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

Thompson-Walker Internship

This week, we have a final blog post from Irene, our fourth Thomson-Walker Intern….

Times goes by so quickly, and I am already reaching the last week of my internship at the Centre for Research Collections (CRC). The main purpose of this internship was to conserve a collection of medical portraits in the Thomson-Walker collection. This mainly involved removing prints from acidic backings and rehousing them. Some of the prints were adhered completely to the backing board, so the verso of the print could not be seen. When removing the backing from one print, I found that there was writing on the back which was previously hidden. This means that as well as improving its condition, more information can be learned about the print.

Print with backing partially removed to reveal text on verso

I have come across some very interesting prints in the collection. The coloured ones are usually my favourite, as there aren’t many in the collection, but one in particular caught my attention: a portrait of a French nurse. I have conserved over 400 prints during my internship, and this one has been the only female portrait I have seen, so I found it very exciting!

Print of French Nurse

During my time here, I have also had the chance to work on many different projects and activities such as seminars with students and innovative initiatives such as the ‘Crowdsourcing Conservation’ event in which volunteers helped to rehouse a large collection over a two-day period. It has been a great experience working at the CRC. I have gained plenty of hands-on practice, and I’ve had the opportunity to work with a fantastic team from who I have learned many things. My time in Edinburgh has been hugely beneficial for my future career as a conservator.

Thomson-Walker Internship – Round 4!

This week’s blog comes from our newest Thomson-Walker intern, Irene García Bustos. Irene is the fourth in the series of interns to conserve the Thomson-Walker collection of medical portraits. You can read about previous intern experiences here, here and here!

Firstly, let me introduce myself! My name is Irene, and I have a degree in Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage and a master’s degree in Preventive Conservation at Complutense University of Madrid, graduating in 2017. Since finishing my studies, I have had the opportunity to spend over a year doing several internships in photograph and paper conservation at different institutions in Madrid.

Irene working in the conservation studio

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Interactive Integrated Pest Management

The final post from Sophie Lawson, our conservation Employ.ed intern, in this week’s blog…

We are approaching the end of our Conservation E-learning project, with a completed trial resource being prepared to go to our first focus group. The resource focuses on providing the user with an introductory level of knowledge of Integrated Pest Management, with a focus on the problem of insect pests in Special Collections storage. More specifically, the resource aims to provide a wider knowledge of the following: an introduction to Integrated Pest Management (or IPM), how an IPM plan is implemented, pest identification procedures and the quarantine and treatment procedures within an institution.

The interactive menu-based home screen of the trial e-learning resource

Quarantine and Treatment clickable menu screen

Identification clickable menu screen

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New Conservation Internship at the CRC

This week’s blog is written by our new conservation Intern, Holly, who is working on a collections rationalisation project within the rare books department…

I am now beginning my third week as an Intern here at the conservation studio, and thought I would take the time to briefly introduce myself and the project.

I am a current student at the University, studying for an MSc in Book History and Material Culture. The opportunities provided through this degree since it’s commencement in September have allowed me to realise fully a long-held belief in the irreplaceable importance of cultural heritage, and I soon wanted to get involved and gain experience in the field of conservation. As such, I have been a volunteer in the conservation studio since January, and when the advert for this internship was brought to my attention, I jumped at the chance.

Holly working in the studio

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Thomson-Walker Internship – Round 3!

In this week’s blog we hear from Clàudia Callau Buxaderas, who is the third in a series of interns to work on the Thomson-Walker collection…

It has been almost eight weeks since I started my internship at the CRC and sadly, this is already my last week working here. After graduating in conservation at the University of Barcelona, I worked as an intern in other institutions and studios around Spain and now I feel extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to work on the Thomson-Walker collection, a large collection of 2700 prints. I am the third conservator to work on this project, which has definitely been an advantage as I was able to start my work on the very first day. I have to thank the two interns before me for that, Samantha Cawson and Victoria Haddock, as they have provided detailed reports to help the future interns on this project. This information has been essential for me to get into the rhythm and way of working in the studio. In the same way, I hope to provide other interns in the future with some new ideas. Given the size the collection, it is always beneficial to find new ways and methods to speed up the work and to get the most of these (very short!) weeks.

Clàudia working in the studio

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End of an Internship

Victoria Haddock, the second in a series of interns working on the Thomson-Walker collection, reviews her time spent at the CRC in this week’s blog post. If you’d like to find out more about this project, you can view Victoria’s end of internship Powerpoint presentation at the bottom of this article.

As I watch another beautiful sunset from the window of the CRC conservation studio, it seems a good moment to reflect back on the past 10 weeks of my internship here, which have absolutely flown by.

Although I did think on my first day that I was looking forward to 10 weeks of solid tape removal, the internship has been very busy, varied and with lots of opportunities beyond what I first expected.

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Thomson-Walker Internship – Round 2!

This week’s blog come from Victoria Haddock, a recent graduate, and our second Thomson-Walker intern….

I am currently approaching the end of my fourth week of a ten-week internship working on the Thomson-Walker collection of medical portrait prints at the CRC conservation studio here at the University of Edinburgh.

