A conservator’s visit to Tate Britain

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!

There’s nothing like new tools!

I have been remiss in my writing and musings and am ashamed! However, after a lovely weekend seeing lots of friends and visiting Dorset and Devon, I have returned with a new boost of energy and am determined to get back on track!

Whilst in Dorset, The Man and I had a peruse through a great little market in Bridport, which I think is there every Saturday. It was the sort of place that has excellent tool stands – stands that sell all the tools you will never find anywhere else, and indeed I bought three items that I haven’t found in any other tool shops – amazing! So here they are and the contact details for everyone else who also can’t find them!

Architects ink pen - £3.00

Head of architects pen

A friend told me this was an architects ink pen, which sounds about right, as I knew it was an architects tool. I will be using it for paper repairs – when dipped in water the nib will hold the water and it can be dragged across the tissue to make an accurate water line to tear across. Up until now I have been using a japanese water pen, which is good though not so accurate. I’ll need practice using this though! This was £3.00 from Topper Antiques, unfortunately his website does not seem to work, but he can be found on 07779534170.

Archimedes Drill - £2.50

This is something that I know all my colleagues will want as it was a tool used by our board attachment instructor to bore holes into the shoulders of books to form joint tackets. I think hers was from Italy, so great to find them here – it’s called an archimedes drill and I will be using it with the micros drill set below. Both of which came from Andy’s Tool Shed, Andy doesn’t have a website, but does have an email address and is now expecting lots of calls!

Micro drill set - £3.00

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.

Mondays at the V&A

This week I was continuing my work on the book covered in green parchment – as yet I have not found a proper title for this book, just a library mark and a small amount of blurb at the beginning of the book stating what it contains – I think this must be where the library have got the name from – Prints by Four Artists.

I have come across some interesting quips today, by what must have been the owner or the collaborator of the book – there a two blank pages where there were once prints, the first being roughly removed and leaving damaged paper behind. The pages have been left blank and annotated as in the pictures:

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"Observe by this the absurdity of lending Boyes such a Book"

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"Taken out - What a Pity..."

Quite entertaining!

And finally some more pictures of dirty pages that have come up clean!

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Tuesday’s at St Brides

This week was my second at St Brides, and I was glad to get started on some conservation. Thankfully Nigel has been putting aside books that urgently need some help and has made a pile of about eight books. These aren’t necessarily the oldest or the most valuable books in the collection, and indeed in this case they are relatively modern, most being perfect bound – but they are ones that, in their current state, are not useable by the general public.

It is important to remember the reason that we conserve books, which is different in each case. At the V&A, it is often because a book is going on display – in a library it is almost always because a book cannot be used. In each case a different approach is required. A book going on display is likely to have more time given to it for conservation, and possibly more funds. It will almost always be a special book, or one a value of some kind or another, possibly it’s pictures, or the binding itself. A book in the library may have none of these attributes, it is unlikely to be of any other value except for the written content, it will almost never have funds associated with it for conservation, and generally no time allowed to it for repair. The latter has various consequences for library books – they fall apart, they get badly mended by people who (although despite having good intentions) are likely in most cases not to have experience in conservation, and they get damaged further. There are, of course, exceptions in every case and Libraries that purely exist to house prestigious collection.

However, this is, generally speaking, the sad life of a library book in my opinion. So I am more than happy to be helping at St Brides, and bring some of their less prestitigious books back into the publics hands. As I say, quite a few of them are perfect bound, and being a very modern form of binding, I am not sure yet how to conserve these in a time efficient. I have grout this issue up with my tutor at college and we may look into good methods of repair. I will also research and come back on this issue.

So with my lack of knowledge in repairing perfect bindings fully intact, I went about beginning on a binding I was more familiar with. This particular book is a reference for type faces, and as such, is printed on good quality paper. It has had a relative amount of previous repairs, using a very white paper to adhere loose pages back into the book. I had primarily thought that with one loose sheet that needed repairing, I would remove the previous repair, both on the sheet and on the book and repair it with a Japanese tissue. However, on finding that several other sheets have also come loose and also have previous repairs on them, I may not do this on every page. This is not preferable to me, though as mentioned above, time and resources for these books are not fruitful! And having removed the paper from the initial loose sheet, taking me most of the afternoon, I am not convinced it is worth it for the book.

 

Mondays at the V&A

Well today at the V&A has been great today as always. I started today making paste, which I quite often do – it’s a very relaxing start to the week, as I sit under the widow sill and look out into the sun blushed V&A old building whilst stirring the paste. It’s just about finished and ready to cool down as the time comes for morning tea – couldn’t be more perfect timing!

Once tea and paste was done, Anne and I went to the National Art Library to fill up the boxes with books that I was working on last week and at the same time came across a project for me to start working on over the next few weeks.

This book we selected is called Prints from Four Artists, and is a collection of prints by four different artists. It is a large book covered in green parchment, which is something I have not seen before, and Anne tells me is quite rare. The book needs thorough cleaning throughout, which I have started with a chemical sponge – this is going to take me some time! Then I will move on to paper repairs, and finally onto the structure of the book. It needs resewing onto its cords and then rebacking, and some parchment repairs on the front, which I may do with toned parchment, or tissue. The sections are quite thick, so it will be an interesting one to sew back together.

All in all a very interesting book to work on with some fantastic prints throughout and I’m looking forward to getting to work on it.

The green parchment cover

The spine of the book

Damaged sewing

The first page prior to cleaning

The first page after cleaning

me cleaning!