More conservation fascinations

Here are a couple of interesting conservation links.

First, something from our partner organisation Icon’s website about the treatment of a collection of Dutch and Flemish drawings.  These are in the British Museum. This article give you a sense of the level of care taken over treatment, and the different skills that a conservator needs to apply – aesthetic, craft, technical, scientific.

An agarose gel strip is used to remove methyl cellulose poultice residues on the verso of J.A. Backer’s (attributed to) Head of an Old Woman, c.1623-1651, (P&D 1897,0813.9(95)). © 2020 The Trustees of The British Museum.

And second, on the theme of fire damaged documents, something from the British Library about the treatment of Charlotte Canning’s diaries. It is totally conservation centred, so it’s all about the material of the documents, not their content. Which is frustrating, but also illuminating.

The primary aim of treatment was to make the diaries available for consultation by curators and researchers. But because the fire which caused the damage is an integral part of the diaries’ histories, and because it sheds light on the wider context of the Cannings’ lives in India, it was desirable that the evidence of the burn damage also be preserved. The conservation treatment therefore had to offset the risks posed by the burn damage while making sure the damage itself remained intact – an intriguing challenge!

Before treatment
After treatment

Value and Meaning, Now and Then

Midpoint Focus Groups with Staff & Participants, London Metropolitan Archives and SMART, 6th & 13th March 2020.

In the few weeks leading up to the UK lockdown due to Covid-19, I met with participants and staff of the Conservation for Wellbeing project, to learn how they felt the project has gone so far.

Looking back, it was a strange time, in which many were feeling growing anxiety and anticipation of the measures to come. The focus groups, for myself at least, came as a welcome break from conversation about the corona virus, and yet it seems obvious now that even these conversations were impacted by the collective consciousness of the pandemic.

I had first met staff during week 5 of the project sessions at LMA. The following week, five days before UK schools closed, I had a session with participants. As the researcher on the C4W project I had not met all the participants before. We gathered in the meeting room at SMART with cups of tea and some participants still eating lunch, to talk for an hour and reflect on all aspects of the project.

The participants spoke openly, and shared some fascinating insights into what has been most important and resonant for them about the activities and the archives. Particular sessions stood out, such as making boxes to store the archives, and the week in which participants learnt about the tiny pests which pose a threat to documents. Several participants made connections to memories from their own lives, including occasions when they and their families have used more manual photography methods to record important occasions. Participants talked about how the quality of a photograph is affected by the process through which it is produced, and how replicas or well stored negatives might change the value of each image.

All participants made connections to their own memories, and thought together about value, significance and meaning, particularly as these are held within articles and objects they themselves have collected throughout their lives. They each talked about things that they protect and preserve due to their importance or relevance to them. The group explored what it is that can transcend time within archives, and how the records hold resonances which can be shared with people who never met the individuals whose lives they relate to.

They talked about how interesting and valuable it has been to learn about a field of work most people know little about. The project has given people an opportunity to enter a rarely seen world, in which every day involves taking care of snap shots and pieces of life stories. There have been lots of surprises, and elements of the work that the participants could not have imagined.

One participant explained;

“It was just really interesting how careful you have to be. You have to treat these things like you would treat a human being basically.”

A fire damaged document

Now is a time when we all may be thinking more about how we take care of each other and ourselves, and about what is most important to preserve or know and how those things can be kept safe. We are thinking more than usual about what matters most to us. This is a hugely significant point in history, which we are witnessing for ourselves as it emerges every day. I wonder how people may be recording this time for themselves, whether they will be keeping diaries more, or collecting things to keep when we re-emerge from lockdown, and life begins to resume. What will we want to remember or preserve for others to see, from this strange and poignant time?

Daisy Rubinstein, art therapist and C4W evaluation consultant

Here are more conservation fabulousnesses.

Sara Crofts, CEO of Icon, suggested these.

The National Trust’s conservation studio at Knole: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/knole/features/conservation-work-at-knole

And some of their work: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/knole/features/dismantling-the-spangled-bed

The conservation dept at the Bodleian Library.  Lots of case studies – but this one is my favourite: https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/our-work/conservation/case-studies/selden-map. More at: https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/our-work/conservation/case-studies

This is a portion of the Seldon Map of China, photo credit Bodleian Library, and a link to the digital version here.

 

Lockdown resources

Some things going on in the meantime….

Conservation for wellbeing online

Thanks to emergency funding from City Bridge Trust, we are just about to get a programme of digital sessions underway. We will provide people with whatever they need to be able to access Zoom sessions at no cost to themselves – that means the hardware, software, training and support. Then we will start the sessions. We hope these will begin in May.

Ask a conservator

If you have any object that could do with a new lease of life, ask one of the conservators that are part of the Conservation for Wellbeing project. We can put you in touch with an expert based on whatever object you have that could do with restoration.

Send an email to either Tom Exley at SMART or Laura Drysdale at the Restoration Trust with your questions.

Art and design tutorials

Our mental health partners SMART are running weekly art and design tutorials on the website – here. The sessions include a conservation element.

London Metropolitan Archives

LMA have posted details of their online services on their website here. You can also look at the digitised archives of St Luke’s Hospital, which we are working on with the Conservation Team at LMA, here. 

Conservation resources online

Our conservation partner Icon is running a programme of Zoom webinars called Conservation Together at Home that you can sign up for. Interesting talks, including about paper and archives are featuring for the next few. Click here.

The Rothko Conservation Project has a wonderful video on line https://www.tate.org.uk/about-us/projects/rothko-conservation-project
There is also the conservation of the contents of Clandon House, a National Trust property that burned more or less to the ground. https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/clandon-park/lists/salvage-stories-found-objects-from-clandon-park. Here’s the State Bed being salvaged, photo credit National Trust

This oral history is by María Teresa Dávila Álvarez, who was a restorer at the Prado in Madrid and worked on Las Meninas when it was conserved in 1984. When she is going to restore a painting it says to her: ‘Dont touch me with despondency or brusqueness. I demand that you touch me with delicacy’. https://www.museodelprado.es/en/resource/dont-touch-me-with-despondency/4c68f648-6270-4896-a920-202bc426f8ef]

TV programmes

There are two unmissable conservation/restoration programmes on TV at the moment or on catch-up – The Repair Shop and Secrets of the Museum. You can apply to be on The Repair Shop here