Friday, 23 March 2012

Notes from Conservation

Some amulets bagged up ready for
freezing due to pest damage
Now that the Small Blessings project is well under way, amulets requiring conservation treatment have started to make their way in to the conservation lab.

The large majority of the objects being sent my way for treatment are corroding metals and textile / organic objects, which have been nibbled by pests.

Objects with pest damage are gently cleaned using a museum vacuum, which has a very low suction. They are then placed in our freezer for several days at -30 degrees in order to kill off any remaining bugs, larvae or eggs.

One of the slightly more complex objects needing attention is a small satchel containing religious pictures that was carried by a policeman in Germany (PRM 1985.52.70 - see below). It is a composite object, with silk, copper alloy, paper, and other textile components, each of which is deteriorating or damaged in its own way.

Front of policeman's satchel with detail of corroded metal (PRM: 1985.52.70)

One problem area is on the front, where there is a heavily corroded copper alloy border placed right on top of the red silk. Any treatment carried out on the metal has to be done with great care not to damage or stain the silk further.

The next issue is pest damage, which is particularly noticeable on the back of the satchel. Here the pests have eaten away a lot of the textile around the stitching.

Back of satchel showing pest damage

As with all objects arriving in the lab, the satchel has been photographed and given a thorough assessment. The next stage will be to come up with a plan of action for its treatment.


Thursday, 8 March 2012

De-installation of 'Charmed Life' exhibition at Wellcome Trust

A guest blog by PRM Curatorial Assistant, Maddie Ding:

© Wellcome Images

At the end of February I went to London with Andrew, a PRM Conservator, to de-install an exhibition of amulets at the Wellcome Trust. Curated by the artist Felicity Powell, Charmed Life was inspired by the collection of Edward Lovett’s amulets held by the PRM. I was involved with the original installation last autumn; now our job was to remove, check and pack the 381 objects lent by our Museum.

Maddie and Felicity Powell arranging amulets for display during
the installation of Charmed Life in 2011. © Wellcome Images

We worked from Monday to Wednesday. The first case lid was removed by the Wellcome Technicians team shortly after our arrival and objects were carried to the work table where they were condition checked by either Andrew or myself and countersigned by the Wellcome Trust conservator before being packed. The objects were removed from display in reverse order to how they'd been installed (i.e. the last one in was the first one out). Objects were placed in plastic bags and padded with foam. The bagged objects were packed in the appropriate plastic box. The wooden crate held nine plastic boxes each with a contents list.

Andrew and Luana (Wellcome conservator) checking objects under lamplight

Before the objects left the Pitt Rivers Museum for loan, they were assessed by another of our Conservation team, Jenny (who is now working on the Small Blessings project). She described and photographed each object so our role was to compare the object with the original condition report to check that no changes had occurred. Happily there no problems as the condition of all the objects matched the initial assessment. Each time we had a break, the objects we had de-installed were stored in the packing crate and the lid secured. The remaining objects were secured in the display case and the gallery locked.

© Wellcome Images
By Wednesday all the objects were packed safely into their crate. The time it takes to install or de-install an exhibition depends on the number, complexity, size or significance of the objects and working practices of the host museum. This de-installation was calculated to take about three days but if we needed more time the return transport could be delayed. The courier company provided a lorry with drivers to transport the objects back to Oxford, and Andrew and I personally accompanied the crate back to the Pitt Rivers Museum. Most of the objects will be re-packed for storage but a few will return to display.


P.S. Even though the exhibition has now finished, you can see a selection of the Pitt Rivers Museum's Lovett amulets that were on display here.