Mondays at the V&A have been quite varied recently, which has been a pleasant change. Although I am very keen to help with the Daily Mail project, it is always good to alternate! This week and a little bit of last week, Sal and I were working on conserving comic books for a forthcoming exhibition which will be taking place next year.
The comics have been amazing, very early renditions of some classics, including a first edition of Superman (I haven’t managed to get my hands on this one yet!) and also some Daring Dan (not sure if that is correct). As yet i have not come across any Marvel comics, which are generally a favourite, especially X-Men, but I’m not actually sure they are old enough for this exhibition – its going to be a good one!
Anyway the conservation is very minimal, as their are so many comics, we can’t spend long on each of them, so they are having their covers repaired of any tears, and also any spreads that are displayed – if any. So very minimal.
Recently I have been attending a few evening lecturs set up by ICON (Institute of Conservation). These have been on a range of different subjects concentrating on members specialities and the research some members are undertaking.
Thursday’s lecture was delivered by Richard Mulholland, a paper conservator at the V&A who has worked all over the world in paper conservation. Mulholland has a speciality in the work of David Smith and has researched him for much of his career.
Here Mulholland was showing us the use of paint in Smith’s work, both in his sculpture and drawings, which have not had as much publicity as his sculptures in the past. Smith started his career in the industrial welding industry, a skill which he transported across to his sculptures. It is also this interest in the industrial metal works throughout the early 20th century that affected the paint he used. Mulholland discussed the research he had made into the paints used by Smith and their chemical make-up, which were found to contain industrial paints, both for metal work, and for interior decoration, these were in small amounts compared to the more common use of artistic paints, such as alkyd and casein paints and later acrylics when they became more common. Smith had also stated throughout his career that he mixed many of his own paints which used egg yolks – it was due to these ingredients that Mulholland found some fatty acid deposits on top of the paintings which he was researching.
I believe a full review of this lecture will be on the ICON website in the not to distant future, but thank you very much to Richard Mulholland for a fascinating lecture.
I know it might be yet another post about the V&A, but at the moment I seem to be spending quite a bit of time there, and have now seen a few interesting things! The National Art Library seems to be a hive on interest and exciting happenings – almost like toys that come to life when you’re not looking, the National Art Library leaps into action on Mondays when it’s closed to the public. A couple of Monday’s ago saw the BBC filming a piece in the library on armour and how it was made, as the library itself makes such a good backdrop – so watch out for that on your screens as I may be in the background!
A week ago I witnessed the changing of the Art Library’s light bulbs – an amazing feat, and (perhaps sadly) I’ve often wondered how they did it. Well now I know – They’re all done on a pulley system – there’s me imagining someone on a big step ladder precariously tittering on the edge whilst attempting to remove the glass globes – this in fact is not what happens at all – someone on the roof of the library winds down the pulley and the chandelier comes down all together so that they can all be changed whilst standing on the floor! I don’t think it happens all that often, so here are a couple of pics!
Lets not forget the quilting circle the meets on a Monday in the library – like I say a bustling place! I haven’t yet managed to join them with my quilt, which I should probably do, as they do look like pros!
Another interesting part of the V&A that perhaps everyone may not notice as they rush to get into the building itself, is the external wall which faces the Science Museum. Here you will see a scattering of craters in the wall itself, looking a little like a deteriorating wall. The wall is far from deteriorating, but it may take a moment to notice the plaque below stating that these are the result of the Blitz during World War II, which have been left as a subtle yet poignant reminder to the war.
And finally, as you walk down Exhibition Road towards the Royal Albert Hall, and take a left just after the V&A, you’ll find a little hubbub of activity around the LSE campus, including The Queen’s Tower, built to mark Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887. Nearly demolished in the 60’s, it was rescued by the Victorian Society and John Betjeman, and is now all that remains of the Imperial Institute that once surrounded it!
So after the excitement of the Rolled Object Project over at the V&A, and a well deserved rest on the following bank holiday Monday, it was then back to work as usual at the V&A on Mondays.
These past two Mondays I have been back in the National Art Library making full flap covers for the collection of Vogue magazines that the V&A has. These are particularly popular items that are regularly requested at the library so are having covers for extra protection and to prevent any red-rot. This has been excellent practice for me as I have not done one for a while. Some pics from the covers:
You should be able to see here how extensively the wraps cover the book, not only do they got over the foredge, but the head and tail of both sides as well. After some practice I have honed my technique and no longer fully cut the corners of the flaps, which you can see in one of the close up images, this is a great technique to use to ensure the corners are covered, which can sometimes be tricky when fully trimming the edges.
Since December I have been volunteering on Monday’s at the V&A, which has been an amazing experience and taught me huge amounts. This week, however, has been a little different – I am part of a volunteer group at the V&A working on the ‘Rolled Storage Objects’ in the prints and drawings department. Its currently stock take week for the libraries so all of them are closed for the next two weeks and they have taken the opportunity to sort out a small collection of rolled pieces that have been in a cupboard untouched, in some cases for up to 100 years!
As you might imagine, it has been fascinating – we have already uncovered a collection of William Morris wallpapers that the V&A didn’t realise they had prints of. The idea has been to get all the pieces out and flatten them through humidification and make any repairs where necessary. As many conservators will know, this always takes longer than expected, as the repairs are always worse than one might think, and the collection larger than previously thought!
I have a few pictures of one particular piece that I have been working, which was really interesting. When unrolled, there were about five or six charcoal drawings, as can be seen here, all grubby, curly and damaged – so we set to work – cleaning both sides and putting repairs on the verso, which in some cases were tears going all across the page. Then we found out that the drawings were study cases for some of the sculptural work of the building itself – Amazing! The sculpture form is called Sgraffito, and originally would have been white lines carved out of black (a bit like scratching colours through a black was crayon drawing!). So dutifully we then went and had a look at the side of the building where they were, and there is was, the piece I had been working on – inscribed in the wall for the past 100 odd years – AMAZING!!
Well last Friday our class spent a really interesting afternoon at the V&A seeing the conservation being done on the Dickens manuscripts for David Copperfield – these were the actual pages that Dickens wrote – amazing!
Here you can seen some of the pages as I imagine they would have looked like on Dickens’ desk – all piled up and scribbled on! It’s unlikely these will be seen again in these piles as they are being re-bound in manuscript volumes for safe keeping at the National Art Library at the V&A.
The V&A are working through all the Dickens manuscripts they own and rebinding them, as the way they were previously bound (tipped on at three edges) was starting to pull at the pages. In their new housing the pages will be tipped on one edge and held down on the opposite side with a paper tag similar to what you would find in a photo album (as in the image above). This means the pages will be able to move around if they need to.
The covers of the manuscripts are in a replica marble paper that matches the original paper that covered the first bindings of these manuscripts that happened around Dickens’ time. These original bindings were taken apart in the 60’s by the V&A and rebound – this is what is now being updated.