A week at the V&A

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!

The humidification chamber

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!

Original William Morris wallpaper

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!!

Some pics:

The recto of the study drawing
The verso of the study drawing
A large tear across the drawing
The repair of that large tear
The study drawing in place on the building
The full face of the building

Dickin’ around at the V&A

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.