Australian Museum (AM)

Collection Care and Conservation

Staffing

AM Collection Care and Conservation (CC&C) has realised a goal to have more resources invested into natural science conservation and to expand the team. We now have four full-time natural science conservators, and believe this is the largest team of dedicated natural science conservation specialists in Australia. The AM holds over 21 million natural science collection items and understanding the preservation needs of such diverse collections and promoting this is a recognised core strategic goal. The move by the AM to support the development of this speciality will exponentially benefit the preservation of collections and elevate natural science conservation within our profession.

Our Nat Sci Conservation team is made up of:

Sheldon Teare, Senior Conservator Natural Sciences

Sheldon has worked as a conservator for over 15 years and dedicated most of his training and professional experience to life and geoscience collections. Sheldon is a strong advocate for the development of natural sciences conservation with the profession.

Sheldon Teare, Senior Conservator Natural Sciences, with zebra specimen.

Silvia Da Rocha, Conservator Natural Sciences

Silvia has recently re-joined our team after a 10-year absence. Silvia brings over a decade of experience working with natural science collections. In particular, Silvia has strong preventive conservation expertise, vital in caring for the largest collection in the country.

Silvia Da Rocha, Conservator Natural Sciences, with a red-tailed black cockatoo recently treated for the Wild Planet permanent exhibition. Image credit Sophie Phillips.

Sophie Phillips, Conservator Natural Sciences

Sophie joined the AM team two years ago and has gained experience working with our inorganic natural science collections, palaeontology, and geosciences. Sophie will be working across the huge Life and Geosciences collections, supporting the preservation work. Sophie is also coordinating the care of galleries containing natural science specimens.

Sophie Phillips, Conservator Natural Sciences, working on a specimen for the permanent mineral gallery. Image credit Elizabeth Reed.

Clare Kim, Collection Enhancement Conservator

Clare joined the team in 2019 as the conservator to enhance and support digitisation of the collections across the AM. Due to many of the collections being in Life and Geosciences, Clare works within our Nat Sci Conservation team. Clare has incredible fine hand skills, which makes her our entomology specimen expert. In this role, Clare provides advice to collections staff, works on problematic specimens, and carries out research and analysis into materials.

Clare Kim, Collection Enhancement Conservator, working on a specimen from the entomology collection.

We also welcomed Elizabeth Reed and Lucy Tedder to the CC&C team recently. Lizzie and Lucy are assisting Sophie Phillips with processing specimens for the new permanent mineral gallery. Lizzie will also be working as Exhibitions Conservator next year, on the AM’s upcoming exhibitions.

Treatment project

Robert Clendon and Kyra Kim are undertaking the treatment of a Raynor Hoff sculpture of Aunty Nellie Walker from the First Nations Collection. This project is guided by the family of Aunty Nellie, who wish to reconnect with their ancestor. The treatment involves a detailed materials analysis, X-ray imaging, XRD of material samples, and repairing long-standing mechanical damage.

Collection enhancement project

Clare Kim is undertaking a treatment project for palaeontology specimens that are suffering from pyrite (FeS2) decay. The affected specimens are mostly in unstable condition evidenced by cracks and breakage, and partially covered in a mass of white, grey and yellow crystals or powders. After the careful cleaning of the specimens, they are re-housed in a microclimate environment and sealed within high barrier films with RP System (oxygen & moisture absorber). The aim is to exclude moisture and oxygen to prevent further deterioration of the specimen. All specimens and associated labels are fully documented so access and handling can be minimised.

Detail of pyrite decay—5x magnification.

Exhibitions

The LEGO exhibition Jurassic World by Brickman has been de-installed, which means that preparation for the upcoming Sharks exhibition is roaring ahead! The CC&C lab is overflowing with shark specimens and preparators making mounts.

Mounting shark specimens in the lab.

Kyra is working on a Fijian bark cloth, to flatten and repair it for display.

Fijian bark cloth during humidification treatment.

Meanwhile, in the murky basement lab, Sheldon and Silvia have been slowly transferring specimens into higher and higher concentrations of glycerol.

Changing wet specimens in several stages from ethanol to glycerol.

The upgrade of the Wild Planet exhibition continues, with Silvia bringing her wealth of experience to treatments on diverse taxidermy specimens. International specimens being displayed include this newly mounted South American tapir, seen here waiting patiently with Sophie for a ride in the AM goods lift.

Sophie Phillips and a South American tapir wait for the goods lift to arrive.

For the last few months, hundreds of captivating and intriguing minerals have come through the doors of the conservation laboratory as we prepare for the installation of the permanent mineral gallery. So far, around 1500 (of 2000 specimens!) have been condition assessed and photographed, ready for display in December. Sophie, Lucy and Elizabeth have been working very hard to get this monumental number of specimens assessed, but as all the minerals tend to be rather stunning it hardly ever feels like work.

Potch opal specimen from Coober Pedy, South Australia, recently condition assessed and photographed for display.

 

Collection Care

Clare Kim and Silvia Da Rocha had the joy of getting up high among the flying whales last week, undertaking surface cleaning of the vertebrates on display in the Surviving Australia gallery.

Clare Kim takes on working at height to carefully clean accumulated dust on a passing flock of black cockatoos.

Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM)

Staff news

New director of the Museum! The Museum’s new director, Ms Daryl Karp, started in July, bringing bounds of enthusiasm. Ms Karp has been the director of the Museum of Australian Democracy (MoAD) at Old Parliament House in Canberra since 2013 and we’re sure will bring lots of change to the Museum!

Interns galore! The conservation team has been fortunate to host four interns recently: Irene Theodore from the University of Sydney, as part of her Master of Museum and Heritage Studies; and Annabelle Williams, Gabriel Garde and Genevieve Sullivan from the University of Melbourne’s Master of Cultural Materials Conservation program. While each intern had their own projects to work on whilst here, they were also exposed to a huge variety of other projects that were going on. Under the guidance of Jeff Fox, Belle and Genevieve assessed and made recommendations for a number of SS Dunbar shipwreck items, whilst Gabriel started on the long and arduous journey of solubility testing and then dry and wet cleaning of the SS Orontes ship builder’s model.

Assessing the polarisation of film, helping to celebrate the 120th birthday of the Pyrmont Bridge, and giving off very hillbilly vibes, our interns did a lot whilst with us!

As a non-conservation intern, Irene learnt about and helped to do basic tear repairs and paper conservation treatments on a number of ships’ plans. The internship was a chance for Irene to determine if becoming a conservator was a career she wished to pursue.

Irene helping to mount works for display and doing some basic tear repairs … turning her into a future paper conservator! We hope you learnt a lot and we greatly appreciate your help on projects!

The conservation lab is delighted to have Jan Russel back with us. Jan will be using her textile and sewing skills to create covers for a number of light-sensitive artworks in the Museum’s framed objects stores.

