Posts Tagged ‘conservation’

 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.

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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.

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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

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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!

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After the excitement of the opening of the new Ancient Worlds galleries the conservation labs have been taking a well deserved break. As interns this has given us the opportunity to explore the stores and the museum in the search for objects which will provide a challenging but rewarding project.

For me the anthropology stores were calling and I emerged with a rather sorry looking Norwegian bridal crown, described in the catalogue as “an elaborate headdress; a bead-embroidered cloth on a wire frame with a variety of wire attachments and lengths of embroidered cloth and ornaments hanging from it.”

Bridal crown with beaded headband and lengths of silk laid out behind. The metal frame is detached and lies next to the headband.

Norwegian bridal crown

The bridal crown is a signifier of the in-between status of the bride, no-longer a maiden but not quite a wife. An expensive object glittering with silver or gold the crown would have been a family heirloom, worn by the females in every generation for their special day. I look forward to returning the object to its original form.

Of course the real work never stops and despite a quiet week work has already begun cleaning objects for Nature’s Library. 12 dog skulls down, 40 to go…

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Having just arrived as interns in the conservation department the work on the new Ancient Worlds galleries had already progressed so far we had not expected there would be anything left for us to do except help with installation. But, to our delight two Roman ceramic objects, recently recovered from a dig in Manchester, landed on our desk all trussed up like Christmas presents.


The pots in bags as they arrived in the conservation  lab with each sherd wrapped up in bubble wrap

Pots on arrival

On e of these was a Samian ware bowl. The bowl needed to be reconstructed before it could go on display. However the edges had become very worn and almost completely smooth which meant there were large gaps between the sherds.

image of the large space between two ajoining sherd edges

Gap between sherds

When there are gaps this large there is insufficient support to create strong stable joins. In order to give the necessary strength to the reconstruction, adhesive material mixed with bulking agents was added to the gaps. The filling material was also coloured with pigments so that it would blend in with the ceramic material, creating visual cohesion.

Image of reconstructed Samian bowl including colourmatched gap fills

The finished bowl

The terracotta flagon presented different challenges as there were missing areas requiring in-fills of plaster to provide structural strength to the finished reconstruction. The largest of these fills had to be completed after the pot was fully put together, but as a closed pot there was no access to the back of the fill area. Support was provided from a balloon held in place whilst the reconstruction was finished.

Image showing the lower half of the pot stuffed with packing beans and a balloon against the missing area of pot to provide support for the plaster fill

Balloon used as backing for fill

Image showing the missing are of pot now filled with white plaster

Plaster infill with balloon still inside pot

Once the plaster fill was dry the balloon could be popped and removed though the top of the pot. The fills were then colour matched and the pot was finally complete.

image of terracotta flagon with gaps filled but still visible so that the individual sherds are noticable in the finished object

The finished flagon

We look forward to seeing the first objects of our internship in their new home and on display to the public.

For another perspective on this project and other information about the Ancient Worlds galleries see: http://ancientworldsmanchester.wordpress.com/2012/10/02/going-potty-for-ancient-worlds/

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Many of the wrapped animals and birds have now made their progress through the gallery to be frozen on the next stage on their journey, looking like very badly disguised Christmas presents in their plastic wrappings.

The freezing will hopefully destroy any pests lurking in the their fur or feathers and they will then be safe to bring into the lab and storage areas for any conservation treatment they need.


Packed and wrapped for progress



Polar bear in Egypt; not an image that most people would ever dream of!


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A couple of weeks ago I was asked by the Manchester Children’s Hospital to help open a time capsule (not a request I get every day). The capsule was found when the old hospital building in Pendlebury was demolished.

The capsule looked nothing like the shiny space-age ones people where burying for the Millennium, so we were quite hopeful that it was quite old.

When it arrived in the lab it became obvious it was made of lead. Lead is very heavy and very soft, and also poisonous.

So, on went the gloves and I started to pry it open.

opening a time capsule with a screwdriver

The moment of truth...

This was not easy but on the other hand it meant that the capsule was well sealed. When I did get it open I could see some news paper peaking out but when I tried gently put it out it wouldn’t budge. There was something else inside.

With the aid of sheet-metal cutters I cut open the capsule and safely removed the wodge of paper. The outer layers are the Manchester Guardian and The Times from 12th march 1935. Inside a couple of the Hospital’s annual reports, material relating to their 1935 fund raising appeal, an invite to the corner-stone laying on 13th March 1935 and few coins from the reign of king George V. There was also a newspaper from 1805; not sure what that was doing there.

I have been involved in several exciting discoveries in archaeology over the years but never such a modern one. It was pretty cool though and everything inside is so well preserved!

With the aid of sheet-metal cutters I cut open the capsule and safely removed the wodge of paper. The outer layers are the Manchester Guardian and The Times from 12th march 1935. Inside a couple of the Hospital’s annual reports, material relating to their 1935 fund raising appeal, an invite to the corner-stone laying on 13th March 1935 and few coins from the reign of king George V. There was also a newspaper from 1805; not sure what that was doing there.

Removing the contents of the time capsule

I have been involved in several exciting discoveries in archaeology over the years but never such a modern one. It was pretty cool though and everything inside is so well preserved!

Want to see more photos?

Take a look at our Time capsule set on Flickr

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Part of my work involves looking after the collections which are kept in the stores and aren’t on public display.

Currently I am very slowly working my way through the thousands of drawers of specimens in the entomology collection. The fats within the beetles have corroded the pins which hold them upright in the drawers, this green verdigris corrosion grows within the specimen and can eventually lead to them bursting apart.

We have found that the best method of removing the pins is to hold the insect in some very hot water for a few seconds which softens the insect and enables you to remove the pin and to insert a new one. It’s very slow work trying to avoid knocking off the legs and antenna of the insects.

I expect to spend a few years working through the collection, alongside exhibition and loan work.

The photo’s below show a drawer before and after conservation.

Beware they show close up’s of beetles!

Before conservation - Close Up of 3 beetles

Beetles before conservation

Beetles in drawer before conservation work

Beetles in drawer before conservation work

Close up entomology drawer showing 4 beetles

Close up entomology drawer of collected beetles after conservation

Entomology drawer of various beetles - completed

Entomology drawer of various collected insects - completed

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As those of you who have been following our Nature Manchester blog http://naturemanchester.wordpress.com/2010/01/27/pests/  will know, we are just about to start the process of redeveloping our Mammals Gallery.  We took our first step towards this last week when we emptied the Sea Mammals display case. This case was a very large display case, just like the one in the photo below, but was not original to the building. As part of the redisplay we are hoping to partly restore the fabric of the building to how it would have looked when Waterhouse designed it back in the ninteenth century.

The Sea Mammals Case was emptied, so that we could see what condition the floors, windows etc were in behind it. As you can see from the photo below, the case has done no real damage to the floor, windows or ceilings, and we were amazed to see that the back of the cases either side of the Sea Mammals Case still contained most of their glass. In addition they also have three glazing bars on each door, which are no longer present in the front doors.

Finally if you are wondering where the sea mammals have gone. They have all gone into a Zoology store temporarily, all apart from the whale which, as you can see,  is suspended in the Conservation lab.

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