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

A whale of a time

Well the big Saturday on the 9th of Feb was very busy and many of those who visited enjoyed the conservation cleaning activity. The comments were very positive and many of you enjoyed learning about the damage that can be caused by household cleaning products and how as conservators we carefully choose the cleaning products that we use to effectively remove dirt but without damaging the objects. See http://events.manchester.ac.uk/event/event:mp-haaxth71-msxqzl/big-saturday-discover-archaeology for info on future Big Saturday’s and other events.

Back in the lab we are continuing to prepare for the Nature’s Library and the existing display cases are having a complete overhaul. As the whale skeleton is the only object left on display in the gallery and we are unable to move it for protection we have covered it over to protect it from all the dust which will be generated whilst the display cases are being renovated.

Whale skeleton with tyvek dust cover

Whale skeleton with tyvek dust cover

Big Saturday

We are looking forward to this coming Saturday (Feb 9th) because we will be participating in the museum’s Big Saturday with an activity about the difference between conservation cleaning and home cleaning. Preparation has led to a few unusual activities, like burying crockery in the museum’s allotment.

Broken plates being buried in the museum's allotment

To find out why we were burying plates you will have to come and see us Saturday!

We have hit the ground running at the conservation lab in the new year with a steady stream of objects coming out of the stores in preparation for their display on the new Nature’s Library Galleries due to open in April.

Many of the objects have been hidden in the stores for many years and are finally getting their chance to shine, some of them quite literally once we remove the years of dust! 

My project for the week has been giving some much-needed TLC to a selection of the botany department’s Brendel models. These models were made during the 1800’s by the famous father and son team and were designed as teaching models for students. Often the magnified plants have removable parts revealing the detailed modelling of the plant’s internal structure and were purposefully meant to be handled and used by the students themselves. The models were often made from a variety of materials including papier-mache, wood, metals, glass beads and even gelatine.

Two models of the meadow saffron on a black base. The left model is the flower in bloom with lilac petals and the right is a cross-section of the seed pod.

The enlarged model of the meadow saffron.

The enlarged model of a pansy in yellow and blue

Pansy (Viola Tricolor) front view

The cross section through a pansy in bloom showing the internal modelling of the flower

Pansy (Viola Tricolor) side view

The years of use and handling have taken their toll on these beautiful objects, all needed a fair amount of cleaning but a few also needed repairs.  Come and see the results when the Nature’s Library gallery opens in April.

*From:  Lewis Carroll’s: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

The last week or so I have been working on a dwarf crocodile that will be included in the new Nature’s Library gallery. 

Dwarf crocodile specimen before treatment

Dwarf crocodile specimen before treatment

Although there were a variety of problems the main treatment emphasis was on damage to the specimen’s tail. This included treatment to re-secure a section which had broken off.

Dwarf crocodile tail which has become broken

The section of the tail which had become detached

 First, stainless steel wire supports were inserted in the broken section and the main crocodile body. These helped attach the tail section to its original place.

 Secondly, the interior was padded out with wood fibre because the specimen had lost some of its original straw stuffing. This added structural stability to the damaged section.

Dwarf crocodile tail segment after reattaching and padding

Tail after stuffing

Lastly, long fibre Japanese paper was adhered to the exterior surface and painted to match. Long fibre papers are very useful because of their strength and flexibility. The paper both added support and helped the repaired section to blend in with the tail.

Repaired section of dwarf crocodile tail after being covered in Japanese paper and painted.

                      Tail after treatment.                                Can you tell where the break was?