Jan diligently measuring framed objects to be covered.

Sadly, we say farewell to Sue Brian who started volunteering in the conservation lab in 2014. Sue has been a major contributor to the lab through the years and rightly received the AICCM Outstanding Conservation Volunteer award in 2019. She became like family and will be dearly missed. Having left us to pursue other areas of interest, we wish her all the best and hope that she’ll come back for morning teas … at the very least.

Jan Russel and Sue Brian with their well-earned AICCM Outstanding Conservation Volunteer awards in 2019.

We are sad to announce the passing of long-time ANMM conservation volunteer Jack McBurney. Jack volunteered for the museum from 1991 to 2013 and was recognised in his final year with the AICCM Outstanding Conservation Volunteer award. It was estimated that he contributed over 6,000 hours of service during that period.

For those who would like to attend his memorial service, his daughter Megan has provided the following:

11am Wednesday 28 September 2022
Gardner’s Inn, Blackheath (opposite train station)
RSVP Megan Reynolds  0407 620 250

Collection care

Emma Hayles has been taking on the de-framing project, which has been ongoing and handed from conservator to conservator over the years. With an aim to de-frame works to gain more space in the Framed Objects Store, Emma is working with a number of curators to determine whether frames are original or appropriate for the artwork. One hundred and fourteen framed artworks are being looked at in terms of frame originality, suitability of hanging for storage and whether a frame is conservation grade to determine whether de-framing occurs. The project is a great chance to check a lot of the framed objects and also provides a fascinating insight into the way curators think of and observe objects.

Emma preparing some frames to be assessed.

The dry and wet clean of SS Orontes, our 1:48 scale ship model, has commenced. Intern Gabriel tested water and surfactants to determine best methods for removing the highly static dirt. Now that Gabriel’s internship has ended, Nick Flood and Emma Hayles have taken over the cleaning process. Brush vacuuming of the upper decking has been completed but removing the years of built-up dirt on the lower decks will be a slow and arduous task due to access issues.

Gabriel and Nick brush vacuuming and Emma wet cleaning the stern of SS Orontes. Note the change in colour between the cleaned and to-be-cleaned sections.

Collection storage improvement and digitisation

Jeff has been busy completing end-of-financial-year projects including storage improvement / crating for large painted murals, a moveable cradle/support for our wooden vessel Nautilus II (a 7.6m-long single-chine multi-stepped hydroplane), and digitising cellulose acetate and cellulose nitrate film in line with our hazardous materials management guidelines.

The Nautilus II in its new cradle.

Large projects

Nick Flood is developing and extending his skills of conserving large machinery by working with Fleet volunteers and Martin Lowe, the ANMM’s Marine Engine Driver. Nick is maintaining, lubricating, and turning over the Kara Kara steam engine within the Museum building and assessing the engine of SY Ena—a 1900 steam yacht, which is part of our floating fleet.

Nick in the bowels of SY Ena learning about the steam engine, and Belle with Fleet volunteers after ‘turning over’ the Kara Kara steam engine … look at that smile!

Under the watchful eye of Nick, the exterior of the Cape Bowling Green lighthouse was treated and re-painted. Being open to the elements and ocean salts, the lighthouse had started to rust and become stained and patchy. Nick employed external contractors to address the corrosion issues on the cladding and to apply a multi-coat paint system, with a coating inspector giving the final sign off. As part of this work, Nick constructed a comprehensive conservation management plan for the Cape Bowling Green lighthouse, drafted in partnership with the curatorial team, which includes considering the future possibilities for interpretation and visitor engagement and a thorough maintenance plan of both the exterior and interior of the lighthouse.

Before, during and after images of the Cape Bowling Green lighthouse. The lighthouse is a key external feature of the ANMM and it is great to see it looking refreshed.

Tu Do:

As promised in the last issue, here is an image of Emma Hayles in full Tyvek suit, wellingtons and respirator, prepared to assess the mould situation on the interior of Vietnamese refugee boat Tu Do, which happily isn’t too bad!

Emma’s best blue steel and ‘Oh god, did I get any on me?’ looks.

Exhibitions

Installation of From the National Maritime Museum occurred in May and Shaped by the Sea and Sea Monsters occurred in June.

For the former, four large paintings from the collection – none needing conservation treatment but condition reports and new hanging methods – were installed in the Tasman Light Gallery with the aim of being changed-over every six months. This gives the public the chance to see some artworks that aren’t often exhibited. Alayne Avis is currently in the process of assessing the next round of paintings to be installed in November.

Shaped by the Sea followed, with Alayne taking the lead on preparing and installing the Possum Skin Cloak onto its very Dalek-shaped acrylic support. The install was a large group effort with big and heavy objects requiring multiple lifting hands.

Alayne preparing the Possum Skin Cloak, and trapped inside the acrylic mount whilst our interns support the cloak.

And with the help of interns Gabriel and Genevieve, Jeff took the lead on installing Sea Monsters, which will be in the Museum for only a brief period before going out on loan to regional NSW.

Gabriel preparing a polycotylid cast for display.

Conferences and courses

Preserving Paper Collections—University of Canberra

Emma had the chance to go to Canberra and undertake a two-day paper course under the leadership of the wonderful Ian Batterham. Trained as an objects conservator, Emma, through this course, had the chance to learn more paper conservation treatments and further her knowledge of types of paper and deterioration factors.

an Batterham teaching the class – mostly made up of registrars and museum personnel – about tape removal and suction table washing.

Introduction to the Bernini bronzes project

Alayne went to Melbourne to hear from members of the team conducting an enormous technical examination and analysis of Bernini’s bronzes. Combining a variety of methods from visual examination to 3D mapping and utilising powerful data analysis, it was an excellent template to help plan which examination and analysis tools can be employed by institutions on their own collections.

David Stein and Co.

In the studio

Our studio has continued to be very busy as the year progresses, including treatments to a large number of mould-damaged artworks following Sydney’s high humidity. We have expanded our studio space to accommodate the volume of work. The new workspace adjoins our established studios and gives us an area to triage and treat mould-affected paintings as well as carry out conservation treatments on oversized artworks. Sandi Mitchell, Kim Vernon and Monica Renn are currently working in our new studio on a series of large Robert Klippel painted wood sculptures. In the main studio the team has been working on some interesting and complex treatments. Ellie Gifford has been carrying out conservation treatments to a series of paintings from the National Art School (NAS) Archive. These paintings are works by former NAS students in the NAS collection. Many are in original and quite compromised condition, and one had been used as a shelf at one point in its history!

Julia Sharp has recently completed a varnish removal to an 18th century Dutch maritime painting on an octagonal stretcher, and is continuing working on a challenging structural treatment to a 17th century painting, school of Francesco Lazzaro Guardi.

