At the start of our project work in June, project conservators Lynne Humphries and Emma Norris delivered a training session for our team of volunteers and all staff involved in the project.
To begin, we discussed the nature of the objects we’re dealing with: carved stone with applied decoration in the form of paint, gilding and gesso work. The limestone from which the reredos were carved (quarried locally at Dundry and Bath) is classified as sedimentary, formed in layers. It can be porous, allowing moisture to pass through; salts can then form inside the stone and this can in turn affect the surface of the object and its decoration. Fluctuations in temperature and humidity cause expansion and contraction of the materials the objects are made from, which can result in structural damage such as the delamination of the paint from the substrate. These artefacts may present us with specific concerns, but the conservators stressed that general principles of conservation can apply across a range of materials and object types.
Because stone is – of course – particularly heavy, Emma guided us through safe lifting and manoeuvring to protect ourselves and the artefacts. We learnt to always use trays, containers or trolleys – padded if possible – when moving artefacts. We discussed the need for gloves to prevent damage caused by the natural grease on our hands, and to minimise handling as far as possible. We also talked about what to wear: sturdy footwear that completely covers the foot and comfortable, non-restrictive clothing without dangly or scratchy elements such as scarves or belt buckles.
An important tip for good handling was to always prepare in advance, making sure you have enough time, space and equipment to complete the task. We discussed how to appraise an object before handling it, looking out for vulnerable parts, assessing fragility and weight, looking for signs of damage or previous repairs. We are now equipped with a set of handling guidelines to steer us through the project work.
Lastly, we looked at packing for storage. Emma and Lynne showed us good practice using materials common in museum storage, and contrasted it with examples of bad packing. We took it in turns to delve into the box they’d prepared, finding (mainly broken) objects which had been wrapped, separated from associated parts, packed in acidic materials or crammed together tightly*.
We emerged from the training confident to begin work and with an increased awareness of the work that goes into keeping our heritage safe. Thanks to Lynne and Emma for a thoroughly enjoyable morning!
*No artefacts were harmed in the making of this training
Judeth Saunders, Project Coordinator