I graduated earlier this year from the MA paper conservation course at Camberwell College of Arts and have been fortunate to have been quite busy over the summer with various short term contracts and was overjoyed to have been offered this opportunity here. It has been quite a whirlwind of new people to meet, things to learn and see in the last month and I’m sad to think it has already passed by so quickly.

Victoria in the conservation studio

Victoria in the conservation studio

There is certainly no fear of me running out of work to do though, with a collection of approximately 2500 prints to work through! I’m the second of a planned series of interns who will have to remove these prints from their current storage, where some anonymous person decades ago lovingly spent hundreds of hours taping all of these prints onto board and paper which has now become very acidic and brittle and prevents further conservation work or digitisation projects taking place. Like many conservation projects, I have to undo all of this work done with the best of intentions previously, and throw the unsuitable board unceremoniously into the recycling bin. You can read about the importance of good housing in this blog by Special Collections Conservator, Emily.

Boxes of prints, before treatment in acidic boxes

Boxes of prints, before treatment in acidic boxes

Boxes of prints, after treatment in acid-free boxes

Boxes of prints, after treatment in acid-free boxes

Following the procedures outlined by Samantha Cawson, the first Thomson-Walker intern (here is a link to her blog where she explains everything – with puns!), most of the adhesive tape (a paper gummed tape mainly) can be easily removed by applying lens tissue packages containing CMC (carboxymethyl cellulose) for anything up to 30 minutes, and peeling away the carrier.

Prints, during treatment

Prints, during treatment

It has been a great experience so far, and I have been fortunate to have gone on a tour of the National Library of Scotland’s conservation studio, be part of some of the studio tours here and the conservation taster days run for the students. It is a great place to work as there is always something amazing being brought in to the studio and there is also a fabulous view, which as many conservators will know, that not being consigned to a cold basement is a rare and wonderful thing!

Print, after conservation

Print, after treatment

A Fond Farewell

For the last ten weeks I have been working with Project Conservator, Emily Hick to conserve and rehouse a collection of rare Greek books. The weeks have gone racing by and now my internship has come to an end. In light of this, I would like to share a bit more about my internship experience at the Centre for Research Collections.

Working on the Blackie project with Emily has been a great way to gain insight into the planning and management of conservation projects. One of my responsibilities as intern was to record the time it took me to complete each task and the materials I used in the process. This was a really useful exercise as it made me think of how I could work more efficiently and be more resourceful with materials. I now feel that I am better equipped to plan and manage conservation projects myself in the future.

One of the great advantages of working on a project involving Greek books is that I can’t stop and read them! However, I have occasionally found some quirky things in the collections to distract me. My favourite by far is this doodle on the endpaper of an eighteenth century book. The image is of George Dunbar, professor of Greek at Edinburgh University from 1807 to 1851. It looks as if it may have been drawn by one of his students!?

Sketch of George Dunbar, Professor of Greek at Edinburgh University from 1807 -1851

Sketch of George Dunbar, Professor of Greek at Edinburgh University from 1807 -1851

My background is in Preventive Conservation so the internship has been an excellent opportunity to become more familiar with paper conservation. I have been able to learn a lot more about the interventive treatments of paper just by observing Emily and the other conservators at work. As most cultural heritage collections contain paper objects and books, the value of this knowledge cannot be understated. I thoroughly enjoyed having a go at some basic interventive conservation treatments during a Conservation Taster Day held at the CRC, where I learned to do tear repairs and infills on de-accessioned documents.

Having fun making tear repairs during the conservation taster day

Having fun making tear repairs during the conservation taster day

As a Preventive Conservator, I feel it is important to have a broad understanding of all materials and objects found in cultural heritage collections. Therefore, it has been particularly helpful for me to visit different parts of the University’s collections to learn how they are cared for. I have been able to visit the Musical Instrument Collections, the Anatomy Museum and the Art Collections. I was fascinated to learn about the treatments and techniques employed in the conservation of musical instruments. During my visit to the anatomy museum I was interested to learn about the practical ethical challenges in caring for collections of human remains.

Musical instrument conservation studio

Musical instrument conservation studio

Throughout the internship I have had access to training, which has significantly improved my knowledge and skills in both preventive and remedial conservation. I have received training on rehousing, disaster planning and designing collections databases. The training will undoubtedly improve my chances of finding employment once the internship concludes. I have also been able to get an idea of what is involved in running a staff training day by assisting Emma Davey, Conservation Officer, in preparing for the disaster response and salvage training.

Learning to make temporary boxes for books

Learning to make temporary boxes for books

Building wind tunnels during salvage training

Building wind tunnels during salvage training

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time working with the Conservation Department at the CRC. I have been encouraged to get involved in all aspects of the Department’s work, from conservation and collections care, to public engagement activities. As a new graduate, the internship has allowed me to put the knowledge gained from my Masters degree into practice and given me more confidence in my abilities. The conservation team have all been very supportive and have given me lots great advice on career development. All in all, I think an internship with the CRC is an excellent opportunity for a new graduate, and I would strongly recommend it to anyone starting out in conservation.