In June, Selina Halim carried out a challenging treatment to a 1940s painting by Ralph Balson, oil and metallic paint on cardboard, including removal of discoloured varnish and old overpaint, successfully recovering the original surface. Selina and Lily Monk are also preparing to undertake structural treatment to a large William Robinson farmyard painting with extensive paint and ground cleavage.

Sandi has been working on a series of large early minimal paintings by Michael Johnson. The painting she is currently treating has three-dimensional elements and a matte surface, painted in Lefranc Flash Vinylic.

We are continuously evaluating and aiming to improve our environmental footprint and have implemented a number of measures to improve the sustainability of our conservation practice, including phasing out the use of Fomecor, reusing and recycling plastics and packaging, installing a reverse osmosis system for water use and choosing to use green solvents where possible.

On-site projects

Julia Sharp travelled to Newcastle in May to provide conservation advice and carry out condition checks for several important works in the Newcastle Art Gallery’s ICON collection. The works were carefully checked and prepared for off-site storage while the Gallery is undergoing its long-anticipated major renovation. One of the artworks was the large John Olsen three-panel ceiling painting Sea Sun of Five Bells, originally commissioned and owned by Anne Lewis and donated by her to the Gallery.

The long-awaited Colin Lanceley retrospective at the NAS opened in June, and the significant 1960s artwork Altar, which was a major studio project undertaken by Kim Vernon and Lily Monk, took pride of place in the artist’s early oeuvre. Our team attended the opening night and were thankful for our collaboration with the artist’s widow, Kay Lanceley, throughout the project.

Lily and Kim at the opening of the Lanceley retrospective at the National Art School.

In July, the conservation team carried out our regular program of maintenance cleaning on the paintings collections at both Government House in the Botanic Gardens, and the International Convention Centre in Darling Harbour. Katherine Rosenthal, Kim Vernon, Lily Monk, Jordan Wilson-Aarsen and Ellie Gifford spent many hours condition reporting and brush vacuuming atop ladders and elevated work platforms to combat dust and mould.

The team working on maintenance cleaning at Government House.

The team carrying out maintenance of works at the International Convention Centre in Darling Harbour.

Professional development

At David Stein and Co., we have recently instituted regular short internal monthly professional development workshops with our team, focusing on standardising our practice and developing and refreshing our conservation skill sets. These are proving to be very successful and popular and are also a great team-building exercise.

Julia has been invited to be on the Scientific Advisory Board of the RKD Netherlands Institute for Art History Conserving Canvas Project. The aim of this international project is to establish a digital Conserving Canvas Platform including a research database accessible to conservators worldwide. This project is still in its early days but promises to be a very exciting resource for the conservation profession.

International Conservation Services (ICS)

Paper

It’s been a busy few months for the Paper team with Katie Wood and Caroline Whitley treating a range of fascinating items including several 17th century maps, etchings and watercolour works, as well as some beautiful historic photographs and a large but degraded family tree. Caroline’s favourite was a maritime embroidery work – a collaboration between our Paper and Textiles teams – which involved cleaning and mounting. Caroline successfully reconstituted a label that had been very badly damaged, by carefully piecing it back together like a puzzle.

Reconstituted label for the HMS Cumberland tapestry. Image credit International Conservation Services.

Also, paper conservation goes far beyond our labs! Both Katie and Caroline have undertaken various projects on-site, most significantly a disaster recovery from recent flooding events, which involved large-scale mould remediation for a number of works on paper.

Caroline and ICS CEO Julian Bickersteth gave a presentation this week at the School Archivists special interest group of the Australian Society of Archivists AGM, sharing their expert advice during a Q&A session where clients had the opportunity to bring in their own collection items for a condition assessment and recommendations for possible treatment.

One of several maps treated by the Paper team. Image credit International Conservation Services.

Textiles

The Textiles team of Christina Ritschel, Bella Taylor and Yolanda El-Khouri have been finishing up various projects to cap off the 2022 financial year. Christina and a team of Canberra-based conservation graduates and students (Belinda Muir, Natalie Fairhurst, Elaine White, Adelaide Butler and Emily Lyon) worked on a number of projects, including the pest management, surface cleaning, stabilisation and replacement of the Velcro hanging system for the three large Mathieu Mategot tapestries that line the foyer of the National Library of Australia.

Re-installation of the Mategot tapestries. Image credit International Conservation Services.

Christina and Bella worked on the cleaning, reductive bleaching and stabilisation of a costume from the 1979 Australian film My Brilliant Career from the National Film and Sound Archive.

Bella and Natalie helped bring back to life an 1880s Madras Cavalry uniform, improving the appearance on the delicate silver braiding on the jacket, waistcoat, hat and trousers.

Yolanda completed the production of storage support boards for large curtains in the SLM Mint Collection.

In May, Christina participated in the hanging of the Curtain of the Sun and the Curtain of the Moon, the original Coburn stage curtains of the Drama Theatre and the Joan Sutherland Theatre of the Sydney Opera House. Yolanda helped create padded inserts to improve the storage condition of the Curtain of the Moon.

A favourite collaborative project amongst our team was a very old wedding day program imprinted on silk with lace. Christina undertook crease reduction and surface cleaning, and sandwiched the end result in fine conservation netting. Then Elric Ringstaad, our wonderful conservation framer, mounted the program in a custom-made sub-frame within an oak box frame. Clever framing allowed both sides of the program to be viewed in their now-clean glory, impressing both our staff and a very grateful client!

The Wedding Day program. Image credit International Conservation Services.

Objects and Outdoor Heritage

Our Objects & Outdoor Heritage team continues to work on objects large and small, both in the lab and on site. Alis Jitarescu has treated an elaborately carved giltwood and gesso frame from Riverview College. It is identical to the frame used to house Raphael’s Madonna della Sedia, an iconic circular work painted in Rome in the early 1500s, which became one of the most replicated works during the height of European masterpieces reproductions in the mid-19th century. Various copies of the work in the same frame exist around the world, including at Melbourne University’s Trinity Chapel, and the Riverview College’s copy is believed to have been acquired around 1907. Alis assessed the frame and determined that previous work was undertaken by professionals in the pre-1900s.

After identifying underlying issues, Alis was able to stabilise the frame for treatment. This included removal of thick layers of bronze overpaint; fabrication, preparation and gilding of missing sculptural decorations; stabilisation and infilling of cracks in the wooden panels and joints; and, finally, infilling touch-ups on the frame and intricate decorations (which include several sculpted angel portraits).

Gilded frame showing identified areas of instability and decay. Image credit International Conservation Services.

