forum Scotland:
Comprehensive list of sites and links to support advice and funding
Useful accountant’s advice (Scotland):
For Charities in Scotland (Museums and others )
3rd Sector resilience advice from SCVO
Arts Council England:
Package of 160M grants for small business in creative sector (not Scotland obviously)
The Art Newspaper’s useful list (by country) of help and guidance for small arts businesses:
Icon’s Covid-19 resource page:
VDR (Germany – by region)
Handling Library materials and collections during a Pandemic
useful web links and guidance
Stay safe and keep well
For more information find a link to the HMRC website below:
HMRC [Covid-19] Self Employment Income Support Scheme
This scheme will allow you to claim a taxable grant worth 80% of your trading profits up to a maximum of £2,500 per month for the next 3 months. This may be extended if needed.
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 – email@example.com. 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
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:
A blog exploring all things archives, records, and everything in-between.
Written by Icon Book & Paper Group members
Oil Painting Conservation and Collections Care
Heritage Imaging at The John Rylands Library