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Conservators continue

the lives of objects

Any object can be said to have a ‘life story’. From its manufacture to its passage through various hands, objects often suffer damage from accidents, vandalism or neglect. Can an object ‘die’? Complete destruction would surely end an object’s life, but some have argued that removing an object from its original context to a museum is a kind of death as well. Restoration meanwhile is often seen as a ‘resurrection’ of an object. Objects don’t just change over time because of damage or alterations to their material structure: they can also change because they have been repurposed, or because their value to people changes. Conservation is often an intervention which continues an object’s current state without changing, but conservation is also done at transitional points in an object’s life – for example, preparing it for a new context or returning it to an earlier state.

Drypoint etching print

UL 18/082

Paper, wooden frame, glass

William Lionel Wyllie was a prolific marine artist and his etchings were recognised as some of his finest works. As a work of art, this object’s most important element would be its aesthetic value. The print was presumably valued and displayed, as a bespoke frame had been made for it. However, it seemed to have been stored for a prolonged period in an undesirable environment, resulting in mould growth. The treatment aimed to restore the object’s aesthetic values while re-using the original materials. The print was cleaned and put back in its original frame so that it could be displayed again and admired. Ayaka Ajiki.

Foliated leaf capital

Cathedral Ref. N: 77.m_2


A decoratively carved limestone capital located in the North-East Transept of Lincoln Cathedral, which dates back to the late 1100s. Deterioration and sulphation crust build up on the surface obscured the view of the intricately carved acanthus leaf details. Conservation cleaning and repair techniques restored the beauty of the capital allowing it to be properly viewed and appreciated again. This treatment was part of an ongoing conservation project which brings new life to Lincoln Cathedral – a stunning example of Norman and Gothic architecture and one of Britain’s most revered historic buildings. Hamish Innes.

Ambrotype photographs

UL 19/054

Glass, thermoplastic, fabric

These photographs are an example of the wet collodion process of creating images, which was in use during the mid-19th century. The case was an early version of plastic. The initial function of the photos and case would have been sentimental as they depict children - they were likely the children of the commissioner. Now, their function is as an example of an obsolete photography method. When received, the case was broken and not holding the photos in place. By repairing the case, conservation treatment allowed it to continue holding and displaying these examples of ambrotype photography. Eleanor Gaines-Burrill.

Girls' Own Annual

UL 19/187

Paper, leather, book cloth

A richly illustrated copy of the Girls’ Own Annual from 1899 held in the University’s library, containing etchings and halftone and chromolithograph prints. The book’s binding had deteriorated and it was falling apart, resulting in a book that could not be read without causing further damage. Conservation was required to allow the book to continue being an accessible example of late Victorian printing and social history, so a treatment which joined the original pieces back together securely and restored the book’s function was undertaken. The book is now stable and can be read in the University’s special collections library. Samuel Revell.

World War II Medals

UL 18/099

Copper alloy, fabric, wood

This set of medals was awarded to a veteran of WW2 to commend his service in Bomber Command. Their purpose had changed from being worn by the individual to being displayed in a case. However, even this purpose was unfulfilled as they had fallen within the display case and the ribbons were in a state of disrepair. By treating the objects and ensuring all components were back on display, they were given a new lease of life, to continue being an example of the achievements of a WW2 airman. The conservation treatment continued the medals' exhibition ‘life span’ and their ability to be accurately viewed for generations to come. Eleanor Gaines-Burril.

Victorian seat covers

UL 20/010

Cotton, wool

A decorative piece of fabric from the Victorian era used to upholster furniture. The fabric was cut off the piece of furniture by a previous owner, changing it from being part of a functional object, which was sat on, to being a decorative item. The fabric has since passed between multiple owners, and the present owner values it as an object in itself: returning the fabric to its original state was not desired. By cleaning the fabric, neatening loose threads, and remounting and framing it, the fabric will take on its new purpose as an item of beauty. Talene Bush.

Tantalus case with brass inlay

UL 17/086

Wood, brass

Tantalus cases were popular among the French bourgeoisie. They were often decorated with marquetry and fitted with locks to prevent accessing and diluting the liqueurs inside. Because the case’s components had been rearranged and removed, it was being used as a simple box: it had lost its original function. The treatment, informed by reference images and evidence within the object, aimed at restoring the case to its intended functional state, as the absence of the shelves and dividers prevents the understanding of its true purpose. Returning the object to its original form would allow it to continue its life as meaningful material evidence of the past.  Ayaka Ajiki.

Plate from a porcelain tea set decorated with a Japanese style design.
Pot from a porcelain tea set decorated with a Japanese style design.

Tea set

UL 19/043 - 045

Porcelain, gold leaf

This tea set suffered a major impact and broke into numerous fragments. Its previous working life of serving tea was not possible to preserve by conservation treatment due to the toxicity and sensitivity to heat of repair materials. Instead, the aim of treatment was to stabilise for display purposes and improve on the aesthetic value. Joining the pieces with epoxy resin continues the ceramics’ life as sentimental objects, which now function as decorative pieces. Additionally, their aesthetic value was improved by removing discolouration caused by previous repairs, allowing the full potential of the design and gold work to shine through. Georgia Crow.

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