The whole team was involved in the Bondi Pavilion Mosaic. Designed by Terry Yumbulul and executed by the artist and local specialists Lloyd Kelemen and Justin Robson, this 1983 wall-to-wall mosaic decorates the pavilion floor with an innovative and unique merging of Indigenous art in a contemporary medium. The mosaic holds deep cultural significance for Yumbulul’s Warramiri clan as it is a representation of one of their sacred stories and was commissioned as a gift to the people of Bondi and the local Gadigal, Bidiagal and Birrabirragal Indigenous groups.

Conservation by Kristina Taylor, Keir Bayley and Amy Walsh included filling superficial cracks and filling in mortar losses covering a fifth of the mosaic. Forty-six drill holes were also filled in, with colour matching undertaken on the corresponding damaged tiles, plus resetting detached and loose tiles. A missing corner of the work where a wall was previously placed was also recreated, matched and integrated into the overall mosaic.

Keir and Kristina regrouting and resetting the tiles. Image credit International Conservation Services.

Furniture

Mark Searle, who joined us in April as Frame Conservator, having worked at the Tate, is doing stellar work on a wide range of projects including a large frame for the National Parks and Wildlife Service, which was heavily degraded and suffering severe ornament loss. After very thorough and complex treatment, the frame has been restored to its former glory—ideal for housing the panoramic photograph of Sydney Harbour it contains.

National Parks and Wildlife Service frame post-treatment. Image credit International Conservation Services.

Mark has also been working on the structural treatment of a console table and a 19th century large gold frame with smashed pieces. And while Alis Jitarescu continues working on 14 Stations of the Cross relief sculptures, Mark has been carefully conserving the delicate and intricate timber surrounds in which they are encased.

Stations of the Cross wooden casing. Image credit International Conservation Services.

Oliver Hull has undertaken an in-depth conservation treatment on an exceptional Chippendale bookcase from 1765, involving recarvings and treatment to its pediment and urn. Elsewhere, Oliver worked on the final fittings for the Old Parliament House doors, one of our hallmark projects of the year, which is now in its end stages. With work at Old Parliament House, the National Library of Australia and the National Film and Sound Archive, it’s been an exciting few months for ICS, contributing to some of our iconic national sites in Canberra!

Paintings

One of our biggest jobs of the year has been the salvage and treatment of artworks from the flooded Lismore Gallery. The work continues in full force, involving our Paintings team of Suati Rojas, Eden Christian, Matteo Volonté and Adam Godijn, and casual paintings conservators Francesca Elia, Louella Raynolds, Belinda Muir, and Oskar Slifierz. Preparations are underway for Stage 2, which will involve final treatment of the artworks after stabilisation following the initial damage and flooding.

Adam and Suati assessing the damaged Lismore paintings. Image credit International Conservation Services.

And as the La Nina wet weather continues, so does a steady stream of mould triages, with the Paintings team working hard to save our clients’ treasured paintings.

Claire Heasman, Eden and Suati have been refining their skills in the thread-by-thread technique, treating a number of paintings damaged by tears. By rethreading new threads into the canvas, they are making the original tear invisible and masterfully leaving the painting looking as good as new! We’ve recently had the privilege of working on a number of paintings by renowned artists including John Coburn, Jeffrey Smart and Brett Whitely, to name just a few.

Claire and Francesca also spent time in June working on the iconic Salute to Slessor’s Five Bells mural by John Olsen. The 4 x 24m plywood mural, which lines the Concert Hall Northern Foyer of the Sydney Opera House, needed conservation after renovations left it damaged with surface dirt, abrasions and paint losses, as well as cracks and fading due to age. Julian Bickersteth and Claire assessed the work to determine the necessary treatment, and the team then undertook dry and aqueous surface cleaning before consolidating and retouching. They were also able to provide recommendations for the future, which will help the Sydney Opera House preserve the mural for decades to come.

Francesca working on Salute to Slessor’s Five Bells. Image credit International Conservation Services.

O’Sullivan Conservation

The last four months have seen workloads increase, with the end of COVID-19 lockdowns and some relief (if brief) from the weather allowing projects that had been on hold to proceed with gusto. The team is breathing a big sigh of relief now that the end of financial year rush is over and has enjoyed having some time back in the workshop and a much-deserved team-building day and lunch in July.

Nicole has settled into the Conservation Technician role and the team generally and we look forward to filling the two vacant positions in the future. The team-building Kintsugi class and lunch provided everyone with an opportunity to get to know one another away from site.

Nicole and Eoin focused on the task at hand, preparing their ceramic for repair.

Kaleigh demonstrates her eye for detail while cleaning her join.

O’Sullivan Conservation has also recently made the decision to take on interns if the specialisation and cultural fit are right. Feel free to get in touch with Hannah Newman if you would like further information about undertaking an internship.

Professional news

Hannah recently had the opportunity to attend the AMaGA conference in Perth. She took the chance to see old friends and colleagues while there and found the conference to be educational and insightful regarding current practices at museums and galleries. Hannah enjoyed connecting with people in the industry and looks forward to developing long-term business relationships as a result.

Following on from the success of the virtual attendance of the AIC Annual Meeting and Conference, Eoin and Hannah will be virtually attending the IIC Conference in Wellington in September, and Eoin will also attend the ICOM-CC Helsinki Metals conference virtually in September. One advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic is the shift to hybrid conferences, allowing the team to attend sessions that would otherwise not be feasible.

Treatment projects

April saw the team complete a furniture mould remediation project, treatments on two copper alloy fountains in Sydney CBD and conservation of two honour boards for the Bondi Surf Bathers Life Saving Club as part of the NSW Office for Veterans Affairs Memorials Fund grants. The fountain work continued into May and June with a conservation treatment of the Lewis Wolfe Levy Fountain in the Royal Botanic Garden completed while the weather cooperated.

Eoin undertaking an at-height condition assessment of the Levy Fountain.

Nicole and Eoin removing copper alloy components from one of the Bondi honour boards.

The Bondi honour boards after treatment and reinstallation, ready for ANZAC day.

Thankfully the run of good weather continued for the team, allowing the completion of conservation repairs and treatment being undertaken on a series of bronze bench seats in Glebe. There were complex site safety requirements to be met, and the team rose to the challenge and successfully completed the project on time and budget for happy clients.

Site establishment, Glebe Point Road, Glebe.

After treatment, Glebe Point Road bench seat.

June also saw conservation maintenance work carried out on Dual Nature, Nigel Helyer, and Distance of Your Heart, Tracey Emin, as part of ongoing contracts.

Eoin undertaking a condition assessment of Dual Nature at low tide.

State Library of New South Wales (SLNSW)

Staff changes

In the Preservation team we say goodbye and thank you to Sonia Lee who will be moving into the Books, Objects and Paintings team. Congratulations to Sonia! We also welcome back Aileen Dean-Raschilla to the team from her seven-month sojourn in the Storage team, assisting with collection storage moves.

