I started working in museums as a collections care volunteer at my local museum. I was inspired to study conservation after working with old and rare books as a special collection library assistant. I’ve been bookbinding as a hobby for years, so naturally old books and paper objects are what I have the most affinity for. During the degree however I’ve enjoyed working with and learning about a variety of different materials, from archaeological iron to natural history specimens. Understanding how things were made and their cultural context are what I enjoy most about conservation, and I hope to continue working with collections as a career.
Owner: University of Lincoln
UL No. 19/187
A copy of the Girls’ Own Annual from 1899 held in the University’s library. The binding was in the ‘case binding’ style. The binding had failed because the binding’s structure was too weak for a book this size: the ‘back’ (leather and card over the spine) was missing and the cover boards were detached, being held on with sticky tape. Some pages were torn.
Treatment focused on stabilising the book so that it could be used without further deterioration. As part of the special collections library, it would be used infrequently and only opened on a cushion. Therefore, disassembling the book and rebinding it with an extremely durable binding was considered unnecessary. A less interventive approach was taken.
Tears were repaired with Japanese tissue paper. The spine lining paper, which offered little structural strength and was browning due to acidity, was removed and replaced with archival quality paper. The sticky tapes were removed from the boards and they were reattached to the book with acid-free linen. The missing ‘back’ was replaced with a piece of card and tissue paper coloured and patterned to imitate the original leather. The treatment stabilised the book discretely and without altering its basic original structure much.
Girls' Own Annual
Owner: Cole Museum of Zoology
A specimen of the seven-banded armadillo. The specimen was collected in 1912 as part of the Cole Museum of Zoology, a comparative zoology collection still in use today to teach zoology students at the University of Reading.
Areas of the armadillo’s skin and hair had been consumed by insects such as carpet beetles, exposing the bony layer underneath. As this specimen was intended for display in the University’ new museum, treatment focused on restoring its original appearance.
In case there were any pest insects dormant inside, the armadillo was frozen. It was then cleaned with brushes and a vacuum to remove any dust and toxic arsenic residues (frequently applied to taxidermy in the past as a pesticide). The areas of damage were filled in with layers of Japanese tissue paper and Klucel-G adhesive, each layer being tamped down to mould the paper to the pattern of the bony layer, recreating the original skin texture. The filled areas were painted with acrylics, burnished to mimic the skin’s sheen and accentuate the pattern. Hairs from a synthetic brush were inserted to finish. Because care was taken to recreate the qualities of the skin accurately, the repairs are indistinguishable unless viewed up close.
Owner: Mr Ken Okaya
UL No. 20/006
A Japanese painting mounted on a hanging scroll, or kakemono. These are complicated objects, being composed of textiles lined with layers of different papers, with wooden rods to hang and roll them. Making and conserving kakemono is a discipline requiring years of training.
This scroll was in a poor condition: the materials had become acidic, making them inflexible. Creasing and splitting occurred when rolling and the materials were too weak to hang. The upper part including the hanging rod was lost. The painting could not be appreciated, and the scroll no longer functioned.
After examining the scroll, researching both traditional and modern manufacturing and conservation techniques, and consulting with experts at the British Library a minimum intervention treatment was chosen given my lack of experience with this kind of object. The scroll was humidified slightly and flattened. Unfortunately the treatment could not be completed due to external circumstances, but splits would be repaired by removing a small amount of the lining paper and adhering new paper over the split, an adaptation of a traditional technique (orebuse). The scroll would then be mounted in a window mount, allowing it to be framed and hung so that the painting could be viewed.
Japanese Painted Scroll
Glass Medicine Bottle
Owner: Rotherham Museum
UL No. 17/012
A glass bottle with a stopper, used for storing medicinal ‘cassia’, from the Rotherham Museum. The bottle had suffered an impact, breaking it into over twenty fragments and producing a small number of running cracks. Additionally, the painted label had dulled and been abraded.
Only the exterior surfaces of the bottle were cleaned (by swabbing with distilled water) because the dust on the inside may have been remnants of the bottle’s original contents. Cleaning the interior surfaces may have removed evidence of the bottle’s historical context.
Unfortunately the treatment could not be completed due to external circumstances, but to prevent pieces of the bottle being lost, it was decided that the fragments would be joined back together with Paraloid B-72, an easily removed adhesive. B-72 has similar optical properties to the glass, and as there were so many fragments, repositioning during the process would probably be required so this choice of adhesive would facilitate successful joining. The process could also be reversed without damaging the object should it be decided in the future that this was necessary. To aid the process, fragments were temporarily joined with tape and a diagram of how they fit together was produced.