A conservator’s visit to Tate Britain

Unfortunately I have no photos as I don’t seem to be all here at the moment, so I have included a standard picture from the web!

Tate Britain - © visitlondonimages/ britainonview

We were given an introduction into the conservation department at the Tate Britain by Charity Fox who is part of the conservation team and heavily involved in both conservation of works of art on paper and working with other galleries so items can go on exhibition and on loan.

The latter seemed like quite a long complex process of meetings and careful planning, but this really is only natural when you are talking about a Turner watercolour being loaned out. The department has a tally showing exactly how many days a piece has been on show that year, and how many are left before it has to go into a rest period, so it all seemed extremely organised. We were lucky enough to be shown a small Turner that was in for conservation as the iron gall ink used on part of the painting was burning through the paper – Amazing!

We were also taken into the framing department who design and build frames for all the works. There are standard frames for different era’s – for example anything after around 1920 goes into a modern ash frame.

Very interesting and I’m now looking forward to going back to see the actual gallery as I haven’t been for years!

 

A field trip to Parliament

Due to the restrictions on taking photographs at the house of lords, I only have the one picture below, which is unfortunately not great quality – but hey ho, but that than nothing!

We met Caroline Babington and Lara Artemis whilst at the Houses of Lords, who are the Collections Care Managers for Paintings and Archives.

Caroline gave us a tour through some of the key rooms at the House of Lords, which was fascinating. Being a paintings specialist, Caroline gave us an insight into some Englands most prestigious frescos, which is one of the biggest collections in Europe.

Later Lara took us through the conservation and binding studios, which were part of the Queen Victoria Tower and were wonderful. Their approach to conservation has changed over the years concentrating more on preservation management in the last few years as a method to sustain the heritage of the collection as it stands at the moment. We also got a visit to the Act store, which you will often see in TV programmes – again no photographs sadly as it was an absolutely incredible store.

On Eagle’s Wings

Today I was back at the V&A for the first time in the New Year – it’s always nice to return after a break and find familiar faces, so it was a happy return!

The day was also boosted by seeing On Eagle’s Wings exhibition at the museum. This is an exhibition on comic books that myself and a collegue have been working on for the last month or so, each of us doing paper repairs on the covers and display spreads of the comics. Having been involved since the start of the conservation work, it was really nice to see the exhibition come to fruition.

Due to copyright issues, I was not able to get any close-ups of the comics themselves, but in the images below you can see the general layout. It is located outside the Twentieth Century gallery and takes up four of the cabinets there. One of the cabinets is specifically dedicated to the girls comics, which I worked a lot on. Girl is the counterpart to Eagle, which is the key comic book for the exhibitions. The latter was an extremely popular boys comic whereas Girl was one of the leading girl’s comic books, including such items as Wendy & Jinx (a detective duo) and how to do flower arrangements.

I was pleased to see that of those comics that I had worked on, I was not able to see the paper repairs, which is a good sign!

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Pigments & organic colours used in manuscripts from Armenia & Egypt

This lecture took place a while ago now, and it has taken me a while to write anything about it, though that does not make it any less interesting. Unfortunately I have no pictures, so will endeavour to make it short. Our lecturer was Cheryl Porter who is a a specialist in pigments and had kindly given us her time as part of the Book and Paper ICON Group move to provide more specialist lectures, which was fantastic as her skills and experience are extensive.

Porter has been spending time in both Armenia and Egypt to study the pigments found in manuscripts over there. She concentrated on red and pink pigments for our lecture as there is such a huge depth of information on the subject as a whole, it could be impossible to cover all of it.

There was a specific type of red pigment found in Armenian manuscripts that they had initially found difficult to locate. After extensive research, Porter found that the pigment was made from female Armenian Cochineal beetles, specifically found in the base of the valley of Mount Arrarat. The earliest knowledge of the use of this pigment was in 1743 and was not just used for colouring manuscripts, but also as a fine dye for fabrics and silks.

Porter duly went on a beetle pilgrimage to the valley of Mount Arrarat and found disappointingly few beetles and almost no-one who knew anything about them. However luck was on her side as she met a father from the Khor Virap Monastary who was familiar with the pigment and was even able to show Porter how to formulate it from the small amount of beetles that they had found, which included keeping them in alcohol for about a year to separate the fats – this would be after slow roasting them in order to dessicate them, so a relatively gruesome process!

The number of beetles has reduced for several reasons, including the building of a chemical factory after the war, and using it as a military area, there is also no control over the animals, which are free to roam the area and eat all the grass, removing any food source for the beetles. Grass is also destroyed by using the land for crop growing, so sadly the beetle colony is reducing year by year.

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Thank you to dontai.com for this picture of a cochineal beetle!

Mondays at the V&A – Comic love

As you may know, my Mondays at the moment are spent at the Victoria & Albert Museum in Kensington, working on a variety of conservation projects and helping where possible.

Today this meant continuing conservation work on a selection of comics for a forthcoming exhibition in 2012, though unfortunately it’s not currently listed on their What’s On list. I had started work on these comics a couple of weeks back, but this week saw a more progressive leap forward and will hopefully a move onto the displays next week.

The collection I was working on today were all girls comics from the mid 20th Century, including ones like Mandy, Lady P, Princess Tina and my personal favourite – Girl, the female version of Eagle, which includes items such as how to arrange dried flowers!

'Girl' requiring some repair work around the edges

The repairs we are doing are paper repairs to the covers and any spreads that might be shown in the exhibitions. Due to the quality of the paper, there are often several tears around the edges of the sheets, and a substantial amount of damage to the spines. Today I also came across a couple of rusty staples that had to be removed, de-rusted and returned to the comics. I have some pictures below:

A common type of tear along the centre where the comic would have been folded in half
A (hopefully) fairly invisible repair along the spine, where it was deteriorating
De-rusted staple ready to go back into the comic
The staple back in the comic

I’m quite looking forward to seeing the exhibition and the fruits of my labour!!

A visit to St Brides Library

I’ve had an absolutely fascinating afternoon at the St. Brides Library in Blackfriars. The plan was to visit and attempt to find a project for my MA, but I must confess I got rather lost in the wonderfulness of the place – the building, the books, everything! – and have returned home without a project per say, though I have got some potentials here, a particularly interesting one with split stitching.

I must say a very big thank you to Mr Nigel Roche, who took the time to show me the library and the books and tell me a bit of history about the building and the collection.

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A limp vellum binding
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vellum on board, with an interesting spine lining
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Absolutely amazing!
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Look at that spine!
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The mark of the printer Aldus, who was one of the first to use romanic and italic font
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Amazing pencil work in the spine
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This had very damaged corners, but we were not sure what it was from, initially I thought bugs, but it looks more like its been used for a doorstop!

 

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A cambridge binding
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I thought this might have been rebound...
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Speckled edges, familiar to the cambridge bindings
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The gothic type and small book edges, makes me think this may have been rebound.
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An interesting lttle binding that looks like it might need a lot work to the spine and sewing structure.
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Both boards are detached