Keyeele (Kiki) Lawler-Dormer has taken up a role at the Art Gallery of NSW. Kiki has been such an integral part of the DEP team and we will miss her greatly! We wish her all the best in her new role.

Professional news 

Book, Objects and Paintings

The BOP team welcomes back Steve Bell from long service leave. He finished the rebinding of the Corner (Cook) journal before his leave and is now working on rehousing the disbound maps from these journals in custom folders. The team also welcomes Sonia Lee, previously in the Preservation team, who is working on rehousing more complicated items in our realia collection and surveying these collections for inclusion in the second installation of the Collectors’ Gallery. In this, Sonia is also working with Felicity Corkill. Felicity’s main focus is assessing the realia collection and planning for a new realia storage area to be designed and built following the current building construction projects.

Digitisation and Preservation Team

The Digital Excellence Program (DEP) has formally come to an end. This ambitious 10-year program digitised, preserved and made accessible the Library’s iconic and at-risk heritage collections. Collection Care staff were an important part of this program, from assessment of the collections for treatment, preparation of the collections and shipping and transport of the collections for off-site digitisation.

While the DEP program has formally ended, there are still digitisation projects to complete. Hoa Huynh, now the sole DEP staff member, will be completing these projects for the remainder of the year. Lang Ngo has moved over to the Preservation team as Senior Conservator and will also look after the remaining DEP program.

Hoa Huynh has been completing outsourced digitisation projects, including serials sent to NLA for TROVE digitisation as well as starting preparation of projects for the new financial year. Hoa has started treating the Nichols shipping collection, a collection of photograph albums of (you guessed it) ships.

Silvana Volpato, Aileen, Nicholas and Sonia have been working through the backlog of projects put on hold by pandemic lockdowns. These include the rehousing of the John Andrews architectural collection, as well as a collection of fragile Vietnamese posters.

Paper and Photographs

Grand Vistas, Panoramas from the Collection has consumed the work of the Paper and Photographic team in the last year. The team of Cecilia Harvey, Dana Kahabka, Trish Leen, Kate Hughes, Wendy Richards and Nichola Parshall, led by Cecilia, has treated 14 large and complex works from the collection. Work has included removal of old canvas backings to reveal hidden drawings on the reverse of John Rae panoramas, as well as beautiful watermarks in the diverse papers used by Jacob Janssen. The catalogue that accompanies the exhibition also details the treatments and the discoveries of the Paper team.

The team has completed a condition survey of the Miniature sequence and many of these small cased items, including daguerreotype and ambrotype cases, needed repair due to the structural failure of the hinged opening. Book Conservator Guy Caron has been steadily working through these small vulnerable works to stabilise their cases. Guy has been alternating this miniature case repair work with conservation treatments on the historical volumes for the recently opened Kill or Cure exhibition.

Collection storage

A hectic year for collection relocations has come to an end. The Collection Storage Coordinator project-managed several massive collection relocations in order for the Library to commence building a new auditorium beneath the Mitchell Reading Room. The pictures collections were relocated to another stack level onto new mobile shelving and drawer storage, and many thousands of metres of mobile shelving was installed to enable return of off-site stored manuscript collections. In addition, we have replaced many old and unsuitable map/plan cabinets with new ones to enable better storage and access to these collections.

Collection care facilities

SLNSW now has a permanent dedicated Quarantine Room where we can screen and process incoming collection material to ensure pests and mould are dealt with before material is catalogued and stored in the building. One of our old conservation labs was re-purposed to provide this space and in addition we have relocated our electric guillotine and Gunnar mount/box cutter to a newly refurbished room adjacent to the Quarantine Room. This also provides much improved storage of materials and space for our selection of exhibition FINI frames.

Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA)

The QAGOMA conservators’ work program continues to focus on the preparation of artworks for exhibition in both QAG and GOMA buildings. As with many workplaces, staff leave due to COVID-19 throughout the whole Gallery has affected daily workflows and currently makes for a challenging work environment. Great news is that all three assistant conservator contracts have been extended for another 12 months—Dominic King (Paper Conservation), Margaret Barclay (Sculpture Conservation) and Ruby Awburn (Paintings Conservation). Rhiannon Walker and Rebecca Negri continue in their roles on the Collection Online project. After nine years as a casual employee at QAGOMA, Michael Marendy has joined the permanent conservation team on part-time hours. How lucky are we!

We have been fortunate to be involved in the exhibition The Soul Trembles by Chiharu Shiota. This exhibition consists of a stunning set of complex installations by Shiota including (among other materials) kilometres of wool, tens of rotating suitcases and a burnt piano and audience chairs, along with works on paper and photographic works and one painting, all of which required 21 studio and installation staff and 15 days to install.

We have also recently completed deinstallation of APT10 exhibition spaces. This deinstallation was staged across a number of months to manage workflow. One of the last works to be deinstalled is Parhelion by Syagini Ratana Wulan, which is a wall-based work consisting of almost 6000 parts, each being accessioned by affixing a tiny numbered label during deinstallation.

Upcoming exhibitions of local artist Joe Furlonger and Courage and Beauty, which highlights works from Brisbane Collector James C Sourris, have enabled paintings conservators Anne Carter, Gillian Osmond, Emily Kelleher and Ruby Awburn to work closely with a wide variety of contemporary paintings involving interesting cleaning and structural remediations. Following studio visits and artist interviews, Gillian and Ruby have also co-authored a chapter for the Joe Furlonger exhibition catalogue regarding the artist’s materials and techniques. Gillian also recently travelled to Paris as a courier for paintings in the Gabori retrospective at the Fondation Cartier. In paintings conservation, we are looking for a good solution for storage and documentation of our artwork paint samples—both cross sections (mounted on a single glass slide) and paint sample scrapings for FTIR (stored between two glass slides). If anyone has any good systems for storage please email Anne Carter. As a response to public enquiries following the heavy rainfall in February 2022, Anne Carter drafted an information sheet ‘Actions for drying flood-damaged artworks (paintings) in an Australian context’ now available on the AICCM website.

Margaret Barclay and Liz Chapman continue to complete treatment on bark paintings from the collection for the exhibition Transitions. They have also been working on a new display method for Indigenous ceramic artist Thanakupi’s Chara the fireman, which has involved systematically removing tiles from old backing board and reattaching to a new hanging system using magnets. Elsewhere in sculpture conservation, Elizabeth Thompson, Catherine Collyer and Caro Toledo are immersed in the preparation of a pigment-puffing time-based artwork by Dora Budor, Origin II, for a major summer exhibition, Air.  Michael and Caro are also working to prepare textiles for loan.

