Conserving the Mackinnon Collection

This week, Claire Hutchison describes the start of her eight-week internship working to conserve the Mackinnon collection…

I am four weeks into my internship at the CRC and absolutely loving it! I have been given the task of conserving and rehousing the Mackinnon collection. This project has been generously funded by the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust. This collection comprises of the lecture notes, learning materials and other such scribbles of Professor Donald Mackinnon, the first Chair in Celtic at the University of Edinburgh. He made quite the mark during his professional life by translating many Gaelic texts that include poetry, medieval manuscripts and religious texts. Through his work, primary sources of Gaelic language and literature could finally be shared.

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XRF Internship at St Cecilia’s Hall

In this week’s blog, we hear from Despoina Papazoglou who was an intern at St Celilia’s Hall from April to June 2019. Her internship focused on the material analysis of a painted 17th-century harpsichord using XRF…. 

Hello! My name is Despoina and I decided to write this article to share my experience of an eight-week journey as an intern at St Cecilia’s Hall. This is the first time I have written something for a blog, so before I started I googled “how to write my first blog?”, and seriously, I couldn’t understand a thing…just for a moment, I believed that quantum physics was easier to understand!

Let’s start with when I found the vacancy for the internship. The title “Scientific Material Analysis of Musical Instruments Internship” sparked curiosity within me as my professional background is in the field of material science. After reading and re-reading the job description I knew I wanted to be part of the project, as I realised it would not only expand my knowledge but also expose me to new challenges that would help me achieve my future career goals. I was so excited about the job and wanted to be part of it so badly that I did extensive research and learnt all about the museum and the collections displayed within it. Long story short, I sent in my CV, attended the interview and was offered the internship. I was probably the happiest person on earth! One of my biggest desires came true, and I could finally work in a museum with people who share the same passion as me – the conservation and preservation of cultural heritage.

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XRF Internship at the Centre for Research Collections

Find out what our Employ.ed Intern, Cameron Perumal, got up to in the final weeks of her project at the CRC in this week’s blog…

As I near the end of my internship, I have started reflecting on all the skills I have gained in just 8 short weeks.

As part of the University’s Employ.ed Internship Programme this summer, I was the Scientific Analysis of Heritage Collections Intern – or, trying to better understand the use of XRF (X-Ray Fluorescence) in conservation, so that we can engage more with the University’s special collections, in terms of its materiality. XRF is a non-destructive, surface analysis technique used to understand the elemental composition of artefacts, and to gain more historical context of their function.

Short-term projects that I have worked on have included: a framed collection of old British medals (to determine whether they were electrotype copies and to understand their composition); a large Giambologna bronze horse from the Torrie Collection (to gain more information that can be mapped onto a 3D image of the horse for an enhanced user experience); ancient Egyptian ushabtis (to attempt to classify and date them); Indian miniature paintings from the Tasawir collection (to understand pigment composition); and a page of text that claims to be written in West Port serial killer William Burke’s blood from a Burke and Hare scrapbook (to confirm whether Burke’s blood was really used).

Cameron with the XRF

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Scientific Analysis of Heritage Collections using XRF – Employ.ed Internship 2019

This week’s blog post comes from Cameron Perumal who recently began a 10-week Employ.ed internship in the Conservation Studio at the CRC… 

Two weeks into my Employ.ed internship, and I have already learned so much about conservation, and X-ray Fluorescence (XRF) spectrometry! I am currently an undergraduate Astrophysics student, and my internship entails me working with Emily Hick, the Special Collections Conservator, to research ways in which XRF can help us understand more about the collections. I’ll also be doing outreach to increase awareness on XRF and how it can be used in conservation to improve the condition and understanding of the collections held by the University of Edinburgh.

By the end of my first week, I had started my radiation training, seen the XRF in action being used by another intern, Despoina, to analyse pigments of a painting on the soundboard of a harpsichord, and been able to see the various (frankly, quite beautiful) collections stored by the University.

Intern Despoina using the new XRF machine to analyse the pigments used on the soundboard paintings of harpsichords made by the Ruckers family

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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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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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