Crowdsourcing Conservation – Thomas Nelson Collection

Following on from the popular “Crowdsourcing Conservation” sessions held in February 2017 and 2018, the Centre for Research Collections held seven more crowdsourcing events from October 2018 to March 2019. This time, we focussed on the Thomas Nelson collection. Over seven days, 67 volunteers helped to rehouse 197 boxes of archival material. The collections are now stored in acid-free folders and boxes, and are much easier to handle and access.

Thomas Nelson Collection, before rehousing

Thomas Nelson Collection, after rehousing

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Who You Gonna Call? (Dustbusters!)

This week’s blog comes from Project Collections Assistants, Anna O’Regan and Stephanie Allen, who assisted the Museum Collections Team with a large scale move of artworks by Edinburgh College of Art students to a new collections store at the University Collections Facility (UCF). Supervised by Museum Collections Manager, Anna Hawkins and Preventive Conservator Katharine Richardson, the primary focus of this project was to surface clean the artworks before they were relocated.

When we arrived at the UCF for the beginning of this project, the artworks were stored in a less than ideal location; placed on open shelving, they were exposed to the accumulation of surface dirt. This project facilitated their move into a closed, environmentally controlled storage facility which was built specifically to house the University’s Museum and Art collections.

Roller Racking Storage at UCF

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Icky Sticky Tape

This week’s blog has been written by Lisa Behrens, a book and paper conservation student from Stuttgart in Germany, who spent four weeks at CRC’s conservation studio earlier this summer. In this post, Lisa describes a treatment she carried out on a bound volume in the Margaret Morris collection from the Fergusson Gallery in Perth. This collection is being catalogued and conserved at the CRC as a part of a collaborative Wellcome Trust-funded project entitled ‘Body Language’

If you don’t know the first thing about paper conservation, let me help you out: Do not, under any circumstances, use sticky tape. There you go, you now know the first thing.
I understand it’s tempting. When you first put it on, it looks neat. It mends that tear, it is easy to use and readily available. The problems start when it begins to age. Even if stored in optimal conditions, certain chemical reactions will inevitably take place. These will lead to discolouration of the adhesive, making the tape brittle and, worst of all, damaging and discolouring the object itself. Adhesive can also sink into the paper matrix and become so hardened that it’s almost impossible to remove.

During my three years of working and studying in this field I have come across a lot of adhesive tape, mostly used for tear repairs by well-meaning individuals over the last few decades. For example, this volume of sheet music from the Margaret Morris Collection, namely a ballet called The Forsaken Mermaid, had been repaired at least twice before, which is apparent from the use of different types of adhesive tape and kinds of thread for resewing.

The Forsaken Mermaid, before treatment

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Bigger and Better Things

In this week’s blog, Sarah MacLean, an MA Conservation of Fine Art student from Northumbria University, describes a two-week work placement she undertook with us in July 2018…

During my time studying Fine Art at Undergraduate level, I always did big things; used metre upon metre of canvas, and sculpted near-immovable forms twice my height. Now, as an MA Conservation of Fine Art student at Northumbria University, large format works are still where my interests lie, and I’ve had the opportunity during my work placement at the CRC to work on a wide variety of those.

The works I’ve been able to conserve so far during my time here are part of the Patrick Geddes Collection. Geddes (1854-1932) was a Scottish-born polymath with interests and expertise in biology, sociology, geography, and urban planning, and it’s for his pioneering work in this latter field that he is best known. As such, the large format plans on which I’ve worked within the Collection so far are mainly hand-drawn and coloured mappings of urban developments in locations everywhere from Dunfermline to Imperial Delhi.

A pleasant and unexpected feature of hand-drawn and coloured works of art on paper – timorous marginalia beasties!

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My Royal Mile

This week, we have our final blog from Project Conservator, Helen Baguley, who has been working with us for the past 18 months on the Collections Rationalisation Project…

The Royal Mile is an iconic street which runs through the centre of Edinburgh. It is a ‘must see’ attraction for tourists, and one of the first places I visited when I moved up to Edinburgh for my new job which began 18 months ago. Running from the Castle to Holyrood, the Royal Mile is actually slightly longer than a mile, and measures 1.81 kilometres. Here at the Centre for Research Collections (CRC), I have been working within the conservation department on the Collections Rationalisation Project, caring for some of the rare books and archive collections which are housed at the University Collections Facility (UCF) and the Main Library. As my contract here has now come to an end, I have added up the linear meterage of the shelves which house the collection I have been working on, and it comes to an incredible 1801.25 metres. To put this into perspective, 1801.25 metres is just 8.75 metres short of the Royal Mile. But I think my Royal Mile is just as historic and exciting, as it is made up of beautiful rare books, interesting archives and fascinating objects from the collections!