Amanda Pagliarino continues to work on optimisation of climate control in both the QAG and GOMA buildings. At present she is working with Honeywell on trialling new wireless room sensors for the BMS at QAG and preparing for the first tests of night-time standby mode at QAG. Also, take a look at the new AICCM Climate Adaptation resource, created by Amanda and Ainslee Meredith.

Kim Barrett and Dominic King are completing treatment on a set of watercolours by Harriet Jane Neville Rolfe, including agar gel treatments to reduce foxing and discolouration. Samantha Shellard, David Roussell and Dom have also completed treatment and framing of a large set of fabulous Jenny Watson paintings on glossy magazine paper for the exhibition Embodied Knowledge: Queensland Contemporary Art. Kim and Sam have also been liaising with various artists on works included in upcoming exhibitions. Working through processes and coming up with solutions for display and preservation of works in consultation with artists is always an interesting and rewarding aspect of being a conservator in a contemporary art gallery.

Collection Online conservators Rhiannon Walker and Rebecca Negri continue to prepare works for photography. Bec has been finding some interesting inscriptions and household and other cardboard materials used as backing boards and frames, particularly in the works by LJ Harvey.

In frame conservation, Robert Zilli and Damian Buckley have been working with consultant gilded objects conservator Malgorzata Sawicki to develop a treatment plan for the restoration of the frame from the George Romney painting Mrs Yates as the tragic muse, Melpomene, 1771. Already five campaigns of gilding have been discovered as well as many repairs and reproduction parts. This is a QAG Foundation funded project. Alex Forrest is making a set of replica frames for Nalini Malini’s Stories retold series, a set of delicate multilayered reverse paintings on Mylar required to travel later this year.

Robert Zilli, Malgorzata Sawicki, Damian Buckley and Emily Kelleher undertaking conservation of the frame for George Romney’s Mrs Yates as the tragic muse, Melpomene 1771, gift of Lady Trout 1988. Image credit Natasha Harth, Senior Photographer, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, 2022.

Conservators have just been issued with laptops and iPads, enabling us to work locally in gallery spaces and in the conservation studio. Some of us are moving to digital condition-reporting overlays using PDF Expert and iPads. We’d like to hear what others are using for digital condition reporting overlays. QAGOMA also just launched a new Digital Management Asset System and a new Collection Management System (MuseumPlus). Together with the use of TEAMS and Click-up for project management, we are almost fully digitally transformed!

We would also like to congratulate much-loved member of the conservation team Samantha Shellard on her recent wedding. We are thrilled that Sam and Moe could have their Art Deco celebration after COVID-19 delays and we wish them much happiness.

Queensland State Archives

Vale Ms Kristy McCullough – Paper and Preventive Conservator Extraordinaire

It is with great sadness that we have to advise that Queensland has lost an amazing Paper and Preventive Conservator in July. Kristy had been a key member of Preservation at the Queensland State Archives for over 20 years. She had a passion for conservation and preservation knowledge that was boundless and she leaves a great gap in our profession that will be difficult to fill.

A celebration of Kristy’s quiet achievements will be organised at a later date to celebrate an incredible Paper and Preventive Conservator Extraordinaire.

Government Archives and Preservation: Libraries Tasmania and the Tasmanian Archives

Current projects

Gaynor Tollard, Conservation Officer, has been working through a group of archival volumes with old mould damage, and cleaning and rehousing them. These are not a priority for extensive repair; however, removing loose, illegible sections and cleaning the loose mould deposits will make them accessible with care.

New Norfolk court fines register before cleaning. Image credit Stephanie McDonald.

New Norfolk register in box. Image credit Stephanie McDonald.

New Norfolk register in custom box. Image credit Stephanie McDonald.

Gaynor has also made custom storage boxes for the Allport’s collection of eight original drawings by Nicolas-Martin Petit of Tasmanian Aboriginals (1802). These came to us over several years and have been shared with the Tasmanian Aboriginal community and exhibited. They are now in their final custom-made storage boxes.

Two special projects have been carried out with the Allport bequest funds by Sabine Cotte and Louise Bradley, who came over from Melbourne to work in the lab. Sabine carried out Phase 1 of the conservation treatment on a 19th century leather screen, which has been on display in the Allport Museum’s bedroom. The treatment involved separating the leather from the frame, repairing the tears, infilling, and retouching. For Phase 2, the screen will be sent to Sabine in Melbourne for varnish removal.

Sabine working on the leather screen. Image credit Stephanie McDonald.

Leather screen detail before and after treatment. Image credit Stephanie McDonald.

Leather screen returned to display. Image credit Stephanie McDonald.

Louise reframed the oil paintings that are on semi-permanent display in the Colonial Art Gallery within Allport. Using Optium acrylic, building up the backs and replacing many of the backings will better protect the works while they are on display.

Louise working on frames. Image credit Stephanie McDonald.

Works returned to Colonial Gallery after glazing. Image credit Stephanie McDonald.

Stephanie McDonald has been planning the work of the Conservation Section and recently completed the cleaning and minor repair of Thomas Bock daguerreotype and ambrotype portraits of a distinguished Van Diemen’s Land family: Isabella and Richard Lewis. The treatments involved dismantling, cleaning the glass and some case repair.

Thomas Bock, daguerreotype portrait of David Lewis before and after treatment. Image credit Stephanie McDonald.

Exhibitions

There has been an exhibition changeover from the Lanney Pillar exhibition (showing the work by Roger Scholes and Greg Lehman in response to the statue of William Crowther in Franklin Square). The new exhibition, Chilled, has been organised by the National Archives as part of the Antarctic Festival in Hobart.

Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG)

In June 2022, Jenny O’Connell hosted Sherryn Vardy in the Paintings Lab for the AICCM ADFAS Armidale Mid-Career Scholarship project. The two-way learning exercise resulted in a gels experiment, the use of equipment such as the vacuum hot table, some painting treatments and also the making of materials such as consolidants and varnishes from scratch. As Sherryn works in private practice in Gippsland and Jenny works as the sole paintings conservator at TMAG, the collaboration was highly useful for both conservators, particularly after the isolation of the past few years. Jenny and Sherryn continue to engage in peer coaching and collaboration via Microsoft Teams. We’d like to thank the AICCM and ADFAS for making this possible.

Objects conservators Michelle Berry and Nikki King Smith have been working on preparing objects for the upcoming exhibition taypani milaythina-tu: Return to Country, which is TMAG’s summer show.

TMAG’s Conservation Technician, Lisa Charleston, has been busy with ongoing projects like environmental monitoring tasks/equipment, and preparation/treatments of works and frames for upcoming exhibitionsInteresting sideline projects have included assisting TMAG’s Art Curator and an external researcher in tracking down evidence for original colonial framings to enable documentation and database capture, as well as some gilding techniques practice using different ground recipes.

