We have many hazardous objects within our collections, The Botany department had asked me to have a look at a small bowl earthenware bowl which contained Curare, and to pack it for safe storage.

Curare is the poison used on the tips of poison arrows, and is found in Peru and Ecuador.  It is derived from plants, and is a resinous dark brown to black mass with a sticky to hard consistency, it can also include snake, scorpion, frog and centipede venom. Preparations are often found in earthenware pots, such as this one, but also in gourds and bamboo. The poison has a very long life and can kill it ingested or enters the bloodstream, so caution needed to be taken. I worked within a fume cupboard wearing a mask, gloves and lab coat, these were disposed of after.










The bowl was currently stored within a glass jar, which offered it no protection.

I decided to use Plastazote, an inert foam to help support the bowl within the jar and to help prevent it from moving around.











You can see the palm leaf on the top of the jar which was originally used to seal it.










Finally I added some Hazard tape to seal the lid, to prevent it being opened accidentally, and added a Safety Data Sheet to be stored with the object in order to let any member of staff or volunteers know what is within the jar.

Museum No.6

Last weekend we became Museum No6 as we attended Festival No6 which is held each year in Portmeirion in North Wales.

We had a room in the village Town Hall and took along some museum objects to show the festival attendees!


These included a large Walrus Skull, which I cleaned part of over the two days that we were there.

The skull is to go into our forthcoming Siberia exhibition in 2014.


Dimitri, the curator of Entomology, took along a mass of Beetles and Insects, which everyone loved


We had over 200 visitors  both adults and children, over the two days that we were there, and offered something for everyone as our feed back from the weekend suggests

Festival No 6 visitor feedback

  • I really enjoyed making my bunny ears and learning new facts (10/10 and smiley face!) ( adult)
  • I liked the littlest beetle
  • Really enjoyed cutting and sticking + smiley face
  • We learned so much about butterflies and their colours ( adult)
  • Made me feel like a happy child again!
  • I loved all the butterflies! wasn’t keen on the tarantulas though!

Naomi made Origami animals, including squirrels, frogs and rabbits



And Elaine made animal headdresses and bugs on sticks

All in all a great weekend and a good opportunity to show off and talk about our collections.

Lovely Lacquer

One of the engaging projects I have and the opportunity to work on over my internship has been a lacquered tray from Japan. Lacquer, or urushi as it is called in Japan, is a natural tree extract which hardens to a glossy film in a warm humid environment.

Urushi being collected from a Rhus verniciflua tree

The tray I worked on had pieces of decorative inlay, made from materials like shell, horn, wood and ivory (or bone) which had become detached. Several pieces of inlay had also become lost over time, leaving gaps in the surface of the tray. In addition, some of the inlay had become warped which created spaces between the surfaces of the tray and inlay.

The area of the tray where the inlay has become dettached.The area of the tray with detached and missing inlay. The adhesives used to attach the inlay, protein glue and lacquer depending on the area. are visible on the surface. 

The inlay was reattached using fish glue and this same material was mixed with glass micro-balloons to create supporting fill to fit the spaces between the inlay and tray.

Beads of fish glue on the cleaned wooden surface of the traySupport fill made of fish glue and micro-balloons visible in the warped area.The gaps in the tray were also filled. The fill was white though and so after it dried it was painted to blend in with the surrounding area.




The tray after the conservation work was completed









Our regular readers will remember my post about going to the stores in search of an object in need of some attention, where I stumbled upon a Norwegian Bridal Crown. Well seven months later and its ready to be returned having gone through thorough analysis, recording, cleaning and restoration it is hardly recognisable as the same object!


The bridal crown as it wasbrought out from the stores

There were three major steps and issues to over come during the conservation of the bridal crown: re-positioning and replacing the detached and missing silver pendants, supporting the wire framework without putting pressure on the beaded headband and the cleaning of each of the thousands of beads.

Cleaning was the first job to be carried out. The beads were cleaned with 50:50 water and Industrial Methylated Spirit (IMS) and the silver and gilded pendents with precipitated calcium carbonate, a fine abrasive.