The Royal Mile, Edinburgh (picture from: http://trending.com/tweets/2018-01-03/strolling-down-the-royal-mile-of-edinburgh-michael-londonviewpoints-on-instagram)

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Completion of the Thomson-Walker Project

In this week’s blog our final Thomson-Walker Intern, Giulia, talks about the completion of the Thomson-Walker project and her experience of working at the CRC…

Giulia working in the studio

We did it! The conservation of the Thomson-Walker collection of medical portraits is finally complete! It took four years, five interns, dozens of batches of carboxymethylcellulose (CMC), several metres of lens tissue, and an indefinite number of acid-free paper sheets, but the 3,000 prints are finally free from acidic secondary supports, adhesive residues and tape hinges, and are now ready to be fully catalogued and digitized. At the beginning of my internship, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get through the final boxes in the collection. The previous interns’ fantastic work (you can read all about here, here, here and here) left me with 600 prints to conserve, from portraits classed under letter “P” to the ones under “Z”, with two jam-packed boxes labelled “S” in between. I really wanted to do my best to complete the project, since I was going to be the last intern to work on the Thomson-Walker collection, and also because I was determined to challenge myself, testing the workload I was able to carry out in a short period of time.

Print, after conservation, rehoused in a single crease acid-free folder

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Session Paper Project Internship

My name is Claire and I am the first intern to work with Nicole on the Session Papers Project.  I am due to graduate with a master’s degree in paper conservation this year, but I am starting this internship to broaden my knowledge of book conservation. Methods and skills within conservation tend to overlap, and this is especially true with books and paper. My role within this pilot project is to assist in the conservation of 300 books. Conservation treatments include structural repairs, consolidation, and board reattachment. The volumes need to be in a good enough condition to withstand digitisation and further handling following the project.

Claire working in the conservation studio

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The Good, the Fair and the Unusable. Conservation of Session Papers at the CRC.

This week, Projects Conservator Nicole introduces a brand new project she is working on at the CRC…

I am currently working on a 6-month pilot project to conserve three collections of Scottish Session Papers prior to digitisation. The collections are held across three institutions: the Advocate’s Library, the Signet Library and here at the Centre for Research Collections. These collections consist of around 6,500 volumes, comprising of multiple case papers in one volume. The case papers of the Scottish Court of Session are the most significant untapped printed source for the history, society and literature of Scotland from 1710-1850.  They cover an extraordinary period in the nation’s history from the immediate aftermath of the Union of 1707 through the Jacobite wars, the Enlightenment, the agricultural and industrial revolutions and the building of Walter Scott’s Edinburgh.

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Thomson-Walker Internship – Round 5!

Our final Thomson-Walker intern introduces herself in this week’s blog post….

“I feel like a pastry chef!”: this was my first thought while trying to smear an even layer of a carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) poultice on a strip of lens tissue to remove a very thick residue of what distinctively smelled like coccoina (a marzipan-scented Italian glue, made from potato starch and almond paste). Being Italian, I couldn’t help but recognise the fragrance bringing back so many childhood memories. I didn’t imagine, back then, how difficult it actually is to remove this adhesive from the back of a 17th century print!

My name is Giulia, I have a Master’s degree in conservation of paper, book and photograph material, and I’m going to be the last intern working to conserve the Thomson-Walker collection of medical portraits. A little more than 600 prints of the 2,700 that constitute the collection still need to be removed from the acidic paper and board supports, and rehoused in acid-free folders and boxes, so that they can be finally catalogued, digitized and studied by researchers.

Print from the Thomson-Walker collection prior to conservation

My interest in the issues regarding the removal of adhesives has grown since I obtained my degree. In November 2016, I did a two-month Erasmus traineeship at the Archives Nationales in Paris, where I treated a series of costume inventories drawn-up with a variety of inks, that had been glued to acidic cardboard, plywood and Masonite supports (it was quite tricky to remove them: if you’d like to read about it, you can find a post about this project here, if you know a little bit of French).