Sherryn Vardy at work in the paintings lab as part of an AICCM ADFAS Armidale Mid-Career Scholarship project. Image credit Jenny O’Connell.

Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI)

Registration and Exhibitions

Our registration and exhibition production teams have just completed installing a new costume display for Thor: Love and Thunder costumes at ACMI. These costumes have been loaned through Marvel Studios and were accompanied by two couriers from Los Angeles. See Registrar Meg Taylor and Exhibitions Project Manager Cody Buchanan in action here and below.

Meg Taylor and Cody Buchanan installing for Thor: Love and Thunder costumes. Image credit Peter Tarasiuk Photography.

Meg Taylor installing for Thor: Love and Thunder costumes. Image credit Peter Tarasiuk Photography.

Acquisition of Untitled Goose Game with MAAS and NFSA

Working collaboratively on a tripartite agreement to collect contemporary videogames, ACMI, MAAS and NFSA announced the joint acquisition of House House’s Untitled Goose Game at live-score event of the videogame in action (with Orchestra Victoria). The acquisition sees all three organisations acquiring a selection of content including versions of the game, concept images, original sketches and documentation around its making.

This model of acquisition, to be built upon with more contemporary videogames in the future, allows for the distributed collection and preservation of the videogame’s assets and is a means to disperse our resources for these complex digital artefacts without replicating our conservation efforts.

 

Stills from Untitled Goose Game, courtesy of House House. Gift of House House Pty Ltd.

Introducing our Disc Robot

ACMI has also recently welcomed a MF Digital Ripstation 7000 Series (which sounds terrifying out of context, so it’s now affectionately called the ‘Disc Robot’), which automates the digitisation of optical discs. This is done via a robotic arm that picks up a disc from a stack (of potentially hundreds of discs) and moves it into a disc drive, which then creates an ISO of the disc. Afterwards, the arm replaces the digitised disc with a new disc. Since this process was previously done manually, the Disc Robot should save us tons of time, and is perfect for our extensive optical disc collection. Plus, it works on weekends!

Given the public focus of our Blackmagic Design Media Preservation lab, and the often screen-based nature of digital preservation, the Disc Robot adds a fitting visual element to our conservation work, showing how time-consuming and sometimes repetitive imaging a disc-based collection can be. This hardware will allow us to scale up our preservation efforts, affording us the opportunity to now image our interactive collection from the 1980s–2000, Play it Again games and media arts collections.

Ripstation 7000 Series, automated optical disc migration equipment. Image credit Mar Cruz.

 HYPER//ECHO

ACMI has just displayed and acquired its first interactive work on Gallery 5, our online exhibition space. HYPER//ECHO, by Firepit Collective, takes the form of an online virtual environment populated by players who can leave abstract messages or create structures throughout the space. Their creations, however, slowly degrade over time and must constantly be maintained by players, alluding to and perhaps mirroring our precarious relationship to the internet, digital world and the challenges of preserving digital content for future generations.

Still of HYPER//ECHO, displayed on ACMI’s Gallery 5. Image courtesy of Firepit Collective and ACMI.

A time-lapse of HYPER//ECHO acting as a trace for an event can now be viewed here, and an account of the visitor experience to this unique space can be found in Claire Osborn-Li’s travel diaries.

Grimwade Conservation Services (GCS)

Objects and Textiles lab

This year the Objects team has welcomed two new members. Principal Textile Conservator Dr Reyhane Mirabootalebi returned to us from the USA, where she completed her PhD at the University of Delaware on the preservation of Kurdish textiles and a short project with the Metropolitan Museum of Art on improving the Oddy Test methodology. It is great to have her back. Assistant Objects Conservator Eliana Urrutia-Bernard also joined us.

For the last 12 months, the Objects Team at GCS has been conserving Loong, the oldest intact imperial processional dragon in the world. Loong is a 40m-long, five-clawed or imperial dragon owned by the Bendigo Chinese Association and on permanent display at the Golden Dragon Museum, Bendigo. Loong’s earliest recorded public appearance was the Bendigo Easter Procession of 1892. During the 1890s to 1900s, Loong heralded the opening of hospitals in Adelaide, Sydney and Bendigo. Raising money for the sick and needy, he won the hearts of people nationwide. As such, Loong symbolises community, benevolence, diversity and cultural acceptance. Loong retired from parading in 1970. Over time, he has been well supported with isolated work by the Bendigo Chinese Association to prepare him for parades, stabilise deterioration and repair accidental damage. This tradition of post- and pre-parade repairs contributed significantly to Loong’s history and his survival today. The project management was by GCS manager Penny Tripp and treatment management by Dr Holly Jones-Amin. The GCS project team of professional conservators and Master of Cultural Materials Conservation students delivered over 1500 hours of treatment work between October and July alongside the Bendigo Chinese Association community members and conservator Jude Schahinger―working on location in regional Victoria during the pandemic with health guidelines for workplace density and travel. The project was funded by a Victorian Living Heritage Grant. Treatment included cleaning, stitching, adhering delaminating cardboard and securing silk.

Paper and Paintings labs

In June, Paper and Photograph Conservator Katy Glen attended The Big Picture AIC/FAIC workshop, hosted by MOMA in New York. The workshop focused on the many issues presented by large contemporary photographs.

For the past month, the Paintings team has been busy consolidating five large bark paintings, which date from 1935–42, from the Donald Thomson Collection at the University of Melbourne. The barks are undergoing stabilisation treatment for an upcoming international touring exhibition, Madayin: eight decades of Aboriginal Australian bark painting from Yirrkala, which will tour to five venues across the United States over the next two years.

Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation

Thangka care and conservation with Ann Shaftel

For the past fortnight, the Grimwade Centre has had the pleasure of hosting Ann Shaftel to undertake teaching on the care and preservation of thangkas with staff and students. Ann held a masterclass for staff at GCS and a week-long course for students undertaking the Conservation Intensive subject. Staff at the National Gallery of Victoria generously opened their labs and shared six thangkas from the collection for students to view with Ann. Several private collectors also loaned and donated thangkas to the teaching program. Site visits took place to view thangkas at the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion in Myers Flat near Bendigo and the Tibetan Buddhist Society in Yuroke. Topics included thangka textiles and thangka painting, the components of thangkas, condition reporting, conservation decision-making for the care of thangkas and the history and spiritual context of thangkas. Ann’s wealth of knowledge has been a valuable addition to students’ learning.

Ann Shaftel, Thangka Care and Conservation at Grimwade Conservation Services. Image credit Penny Tripp.