Before and after cleaning the pendants with precipitated calcium carbonate

A mount was made from buckram, a perspex stand and stainless steel framework to support the bridal crown and prevent it from breaking again in the future. The bridal crown is now tied to this support and cannot be removed from it without extensive work however without this support its original form could not have been restored.

Finally the broken pendants and missing beadwork were re-attached and replaced. Those pendants still in place were analysed to find clues to the original pattern so that those which had broken off could be replaced in the correct order. The missing beads were replaced with clear plastic beads and the pendants with misted styrene. It was important that any new additions to the object were easily identifiable as new but that they didn’t draw the eye away from the rest of the object.


Replacement pendant made from styrene next to original

A new box has been made for the object so that it will be safe from possible physical damage and from dust or dirt from settling on the surface. Having completed this project I am pleased with the result and hope that it does not remain in storage for long.


The completed Bridal Crown – Front


The completed Bridal Crown – Back

Having come to the last week of my placement I would like to thank those in the conservation department at Manchester Museum for the amazing opportunity to work along side them as they care for and preserve an incredible collection. It had been a fantastic experience.

Last week we played host to a few visitors in the conservation lab in connection with a couple of exciting exhibtions to keep an eye out for.

The first was Francis Amu a conservator from Ghana Museums and Monuments Board bringing with him a selection of pottery from Koma Land, this will be only the second time this type of pottery has been seen in Europe. Our Senior conservator, Sam Sportun, spent a week earlier in May in Ghana helping to pack up these beautiful objects safely so that they would reach us in one piece, which I’m glad to say was successful! The figurines will be studied by Prof. Timothy Insoll before they go on display in October in the exhibition “Fragmentary ancestors: Figurines from Koma land”

The objects as they arriveds in their crates

The objects as they arrived in their crates


Sam's favourite item - the legless chameleon
Sam’s favourite item – the legless chameleon


Unpacking the objects (phew they all arrived in one piece!)

Unpacking the objects (phew they all arrived in one piece!)

The second visitors this week were Alisa LaGamma, Curator of Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas and Ellen Howe, Objects conservator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. They came to complete some research into the Power Figures which many of you may have seen in the Living Cultures gallery. Our examples of these figures are in unusually complete condition and with an excellent context and known collection history are able to enhance our knowledge of these fantastic objects.

Taking a close look at the power figures

Ellen Howe taking a close look at the power figures

Taking samples for analysis

There is a major project in the process of being completed at Manchester Museum which involves all the mummies in the collection being CT scanned and x-rayed. These scans reveal the interior of the mummies without them having to be unwrapped. 

This is a child mummy. It is going through the CT scanner.

This is a child mummy. It is going through the CT scanner.

An image of part of the CT scan for the chiild mummy

Several views of the first section of the CT scan

Exterior shot of the CT scan Exterior shot from the CT scan

 When museum objects are moved and handled conservators usually are there to help. Gabby and I had were lucky enough to be able to go along when the last batch of mummies were scanned on the 30th of May.

        Gabby wheeling one of the mummies

Gabby wheeling a mummy on a gurney

It was especially exciting because Blue Peter were there as well to film. We both met Helen Skelton and the crew of Blue Peter, but we did not get badges since we were not actually on the show. You can watch Campbell Price, our Eygptology curator, and the scanning of the mummies May 23rd on Blue Peter.

Campbell Price and the Blue Peter crew filming

Campbell Price and the Blue Peter crew filming

The filming and interviewing in-process


This last couple of weeks have been busy completing final treatments for the new Nature’s Library galleries to open next Friday. My favourite object for the new gallery has to be a book of snake skins collected and preserved in India in the 1860’s.

