Conservation

Conserving Carleton Attwood’s bust of Alfred Williams

on Monday, 12 December 2016. Posted in Conservation, Museums, Wiltshire People

The conservation department have recently undertaken the conservation treatment of a bust of Alfred Williams.

Owned by the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery the bust has links to two prominent Swindonian artists. The bust is of Alfred Williams who worked for Great Western Railway in Swindon for many years. In his spare time he looked to improve his knowledge learning languages including Latin and Greek, reading the classics and learning about the natural world around him. He started writing in his early twenties and published a number of works, both poetry and prose, throughout his lifetime leading to him becoming known as ‘the hammerman poet’.

The creator of the bust is Swindonian artist Carleton Attwood. Although Attwood worked in many more traditional materials, this bust is made from moulded concrete. Some of his other well known public commissions are “Golden Lion” in Regent Street and “The Watchers” at Toothill Village Centre. 

The conservation of the object has been undertaken to improve the condition of the bust so that it can be placed on display. Over the years a layer of dust and dirt had built up on the surface of the bust, as well as it being subjected to graffiti in the past.

Shared space: Conserving a leather Sedan Chair

on Tuesday, 27 September 2016. Posted in Conservation

This leather sedan chair was on display at the Assembly Rooms, Bath. Staff from the Roman Baths Museum and Pump House contacted CMAS conservators with concerns about the condition of the item following an active pest infestation in objects displayed close to the chair.

The chair was removed from display and treated to remove the pest infestation using a non-destructive heat treatment.

On closer examination following the pest removal treatment it was determined that the chair was too fragile to return to display, and in need of a little TLC.

The leather exterior had been damaged and repaired a number of times during the life of the object. Notably, blue chalk script on a back panel identifies HF Keevil as the repairer of the chair in April 1942 following an air raid!

Leather damage detail
Leather repair detail

Many of the old repairs were failing and risked more significant damage if the loose areas were caught. Some small areas of fresh damage and loss had been noted, possibly due to areas being caught and knocked whilst the item was on open display; a common occurrence, for example by the bags of unsuspecting visitors.

Textile damage

In addition the textile interior was extremely fragile with large splits and tears and unravelling braiding.

Textile conservator

Due to the size of the item, its fragility and the combination of materials from which it is composed this project has proved challenging. The complexity of the textile repairs necessitated the expert assistance of specialist textile conservators from the studio Textile Conservation Limited. The large size and the fragility of the sedan chair’s surface meant that transportation was not recommended, requiring the work to be carried out on site.

From a block of soil...

on Tuesday, 05 July 2016. Posted in Archaeology, Conservation

The conservation team are celebrating this week as we have completed work on a beautiful and exciting project. Conservation of the stunning finds excavated from Bognor Regis by Thames Valley Archaeological Services in 2008 has come to fruition. The items form part of an unusual burial assemblage along with an iron ‘bed’ frame and sword and are thought to originate from the late Bronze Age/ early Iron Age.

Taking block of soil for x-ray

The finds first came to us in the unassuming form of a large soil block, this was too large to x-ray at our labs so was transported to a local hospital where x-rays revealed a large amount of intricate metal latticework and a helmet.

X-ray of soil block from hospital

The soil block was carefully excavated, layer by layer, revealing the spectacular nature of the copper alloy items held within. The helmet and latticework were extremely fragmented and fragile, the helmet was split in half and part of the lattice was adhered to the helmet with corrosion products.

Conservation of finds unearthed by a badger

on Saturday, 16 April 2016. Posted in Archaeology, Conservation

You may remember the image of a group of ceramic sherds from one of our previous blog posts. Following reconstruction of the vessel we now have true understanding of the magnificence of the objects found. Watch a time-lapse video showing elements of the reconstruction of the vessel.

 

Conservation treatment involved a task like a jigsaw puzzle without a picture. The size, shape and colours of the sherds were used to determine their original location within the urn. Due to the uneven firing of the vessel and areas of burning caused by hot ashes being placed inside the vessel some areas were easier to piece together than others.

When the collared urn was originally manufactured ceramic technology was in its infancy with the kilns used never reaching the temperature required to permanently set the clay in position. During the time the vessel was in the ground, moisture from the surrounding earth also weakened the under-fired structure. This effect, on top of the unconventional excavation method, has meant that the overall shape of the vessel has become distorted.

Before reconstruction the edges of each fragment were strengthened by allowing a weak adhesive to be drawn into the rough surface to hold the loose and sometimes crumbling structure together. The adhesive is well used in conservation and has been developed and tested to ensure that it is long-term stable meaning it will not degrade causing damage to the original fragments of the vessel.

A stronger concentration of the same adhesive was used to adhere the fragments in position, small strips weak masking tape were used to hold the fragments in position as they dried. As the vessel was so large the reconstruction had to be undertaken in stages to ensure each level of fragments were securely in position and ready to support those placed on top.

Remarkable finds from an unusual source

on Friday, 22 January 2016. Posted in Archaeology, Conservation

A large box, filled with Bronze Age finds recovered in Netheravon, was brought to the conservation lab here at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. The objects were covered in moss and smelling rather musty, this however was explained when we were told that the finder of these objects wasn’t an archaeologist but a badger. Deciding to make its home in a convenient mound, the badger inadvertently unearthed finds of a similar style and importance to those found with the nearby Amesbury Archer.

Selection of ceramic sherds

The group of finds include sherds from a large ceramic urn, various bone and antler tools, 2 metal objects (one a serrated blade and the other is still a complete mystery) and most significantly a copper chisel with the decorated bone handle still attached.

Copper chisel with bone handle

The owner of these objects was probably an archer as the finds included a wrist guard used for protection when shooting a bow and stone tools used for straightening arrow shafts.

Wrist guard and shaft straighteners

As the objects were damp when they were unearthed we needed to let them slowly dry out before conservation could begin. This is particularly necessary for the bone and antler finds, as with all organic material, bone and antler swell and contract depending on the moisture content of the object and surrounding air. If the objects were to dry out too quickly then cracks and other damage may be caused.

The conservation team turn detective! Part 2

on Thursday, 29 October 2015. Posted in Conservation

Curing the salt contamination in a pair of Imari vases. A serial conservation mystery, episode 2

In May we discovered that the Imari vases which had been brought to the lab from Wilton House were suffering from a case of salt contamination http://wshc.eu/blog/item/the-conservation-team-turn-detective.html. The salt had caused large cracks up the side of the vases reducing their structural stability and causing loss of some fragments and areas of glaze.

Developing a treatment

Removing salt from an object is best completed by dissolving the salts into water and removing the contaminated water from the vase taking the salt with it. If not all the contaminated water is removed during the treatment some salt will remain and the process of crystallisation will begin again, causing further deterioration.

To try out our treatment options we needed to create some test patients with similar symptoms to the Imari vases.

Undertaking clinical trials

The test patients were contaminated with salts from the base up to simulate the issue with the Imari vases.

Due to the size, weight and fragile nature of the vases treating only the affected area would be the ideal solution. We tested using a poultice made from blotting paper, cartridge paper and distilled water.

To use a poultice you apply a thin layer to the affected area and allow to dry. As the water evaporates from the surface of the poultice the salty water in the centre of the pot is drawn out and the salts are deposited in the poultice. The dried poultice can then be removed taking the salt with it.

The clinical trial turned out to prove the treatment was not effective, instead of evaporating from the poultice some of the water was drawn into the test pot and evaporated from the exposed rim leaving the salts behind.

It was clear that a plan B would have to be developed....

[12 3 4  >>  

logos1