Putting the Pieces Together: The Challenges of Working on Architectural Models (Part 1)

Today we have the first instalment of a two-part series from our Projects Conservator, Mhairi Boyle. In this first instalment, Mhairi discusses the assessment and the first treatment steps involved in the conservation of three large architectural models created by Percy Edwin Alan Johnson-Marshall (1915-1993) (Accession numbers PJM/PJMA/EUD/B/9.1; PJM/PJMA/EUD/E/1; and PJM/PJMA/EUD/B/1.5). 


Since beginning my contract as Projects Conservator, I have been involved in a wide variety of work. From meeting and greeting art couriers from Greece to examining a frog muscle specimen, there’s never been a dull moment. One of the great things about working with the Centre for Research Collections is the collaborative nature of my job. I work with archivists, curators, librarians, and anyone and everyone who needs the advice and assistance of a conservator.

Most recently, I have been working with Collections Care Assistant Sarah Partington, Preventive Conservator Katharine Richardson, and Archivist Grant Buttars to assess and treat three large architectural models of the University of Edinburgh. The models were created by the architect and previous Professor of Urban Design and Regional Planning, Percy Edwin Alan Johnson-Marshall (1915-1993), between 1962 and 1976. They provide a fantastic snapshot into the developing landscape of Edinburgh during this period – Grant pointed out several building proposals which had never gone ahead, and most excitingly, the location of the Burke and Hare Tunnel which is visible from the within the Law School building in Old College. The aim of the conservation treatment is to stabilize the models so that they can be safely transported to another University building, keeping them accessible to researchers who wish to view them.

The models provide a snapshot of potential extensions and changes to the University from 1962-1976.

As a paper conservator, I usually work on flat objects such as letters and maps, as well as repairing books in-situ when required. It has been challenging, and very interesting, to examine and treat such large composite objects.

The models have several inherent vices, which means that there are elements which will inevitably decompose and become more fragile over time. They can be considered ephemeral objects: like film posters and newspapers, the materials used to create the models were never intended to stand the test of time.  The lichen used to create the trees has become very brittle and fragile over time, and in some cases, now has a post-apocalyptic feel to it. Low-quality papers, cards, and adhesives have been attached to the wooden components of the models. One of the models was exposed to the elements in one of the University’s lobbies, wherein a rogue bird popped in to leave its ‘mark’ on the roof of one of the models.

Poor quality adhesive hardens and fails over time.

The lichen used to create the trees has decomposed, becoming brown and blackened.

The hole on the bottom left of this photo is a peg hole, where a loose element was once attached.

The largest model is composed of removable elements, attached in place by wooden pegs. We had a lot of fun locating the proper sites for some of the detached elements, hearkening back to my first ever lockdown days which were filled with jigsaws and puzzles. The loose and missing elements of the models were extensively documented, and most pieces were reattached after consultation with Jonathan Santa Maria Bouquet, the University’s Musical Instruments Conservator and resident wood expert. This will be discussed in detail in the second blog of this series.

After removing loose debris with a Museum Vacuum and using a smoke sponge to remove surface dirt, Sarah and I got to work reattaching loose paper elements with wheat starch paste, and thicker card elements with EVA adhesive.

Collections Care Assistant Sarah Partington re-adhering loose paper elements.

Working on these models has been a great chance to work closely with colleagues from different departments. In the second and final blog of this series, I will examine the different adhesives used in this project and the reattachment of some of the loose elements.

 

 

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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E-learning with Employ.ed

Today we hear from Sophie, our first ever Employ.ed student in the conservation studio…

Hi, my name is Sophie Lawson and I am currently the Conservation E-learning intern at the Centre for Research Collections at the University of Edinburgh. During my time of ten weeks here in the Conservation Department I will be creating an electronic learning resource on the subject of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). My internship is part of the Employ.ed programme, which is a University run scheme that supports students’ career development, providing work experience whilst working towards attaining the Edinburgh Award. I am currently going into my third year of my undergraduate degree in History and have an interest in special collections, particularly in digitisation and use of technologies in the heritage sector.

The University’s IPM plan is integral to the storage of rare and unique collections, being a tested method to monitor and control insect pests and mould activity in collections that, if left unmonitored or untreated, could cause irreversible and expensive damage to collection items. As part of a preventive conservation programme, IPM is an effective way to reduce damage and cost, and to minimise intervention with special collection items. An effective IPM plan will enable institutions to have greater control over and knowledge of pest activity in their facility, making pest prevention and treatment much more effective. One of my goals through creating this e-learning resource is to aid this accumulation of knowledge of pest activity throughout the department, with the hope that the resource will be used for internal staff training for a basic overview of our IPM plan, how it works and why it is so important.

Using a microscope to identify pests

So far in my internship I have been able to gain invaluable insight into the field of Conservation, having spent some time in the Historic Environment Scotland’s Conservation Studio, as well as our own in the CRC, and even being able to try my hand at some surface cleaning and making boxes for rehousing books! More specifically I have gained a great deal of knowledge about Preventive Conservation, having researched Integrated Pest Management and the theory behind it for the content of my e-learning resource. In addition to this, I have been able to shadow my supervisor, Katharine Richardson, as she carried out pest trap inspections as part of our IPM Plan – and was even able to get a closer look at the kind of pests we found!

Trap used to monitor for pest activity

For the remainder of my internship I aim to create a user directed, interactive program, and experiment with implementing different types of media such as games and video tutorials to create an engaging and educational resource. I hope that through the completion of this project we are able to generate a broader knowledge of IPM and its importance amongst the University’s Centre for Research Collections staff, as well as introduce new methods of e-learning and training styles to be used in the department in future projects.

Introducing our New Projects Conservator – Helen Baguley

This week’s blog comes from Helen Baguley, the newest member of the conservation team…

I have been recently employed by the University of Edinburgh on a 12-month contract as a Projects Conservator. This exciting and varied role means I am predominantly located in the University Collections Facility (UCF), and off-site storage building in South Gyle. I will be working within the rationalisation project, looking at the collections which are currently housed there, such as rare books and university archives. I will also be assisting the musical instrument conservator and art department in their work. This will consist of carrying out conservation work and supervising volunteers under the direction of the Preventive Conservator, Katharine Richardson.

Collection items on a shelf at the University Collection Facility

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Shooting the breeze

It’s not every day that you are asked to conserve a magic spell on papyrus, but this is exactly what happened when I was asked to take a look an ancient fragment of text, recently discovered in the archive collections at the CRC.

The fragment was unearthed by an archives intern who was assessing the foreign language material in the David Laing collection. A vague catalogue entry labelling the box as miscellaneous languages, and an inscription on the folder wrongly identifying it as Chinese script, meant that this item had not been consulted for years and the staff were unaware of its existence. It has been suggested that it could be an Egyptian spell from the book of the dead, but further research is needed to confirm this.

Fragment of papyrus, before conservation

Fragment of papyrus, before conservation

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Uninvited Pests

In this week’s blog, Project Conservator Katharine discusses the new Integrated Pest Management Plan for the CRC Special Collections, and describes the common pests found in heritage institutions….

Integrated pest management (IPM) is the practice of monitoring for insect activity to prevent damage to collections and cultural heritage. It was originally developed by the agricultural industry to control insect populations in crop stores without continuously using pesticides. It has now been adopted by libraries and archives as a means to monitor and deter the insect pests that use organic materials present in special collections as a food source.

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