the past, present and future
Objects are conserved because they are considered valuable; so, what makes an object worth preserving? In many cases, it is not the object itself, but rather its intangible values--the memories, stories, beliefs or ideas associated with it--which give an object its significance. Conservators have a responsibility to preserve an object’s intangible values, whether the object is a childhood plaything, a treasured family heirloom, or an “ethnographic” object long separated from its originating community. Conservation can also be used to recover an object’s provenance through analysis and documentation, reconnecting objects with their values, and potentially reconnecting communities with their heritage. Other objects, such as archaeological objects and scientific specimens, have educational value and are preserved for the purpose of researching and interpreting the natural world or cultures from the past. Through careful examination, documentation, and conservation, conservators can help maintain the connection between past, present, and future peoples via the preservation of material culture.
Cole Museum Specimen No. 409
Skin, glass eyes, stuffing, wood
A taxidermy specimen of the seven-banded armadillo from the comparative zoology collection at the Cole Museum of Zoology, a collection which is still used to educate people about zoology. Parts of the armadillo’s skin had been consumed by insect pests, leaving areas of the bony layer of the armour underneath exposed. A taxidermy specimen’s appearance is integral to its function as a representation of its species, so the lost skin was replaced with new materials and painted and finished to resemble the remaining skin. By returning the specimen to a more lifelike appearance, its educational value was restored for the benefit of future students and visitors to the museum. Samuel Revell.
African tooth and bead necklace
Animal teeth, glass, string
This necklace was brought to the UK in the 19th century by missionaries from the Congo region in Africa. The tribe from which the necklace originated is unknown, but it is thought to represent a tribesman’s status as a warrior or hunter, with the number of teeth reflecting the number of animals killed. It would have been an important and valuable item to its owner, worn with pride, kept clean and in good condition. Intensive cleaning would have damaged the object, so gentle dry cleaning was carried out instead. Although reconnecting the object to its originating community was not possible for this treatment, cleaning the surface was seen as a way to respectfully restore the object’s dignity. Louise Wood.
Iron, mineralised wood
A spearhead excavated from an Anglo-Saxon burial site in Scremby, Lincolnshire. The spearhead was encrusted with a thick layer of soil and rust, obscuring its form. Slight differences in the shapes of artefacts are indicators of cultural and historic context, so the conservation of this object focused on revealing its form. Soil and corroded iron were carefully removed to reveal what appeared to be the spearhead’s original surface layer, transformed from steel to a black layer of corrosion. Mineralised wood in the socket, evidence of the spear’s handle, was carefully protected during treatment. The object’s significance could be better interpreted because of this treatment. Samuel Revell.
Tulip vases were used in wealthy households to display tulips, which were quite expensive historically; therefore, they also functioned as a demonstration of wealth. One of the necks of the vase had been broken and badly repaired using an adhesive that had yellowed with age, diminishing its value as an aesthetic object. By removing and redoing the old repair, the tulip vase could once again be appreciated as an object of beauty, and could more accurately represent its original role as a decorative object, which would have been displayed proudly by its owners. Talene Bush.
Anglo-Saxon girdle hanger
The study of Anglo-Saxon grave goods enables us to learn about aspects of their society, particularly gender roles. Objects such as this girdle hanger are found exclusively in female graves; its shape and design reflects its symbolism as a key to the home - primarily the sphere of women.
The aim of this treatment was to clean the object to reveal the original surface, which was obscured by layers of dirt. Careful surface cleaning revealed a pattern (including an eye) on the sides of the object. Revealing the decoration will make it easier for archaeologists to interpret the object and put it into its historical context. Louise Wood.
RAF Flight Jacket
Leather, wool, cotton
This RAF Jacket offers intangible aspects of cultural significance and sentimental value to the family of Arthur Hollis, the original owner of the jacket. Thorough examination of the jacket helped identify the materials and construction of the jacket and revealed important information about Hollis’ experience as an RAF pilot. Old repairs found along the jacket’s elbow are evidence of its use during wartime; they also document the event of the rip which occurred when the jacket saved Arthur’s life from a parachute fall. Preserving Hollis’ original repairs to the jacket is essential to preserving the jacket’s value as a meaningful link to Hollis’ past, both for his family and future descendants. Georgia Crow.
Double Pigeon typewriter
A popular 20th century model of Chinese typewriter. The object demonstrates the difference between Chinese and European languages: it functions in a completely different way to European typewriters because the Chinese language uses hundreds of different characters rather than an alphabet. A plastic component on this typewriter was damaged, compromising its stability making it vulnerable to further damage. Conservation treatment repaired the component, so that the typewriter could be transferred from storage to exhibition and back without further risk of damage. The object’s values as a piece of the history of Chinese writing and as a demonstration of the differences in languages were restored, as these values were connected with the typewriter’s stability. Talene Bush.
Star pond yacht
Wood, metal, textile
The “Star” pond yacht SY4, has a significant sentimental value to the private client. He was given the yacht in 1968 on his 8th birthday from his parents who have since died. He has fond memories in playing
with the object on lakes and the sea in Devon and Cornwall. “Star” Yachts of Birkenhead have not been manufactured since 1992, making it difficult to source parts for repair. The client wanted the object restored to its original state, while retaining signs of wear and use. It was important to apply interventive conservation treatments, like cleaning the corrosion on the metal elements and wet cleaning the sails on the yacht, to prevent further deterioration as these are irreplaceable. Finally reconstruction and returning the rigging to its original state made it ready for display in the client's home. Maria Maidment.