This blog follows my placement with Research & Cultural Collections at the University of Birmingham in January 2014, where I will undertake a range of collections management projects to further develop my skills in research, cataloguing, exhibition and preventive conservation.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Wilson Conservation Studio

As I am currently completing my Masters in Cultural Material Conservation with an intention to specialise in paper conservation, I was very excited to spend some time working at the Wilson Conservation Studio, based at the Cadbury Research Library. Paper conservators Sarah Kilroy and Marie Sviergula are both extremely knowledgeable and were happy to answer all my questions and provide demonstrations. Marie took me on a very thorough tour of the conservation studio and the storage facilities at the Library, which house some amazing material, including the Mingana Collection of Middle Eastern Manuscripts and important first editions, such as De Humani Corporis (1543) by Vesalius and the Complete Works (1616) of Ben Johnson.

It was interesting to compare disaster management plans, issues with pest management, and temperature and relative humidity control measures tailored to a Northern Hemisphere climate. I also had the opportunity to observe and discuss conservation assessment and treatment approaches to materials I had not encountered firsthand before, such as papyrus, vellum and parchment.

Wilson Conservation Studio
I assisted Sarah and Marie with preparations for an upcoming exhibition, ‘The Art of Anatomy’, which will feature historical medical drawings and models. Being a small studio, the conservators are often required to problem solve and perform a variety of jobs in the lead up to an exhibition – exhibition designer, art handler, mount-maker, lighting technician and curator (to list a few!).

Anatomical models on custom-made mounts for the exhibition
Constructing a mount (consisting of a backing support board and mount window) is a very useful skill for a conservator and one I was eager to learn. Mounts provide vital support to fragile works on paper, they help to ensure easy access in storage, reduce the risk of physical damage upon handling and enhance the display of works. Sarah and Marie guided me through measuring and cutting them mounts, attaching the mount-window to the backing board, trimming and positioning the image within the window with hinge mounts. A deceptively time-consuming process, it was very satisfying to reach the final product!
A work in progress

Final touches

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