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.

 

 

Semply the Best: A Collection in Need of Some Love

This week’s blog comes from Project Collections Assistants Anna O’Regan, Winona O’Connor and Max Chesnokov who worked with Preventive Conservator Katharine Richardson on a project back in 2019 to survey and clean the Semple Collection, a large rare books collection from the School of Divinity.

Introducing the team

Max, Winona and Anna

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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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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!

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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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Problem Photographs in the Patrick Geddes Collection

This week’s blog comes from Project Conservator, Nicole Devereux, who has come across a sticky situation with some photographs during the ‘Evergreen: Patrick Geddes and the Environment in Equilibrium’ project…

The Patrick Geddes collection has a wide variety of material including large maps, photographs, bound volumes and letters, all of which have their unique conservation challenges. One interesting problem I have come across in this collection is a photograph stuck to glass. This is usually caused by humidity and can be prevented by stable environmental conditions or by placing a mount or spacer between the photograph and the glass so they don’t come in contact.

Photograph of Edinburgh from the Geddes Collection stuck to glass

The problematic photograph in question is a silver gelatine print on fibre based paper where the top corner has become stuck to the glazing. After researching this issue, I found treatments for photographs stuck together, but not stuck to glass. I decided to experiment to see if these methods found during my research would help detach the print. The first method suggested was immersing the photograph and glass in deionised water for a very long period of time, with some authors suggesting leaving the photograph immersed for more than a month! I wasn’t sure how long the photograph could be immersed before damage would occur, so I decided to carry out some experiments with some silver gelatine prints from my personal collection.

I cut two of my photographs into strips and left them in three separate baths. One bath contained slightly warm water and I left the strips immersed for six hours. This didn’t have any effect on the photographs, however, there are risks involved in using warm water as an increase in temperature increases the rate of chemical reactions, and subsequently, the rate of deterioration. The second bath had cool water, and I left the strips in for one week. By the end of the week, the ink on the photographs had started to bleed. The third bath contained deionised water and a small amount of Industrial Methylated Spirits (IMS), as it has been suggested that IMS can help facilitate the process of removal. After three hours the photograph had started to turn yellow at the edges.

Photographs immersed in water for one week. Photographs have begun to bleed.

None of these methods were deemed suitable, and further research is needed to find a solution to this issue. Experimentation on samples is an essential part of conservation, and although I wasn’t successful in finding an appropriate method to remove the photograph from the glass this time, I will continue to research this problem until I find a suitable resolution!

Store Room Surprises!

Project Conservator, Helen Baguley, describes some of the more unusual objects she has found in our store rooms, and how she has conserved them, in this week’s blog…

One of the most exciting aspects of my role is surveying the collections housed at the Main Library and the University Collection Facility (UCF). This gives me to opportunity to look at collections I would not usually come into contact with, and I get to discover what is in the University’s vast collections. The purpose of these surveys is to determine any conservation work which needs to be carried out to safely house the collections and preserve them for future use. Some of these collections have already been appraised by archivists and some are awaiting appraisal. I create the surveys in Excel and write a report of my findings. The report records the current condition of the collection, lists the types of materials found, gives recommendations for future housing, and provides a cost estimate for the materials needed to carry out the work.

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Conservation Volunteers in the Collections Rationalisation Project

This week our Project Conservator, Helen, talks about the great work volunteers have done as a part of the Collections Rationalisation project…

Some of the main aims of the Collections Rationalisation project at Edinburgh University is to ensure that the library space is being used as efficiently as possible and that collections housed at the University Collections Facility (UCF) are stable and safe to be handled. For this project, priority collections which require conservation have been identified and highlighted. So far the main focus of the project has been on the special collections, in particular the rare books.

Roller racks at the UCF

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Finding my way around the map and atlas collection

We catch up with Helen, our Projects Conservator at the University Collections Facility (UCF), in this week’s blog…

As the Rationalisation Projects Conservator my role is to make sure that the risk of damage to the objects which are housed at the UCF is minimised during the project. It is my job to make sure that the objects can be safely handled by the cataloguing team and any readers who come to visit. I am currently working on a collection of maps and atlases which date from around 1840. Many of these objects are beautifully illustrated and are an excellent example of the craftsmanship of the time.

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Several Theses in One Binding

In this week’s blog post, Projects Conservator Nicole, gives us an update on the work she is carrying out for the Thesis Digitisation Project…

I am currently working on a collection of theses ranging in date from 1838 – 1850. They consist of theses of all different sizes that have been bound in large book cloth bindings. Some bindings contain up to 9 individual theses, which has made the spine more than 10cm in width. With such large bindings and different sized pages, surface dirt has accumulated in between the individual theses, and the bottom of the spines have become distorted and narrowed.

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Theses before conservation treatment

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