The Wall Hanging

The last thing I cleaned at the Abbey is something I’ve been looking at for a while because it’s so pretty. Then I was lucky enough not only to clean it, but to clean it with cotton buds. Yeah, it doesn’t sound very exciting, but it’s also something I’ve been wanting to try and then I got to do both and at the same time!!

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Collections Catalogue

Something I’ve been doing in one of my volunteer positions lately is working on the collections database to upload photographs of the objects. Besides the artefacts, the database of artefacts is basically the most important thing in a museum.

The first use of a collections catalogue is documentation. You start by writing a number code on the piece (called an accession number) which is then added to the database, along with an accurate description of the piece (including its size, materials, uses, age and condition). If you have the information, it’s also useful to add who donated the piece and any story that came with it.

Once it’s part of the system, it’s now possible to keep track of where the items are going or staying. For example, an item might have its home location on a certain shelf, but if you find it’s not there you can then check the database to see that it’s been lent to another museum. Having all of the objects recorded with material type, age or genre (e.g. farming, WWI) makes it simple to account for all objects of that subject for if you were to want to do an exhibition on, say, the Romans or shoes or what have you.

Working on databases for so long, you would think it would end up boring (and sometimes it can be) but actually, while updating the photos I’ve been able to see parts of the collection I never knew we had before. There are broken bombs, half empty medicine bottles with hand written labels saying “not to be taken”, old fossils and sea shells and a weird amount of mint boxes.

Like, why, who donated these?

Perseus and Medusa

The other day I cleaned these lamps in the shape of the heads of Perseus and Medusa.

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Perseus

It was quite nice getting to clean these; I’m always looking at them when I walk by so it was great getting up  close to see the artistic details. I like making art myself, so I try to learn techniques by studying the pieces around me.

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Medusa

The way these were cleaned was the same way most pieces are dusted – top to bottom, and with brushes. You work going down because that’s the direction the dust will fall. But because these hadn’t been done in a while, I first went over them with a museum vacuum cleaner, which is smaller and more maneuverable, and comes with a brush attachment end. Then, for the details, I went over again with a boar-hair brush set aside for stone work. The very back was difficult to reach so I used a standard duster for cobwebs and stuck it back there. Good as new!

It’s a good system to have separate brushes for different materials, because a brush can pick up dirt, oils, chemicals and splinters, which could damage the next surface the brush is used for. You also need to be aware of the hair of the brush – is it stiff bristles or soft, this can affect the material too. Using different animal hair gives you different qualities, and generally is better to use than synthetic bristles – these can snap off and getting caught in the objects, which may harm them.

That’s all I’ve got for now, see you next time!

Oddy Test

Today I learned about something called the Oddy Test. Named after the man who invented it in the 70s, its used to determine whether a material can be safe to use with artefacts. While a material or foam may be useful for storing an object, if its made of the wrong stuff it could damage the piece without you realising until its too late. So before using it you can check it with the Oddy test.

The way it works is the piece of material in question is mashed up and put in a test tube, along with some distilled water and a strip of copper, silver and lead. Metal with water is in another tube next to it to control the experiment. This is heated in an oven for about a month, which speeds up the test to see the materials long term effects; alternately you can just put the stuff in the tubes and wait 6 months. During this time gasses are released from the material, and depending on the condition of the metals you can identify what chemicals are in your cloth!

Book Cleaning

In the last year of volunteering at the National Trust house Anglesey Abbey I have started getting involved in book cleaning. The library at the Abbey is vast and the house so busy they only get cleaned every few years, so on top of collecting dust from all of the visitors who pass through, they can also be at risk from pests making a home on the shelves, light damage from the sun coming in the windows and the temperature of the room, which can affect whether or not a book develops mould (once that happens you drop everything and run).

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A Conservation Catalogue (of sorts)

I am a volunteer in museum and heritage conservation and am always looking learn more about how to care for an object and the science behind how it is done, as well as the techniques used for how the objects were made too.

However I’ve found that the most helpful and relevant books on the subject are few in number and on top of that too much money. So I’ve decided to make an online catalogue (of sorts) of what I pick up as I go along – both for my sake, and maybe for anyone out there who’s also interested but can’t get access to more ‘professional’ information.

This is my first try at something like this, so I’ll try to make it as coherent as I can!