Have you ever looked at an object on display and wondered about the processes to get it there? Our Conservator Juliane Gregg explains more.
Every object has a limited lifespan and it is my role as a Conservator to extend that lifespan as long as possible. This can be through both interventive and preventive methods. Interventive conservation deals with the hands on treatments to objects such as repairs, removing corrosion and the consolidation of flaking areas. Preventive conservation looks at the control of light, relative humidity, temperature and pests with the aim of preventing damage occurring in the first place.
The majority of my work has been preparing the objects you see on display. Each object or work of art requires a condition report, photographs and conservation cleaning as a minimum with some requiring extra stabilisation work to ensure they look their best and are strong enough to go on display. This could be anything from tidying up historic repairs to relaxing creases in historic textiles such as the silks or replacing missing gilded frame ornaments.
These are some examples of interventive work that has been completed for display objects.
This mounted horseshoe from Persimmon (left) was cleaned using a chemical wet cleaning method and swabs. The wood was also cleaned with a wet method but using a differnet chemical to ensure the dirt was removed from the surface of the wood but the varnish stayed in place. The areas of flaking varnish that were found on inspection were stabilised with an adhesive consolidant matched to imitate the way light bounces off the aged varnish so it wouldn’t be too shiny and obvious.
"This statue of a jockey in Jim Joel's colours, after cleaning, had an old repair made good by gently swelling the excess adhesive with an appropriate chemical then removing it with a scalpel."
The missing areas to the break edges in the base were then colour matched in. It may still look obvious in the images but in Conservation we work on a “6 Foot – 6 Inches” rule; so what is obvious at 6 inches away from the object you shouldn’t be able to see at 6 foot away.
This bust of Fred Archer also had some colour matching, but this was after repairs had been made to the missing edge of his jacket. The chips and missing areas were so obvious they distracted you when you looked at the Bust, so although the object was not in danger of deteriorating further the decision was made to create a repair to bring it back to look like it was when it was made.
After cleaning the object, firstly with a brush and museum vacuum and then with a wet swab method, the repair was formed freehand from a mixture of adhesive and special conservation filler. This was then colour matched in to the original surface material.
Knowing how things will react to different chemical processes and and an understanding of how things are made are vital and form a large part of most Conservation qualifications. However, the role of a Conservator is a varied one and on a project this scale with so many variables almost every bit of knowledge I have gained over my 12 years working in Conservation has come in useful at some point! It has been a real privilege and joy to work on such a fantastic collection but it doesn’t end now the museum is open as there are new objects being added all the time, a rolling program of temporary exhibitions, loans to return or receive, building management systems to control and the not so small task of the rest of the collection to organise!
Find out more about Julianne here.