The folio before conservation work began
The folio before conservation work began

Examples of snake skins preserved inside the folio

The leather-bound folio cover contains a total of 42 dried snake skins, all specimens of common Indian snakes. 8 of these snakes are mounted on paper with information about where and when the sample was collected and occasionally the name of the apothecary who preserved them. The collector of the snake skins was Eyre Champion de Crespigny a Swiss surgeon who was the Acting Conservator of Forests and Superintendent of the Government Botanical Gardens in Dapsorie, near Poonah, India in the 1860’s. The collection was donated to the museum after his death by his wife.

The label detailing the collection and donation of the snake skins to Manchester Museum. Right half cleaned.

The label detailing the collection and donation of the snake skins to Manchester Museum. The right half has been cleaned with smoke sponge.

For display the folio corners and binding needed consolidating and strengthening. For this I took the folio to the John Rylands Library to seek specialist advice from the book conservators. Here they helped me apply tinted Japanese Tissue to the crumbling leather of the binding and wheat starch paste to the crushed corners of the cover.

 The skins themselves had been folded to fit into the folio and needed to be straightened out before being displayed. An enclosed space with high humidity was created and allowed to penetrate the snake skins for at least 90 minutes. After this they were flexible enough to be flattened out and left to dry on the suction table to keep the paper and skins flat.

Snake skin specimen in high humidity after being unfolded

Snake skin specimen in high humidity after being unfolded

Once flattened the skins were cleaned with IMS and water and any loose scales re-adhered with Sodium carboxy-methylcellulose.

Come to the new Nature’s Library galleries to see the finished result!

As we return from the Easter holidays Gabby and I are preparing for another public event. We are both giving a presentation as part of the Manchester Museum’s Collections Bites program. I will be talking about a Japanese lacquered tray I have been conserving. Gabby will speak on a Norwegian bridal headdress that she has been conserving. 

Three inlay figures on a urushi tray


Bead work on a Norwegian bridal headress


Since so much of the conservation work undertaken on an object takes place outside of the public eye it’s always nice to have a chance to tell people more about what we.
(Even if it always makes you a little nervous too)


This week in the museum’s conservation department we have been challenging ourselves to go the extra mile and raise money both for Red Nose Day and two local charities: Hearts and Goals and Natalie Kate Moss Trust.

Along with other university staff and students, Irit Narkiss and Gabby Flexer scaled the 7 flights of stairs to the top of University Place only to launch ourselves other the edge with only a rope for safety. The scariest part was the first step, after that the thrill and fantastic views made it an experience to repeat! Here are the photos to prove we made it safely to the bottom.

Irit on the way down

Irit on the way down

Irit wearing hard hat and gloves

Irit happy to reach solid ground

Gabby on the way down

Gabby on the way dow

Gabby reaches the bottom

Gabby reaches the bottom

The next challenge was an afternoon tea with cakes baked by the staff inspired by the collection. Special mention here goes to Kate Sherburn with here incredible recreation of a well case for the new Nature’s Library exhibition. Thanks to all those who donated, we raised £114.8 for Red Nose Day!

The array of cakes inspired by the collection

The array of cakes inspired by the collection

Kate's cake based on a well case with objects including a herbarium sheet, star fish and skull, with gingerbread box.

Kate’s cake based on a well case with objects including a herbarium sheet, star fish and skull, with gingerbread box.

It’s a Jungle in Here

There has been a steady stream of interesting and lovely creatures coming through the lab the last few months for cleaning, in preparation for the opening of Nature’s Library.

          Red Panda after cleaning   Various bird specimens waiting for conservation treatment

          Marsh rat sitting in the lab before treatment   Gennet after cleaning

Sometimes they just needed simple dry cleaning.

                                             Dry cleaning a hedgehog with a brush

Others were much dirtier and required more robust cleaning. This meant washing with water and conservation detergent, and then rubbing them with potato flour (it absorbs grease and is a very gentle abrasive).Afterwards they are dried, brushed, and vacuumed.

          Adolecent flamingo during wet cleaning. Potato flour is being applied to the specimen.    Kangaroo being dried after wet cleaning

Altogether it’s been a regular menagerie!

Flamingo head shot