So when I came across the advert for the Thomson-Walker internship, I immediately knew it would be a project I would love to take part in. What attracted me most to this project was the incomparable opportunity of working on a vast collection of prints – the second largest in the UK and one of the biggest in Europe – which spanned over 400 years and varied greatly in the printing techniques. From a professional point of view, I knew the project was going to challenge my organizational, prioritising and time-management skills, and help me acquire some practical experience in making storage solutions. During my studies, and especially after graduating, I’ve been trying to gain experience on a wide range of paper-based materials, such as scrapbooks, set models, tracing papers and, for the past six months at the National Central Library of Florence, books. I still hadn’t had the chance to work on a large collection of prints, so when I was offered the position I felt like I was adding essential experience to my checklist.

Using a poultice to soften adhesive

Removing paper hinge using tweezers

When reading the advert and the previous interns’ entries (here, here, here and here), I was really impressed with the rich interdisciplinary approach the CRC internship programme was offering to recent graduates. By providing meetings with other professionals working at the CRC, tours of conservation studios in Edinburgh, and assisting with volunteers and outreach activities, a preview of what it really means to work as a conservator in a public institution can be gained.

Now I have almost finished my second week at the studio, and I’m really getting into the work routine and trying my best to keep a rhythm. But then I stop for a moment, I focus on the gentleman who’s staring back at me from the small 17th century print I have just finished treating, and I can’t help but contemplating how gorgeous his portrait looks….

Print from Thomson-Walker Collection

Thomson-Dunlop Research and Conservation Internship

Our blog this week comes from Michela Albano, who recently spent four weeks working with our Musical Instrument Conservator, Jonathan Santa Maria Bouquet…

Thanks to the Thomson-Dunlop Research and Conservation Internship, I had the opportunity to spend four weeks in the autumn of 2017 at St Cecilia’s Hall: Concert Room and Music Museum. This provided me with an amazing experience in an energetic and supportive environment where the deep knowledge of musical instruments preservation is fruitfully combined with a welcoming and enthusiastic team.

The project I undertook was driven by the interest in, but lack of knowledge of, two rare musical instruments in the University’s collections known as “violins without sides,” “rib-less violins” or “flat violins” (I strongly suggest you to come and see these instruments at the Museum as they are quite unusual!). There are only three such instruments known and all of them are currently held in Scotland: two at St Cecilia’s Hall and a third at Dean Castle in Kilmarnock. What a fortunate coincidence.

“Ribless”, “without sides” or “flat” violins on display at the St. Cecilia’s Hall Museum

Overall, little is known about these intriguing instruments and this project aimed to clarify dating, provenance, and attribution, as well as to try and establish their function within a musical context. To reach these outcomes, the instruments were investigated using both historical and scientific approaches. The scientific analysis of the instruments was my main task.  I used photographic documentation both in the visible light range and under UV induced fluorescence to learn about the materials used in the violins’ construction, understand their current condition, and to see evidence of prior conservation and repairs. Next, Computed Tomography (CT) scanning allowed for the analysis of the inner structure of the instruments, shedding light on the manufacturing processes. In addition, these CT images were used for non-invasive dendrochronological investigation to figure out the age of the wood – thus clarifying the dating of the objects. Finally, I carried out spectroscopic and microchemical analysis on the materials used in the violins’ construction. This provided information on the oils and the resins used by the maker for the varnish. The results of this study, combined with the historical research being completed by a fellow intern, will provide more information of these mysterious objects.

Violin in visible light

Violin in UV light. When UV light is absorbed by certain materials, it is reflected towards the eye as longer wavelength visible radiation (visible light). The presence of fluorescence may assist with materials identification, detecting damage or surface coatings, and uncovering areas of previous restoration. The colours of the observed fluorescence will depend mainly, but not only, on the material.

This internship has been a special experience for me, both professional and personally. I have gained valuable skills which will be highly beneficial for my career development. Moreover, this internship allowed me to meet great people and work in a very positive and supportive environment. I have learnt a lot about musical instruments whilst acquiring conservation knowledge through hands-on experience. Discovering the amazing treasures in the wider CRC collections has shown me the advantages of the cooperation between great teams of conservators and museum professionals in a well-connected and collaborative environment. Finally, as an intern from Italy, this experience not only provided growth on a professional level, but was an amazing opportunity to learn about Scottish culture and to discover Edinburgh, a truly fascinating city. I am excited to see the final results of the project and I look forward to future collaborations with St Cecilia’s Hall and the University of Edinburgh.

Details in visible light

Details UV light