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

Suspending sessions until October 2020

We have suspended sessions, and plan to re-start in October, if we can;  thanks to our partners and our funder City Bridge Trust, we feel confident that we will be able to complete the project.

Coordinator Helen Lindsay and SMART Art Lead Tom Exley at the Steering Group

Our Steering Group on Friday 13th March at SMART was timely, so we had plans in place ready for the wider shutdown on Monday 16th March.

So far we’ve held 5 sessions, so we are half way through the core programme – though we have post-project sessions for people to maintain contact with each other and London Metropolitan Archives. If we have to pause, this isn’t a bad time to do it.

Meanwhile we are getting on with looking at wellbeing research information. Daisy Rubinstein and Dr Linda Thomson are reviewing the data from questionnaires, feedback from staff at reflective practice sessions, and from a focus group with participants.

Boxes made by SMART members inspired by archival boxes at London Metropolitan Archives

We are keeping communications going with regular tweets, and we are looking at ways to keep in touch with people online. More to come…..

 

Session 3 at LMA 7th February 2020. Protection and looking

The session start time has been moved to 12,30, so the first thing we did was have lunch in the Huntley Room. Then we visited the boxing machine, located in its room high up in the building and full of light. We met Amy, who operated the machine, and watched it robotically crease and cut out the flat box shape. ‘Why is it called a Wrap Lock box? – because it wraps round the book and then locks shut with its tab.

Archive boxes, presents from the Box Machine Room.

It was fantastic to see people become increasing interested in different box shapes, and to share the pleasure of receiving a small archive box as a present. A box you have seen being made is fundamentally different from one purchased from a newsagent.

Travelling through LMAs back regions, we found ourselves in the Conservation Studio. There was an air of anticipation as people wrapped the boxes they had measured last week round the St Luke’s Hospital volumes. Then satisfaction all round as the books fitted snuggly into their new homes. We discussed how the boxes protected the books from handling, dust and even flood water.

Checking to see if the measurements made in Session 2 are accurate, before wrapping the newly made boxes around the books.
Wrapping the books in their bespoke boxes. One of the St Lukes Hospital volumes has a diagram of the brain slipped into the pages.

We were having a tea break in the Huntley Room, when the fire alarm sounded. It was not a drill, so we congregated outside for 25 minutes while the Fire Brigade checked the building.

London Fire Brigade in action -they checked the building and we were soon back in the Conservation Studio.

Back in the Conservation Studio, we moved on to the agents of deterioration, re-written in less technical language than used by professional conservators. At first the group looked a bit bored, maybe tired, maybe thinking they were going to get a lecture.

Agents of Deterioration. The others are bugs and pests; handling and accidents; theft and vandals; fire; water.

However, once we started chatting about bugs, pests, handling and fire the discussion livened up. People sat up in their chairs and started talking and looking. One person said, “do you really spend a whole day at a conference talking about pests, a whole day?” Somewhere between aghast and fascinated.

Fire has changed the chemistry of these parchment pages. One of the Agents of Deterioration.

It’s easy for those of us who work in archives and museums to forget how unfamiliar it is to be behind the scenes for most people.

As a conservator and collections care manager this project is taking me out of my comfort zone, but I am enjoying it. The sessions tend not go to exactly to plan and we have to be flexible – rather like jazz; structured improvisation. And I hope that as the weeks go by the experiences and nascent research emerging from the project will be the beginning of many more C4W workshops.

Helen Lindsay, ACR

Helen is a Collections Care professional and Paper Conservator, who is coordinating Conservation For Wellbeing.