Thompson Dunlop Conservation internship at St Cecilia’s Hall 2019

Article written by Riccardo Angeloni in 2019

One from the archives this week! In this article we’ll transport you back to July 2019 (months before Covid-19 even existed, imagine that!) and hear from Riccardo Angeloni, a Thompson Dunlop Conservation Intern at St Cecilia’s Hall….

Throughout the month of July 2019, I had the chance to work and study as an intern at St Cecilia’s Hall. I was welcomed by professional and friendly staff and spent the first few days learning about the main principles of collection care. This internship was an opportunity to put in practice a lot of theories and techniques that until then, I had only seen on paper.

What do we keep in mind when deciding the future of cultural heritage? I believe an essential prerequisite of conservation is to acknowledge that we might know very little about the object. In the conservation of musical instruments, there are many aspects to consider to decide when a treatment is necessary: originality, historical stratifications, structural stability, aesthetics, functionality and more. Sometimes an instrument is so severely damaged that it is tough to find a balance, and any attempt to restore its original integrity would be intrusive and pointless anastylosis work. These instruments, especially if considered of low historical or artistic merit, are often kept in museum deposits; our task as conservators is to give future generations the chance to judge for themselves what it is “interesting”. To do so, we must care for these fragile objects to ensure there are in a suitable condition so they can be studied with ease and with no risk of causing them further damage.

My first task was to surface clean the keys and keylevers of a square piano made by Johannes Christoph Zumpe in London in 1767 (MIMEd 4339). I used dry and wet methods to remove dirt, maintaining a nice patina.

Cleaned (left) and uncleaned (right) keys and keylevers of the Zumpe square piano (MIMEd4339)

Keyboard of the Zumpe piano

I also worked on cleaning, consolidating and re-housing a 19th century unlabelled double bass (MIMEd 352). The instrument was in very poor condition: it suffered numerous cracks, the soundboard was detached (and in pieces), and there was evidence of considerable wear. You could see that it had a long and hard-working career just by looking at the amount of different and rather crude repairs on the inside. I spent time trying to learn more about its features and construction techniques before having to face the crucial moment in every conservation project: making a decision. Deciding the future of an object that has clearly been so important to someone is not easy. With any conservation treatment, there is a risk of deleting important information that you were not able to detect that could help in understanding more about the instrument, the craftsmanship, and performance practice of the time. Thankfully, I could rely on the advice of Dr Jonathan Santa Maria Bouquet who helped me in every step of this process. Our target was to prevent further deterioration of the instrument and to ensure it can be safely accessed and studied in the future, without performing any invasive intervention. The instrument was cleaned using dry methods (smoke sponges), and the open cracks were glued and reinforced with Japanese paper to prevent further damage.

Side during the cleaning process

Gluing cracks on the sides using clamps and magnets

Gluing cracks on the sides using clamps and magnets

Gluing cracks on the sides using clamps and magnets

Japanese paper dots to reinforce glued cracks

The next step was designing and building a case that would allow us to safely store the instrument while still granting easy and safe accessibility. We used plywood for the external frame and acid free buffered conservation grade cardboard on the inside to ensure maximum stability over time. The main feature of this crate is that it can be opened on either the top or the bottom, with the instrument remaining stable in the inside. This ensures that the instrument could continue to be studied without being removed from the case, maintaining his stability and integrity.

Split view of the custom designed conservation box (3D model). The closed box can be turned on either front or back side and the instrument is entirely supported

The finished box (sides removed for demonstration purposes).

The instrument is now in the University Collections Facility, enjoying a well-deserved retirement in a controlled climate environment.

Instrument inside the box stored at the University Collections Facility

As a student in conservation of musical instruments I could not have asked for a better internship: a top quality institution, a world class collection of musical instruments, experienced and skilful tutors, and a very interesting project to work on.

Riccardo Angeloni with the double bass inside the box

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