 Ngarranggarni Gija Art and Country

Knowledge sharing between the Grimwade Centre and Warmun Art Centre continues. Recently, artist and cultural adviser Gabriel Nodea was lead teacher in the subject of Ngarranggarni Gija Art and Country. Other Elders who taught into the program were Eileen Bray, Shirley Purdie, Shirley Drill and Mabel Juli, supported by Tatum Rivers. This is the third year that the subject has been delivered by Zoom. It remains impactful and a significant part of the student experience despite the inability of delivering the program on-country due to COVID-19.

Traditional Bhutanese dye-making with Kencho Dekar

In September, Bhutanese traditional dye-maker Kencho Dekar will undertake a month’s teaching and research residency at the Grimwade Centre. Kencho has devoted his life to researching and developing traditional Bhutanese dyes and is passionate about his work. The retention of traditional skills is a complex topic that requires a mix of cultural, historical, philosophical, scientific and conservation skills. Kencho Dekar is the pre-eminent world expert in this field of traditional Bhutanese dye-making, which links to the traditional textile industry and the creation of contemporary thangkas using traditional methods. During his visit, Kencho will be running some masterclasses, about which more information will be posted through the AICCM over the coming weeks.

 Marles Medal award (University of Melbourne)

The Marles Medal in Humanities and Social Sciences was awarded to Robyn Sloggett on 15 August 2022 for her interdisciplinary, cross-cultural research in arts conservation and the significant impact it has had on the communities with whom she has collaborated. This award recognises excellence in research impact including an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health and wellbeing, the environment or quality of life beyond academia. It’s wonderful to see conservation recognised as a pre-eminent discipline that contributes to these outcomes.

Grimwade Centre academic programs

As always, thank you to our guest speakers in the program. For the Preventive Conservation subject, we are indebted to NGV’s MaryJo Lelyveld, MV’s Sarah Babister and David Coxsedge, the Philippines’ Ana Labrador, University of Melbourne Collections Manager Trish Stokes and this year one of our PhD students, Seka Seniviratne, who led the session on biodeterioration. Our second-year treatment subject from April juggled the challenges of COVID-19 and staff health issues, with another of our PhD students, Hohi Ikeda, stepping in to expertly help guide student projects in the objects stream. So, a big thank you to her and to the many guest speakers and institutions who generously shared their expertise and spaces, including staff at the State Library of Victoria and National Gallery of Victoria, and our colleagues from Grimwade Conservation Services (GCS), Cushla Hill, Libby Melzer, Evan Tindal, Noni Zachri, and Holly Jones-Amin. A final thank you goes to John Hook for sharing his expertise with students during his recent research time at the Grimwade Centre.

Students have been very pleased to be able to travel for internships once more in semester one this year and we’d like to thank our generous placement hosts at Artlab Australia, Arts Centre Melbourne, Australian National Maritime Museum, CSIRO, David Stein & Co., Grimwade Conservation Services, International Conservation Services, National Gallery of Victoria, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, State Library of Western Australia and Tartu Kunstimuusëum.

Our elective subjects always provide the master’s program with a chance to respond to current issues and change focus each year. In July we were most fortunate to collaborate with the Golden Dragon Museum in Bendigo for the subject Content in the Field with 15 second-year students and lecturer Nicole Tse. Our host Megan Hall so generously shared her work as GDM’s Collection Manager and we collectively adapted ICCROM’s ReOrg method to the situated context of the museum. Thanks also go to Hugo Leschen and Doug Lougoon from the Bendigo Chinese Association, Leigh McKinnon, Stephanie Bower, and guest lecturers Tonia Eckfeld and Jude Schahinger. It was a great week to engage with community and living heritage collections.

Master’s students joined many work opportunities this semester including AMaGa Victoria’s Bushfire Recovery Project with Rachel Jones, GCS’s Ballarat Mechanics’ Institute, GCS Victorian Government Living Heritage Grants Program, The Loong, Chinese Dragon Conservation project and, as always, the AICCM Bulletin Editorial Assistant Committee.

Congratulations are in order for all our students who completed their minor theses, presentations of which were in June, including: Jordan Aarsen ‘An analysis of metal soap formation: A case study of 7 known model oil paint samples and 3 samples taken from late 19th century and early 20th century oil paintings’; Rachel Davis ‘Defining resilience: A history of silo art in Victoria and an investigation of paint materials’; Leandra Flores ‘Clear as a gel: an exploration of the use of alpha amylase and gellan gum gels to reduce aged wheat starch paste from watercolour paper’; Daniel Bornstein ‘3D imaging of musical instruments—Investigating 3D imaging for heritage conservation’; Georgina Duckett ‘Testing the efficacy of three essential oils as potential green biocides for architectural stone and terracotta’; Genevieve Sullivan ‘Understanding and executing preservation strategies for c.2000-year-old decorative archaeological bronze bells’; and Annabelle Williams ‘Conservation and materials identification of an Indian inlay table as a practice-based, owner-focused project’. Our minor thesis projects draw on so many conservation and industry partnerships and we thank you for supporting these.

Congratulations also go to PhD candidate Diana Tay who presented her pre-submission doctoral thesis, ‘Building a material record of Singaporean art through technical art history: a study of paintings by Cheong Soo Pieng and Georgette Chen (1940–1980s)’.

Research-wise, Grimwade Centre staff are presenting again at face-to-face conferences including Nicole Tse at AMaGa Victoria’s Forum Future Focus on Future Proofing the Profession. PhD student Eliza O’Donnell and Diana Tay, alumni Saifal Bakhri, honorary Ana Labrador and Nicole Tse also presented a panel at the Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASSA) Conference on Social Justice in Pandemic Times on the topic of ‘The right to conserve cultural material?: Decision making and collections’. Jonathan Kemp – along with colleagues from the University’s Dept. of Infrastructure Engineering – presented a poster on their proof-of-concept work (part of an ongoing ARC Linkage application), ‘Modelling decay in stone heritage using Machine Learning’ at the National Gallery of London as part of the conference Computational Approaches for Technical Imaging in Cultural Heritage (7th IP4AI meeting).

Finally, on behalf of the Grimwade Centre, Jonathan Kemp and Tim Ould hosted an international research project, ‘The Technical Study of Bernini’s Bronzes: Art History, Conservation, and Material Science’. With the generous support of the University of Melbourne—University of Toronto Joint Research Program, the core North American team came to Australia to investigate examples of the Baroque sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini’s bronze multiples at both the NGV in Melbourne and NGA in Canberra. The project is charged with understanding the ‘layered authorship’ of these works by using a technical art history approach in mapping over archival material with technical analyses. The team and Grimwade give a huge thanks to all the NGV staff involved, especially Michael Varcoe-Cocks, Laurie Benson and Di Whittle who made the first week such a success. The visit to NGA Canberra has been organised with curator Lucina Ward and conservator Sarah Mchugh and at the time of writing is greatly anticipated. The project’s key members – Evonne Levy, Distinguished Professor of Early Modern Art at the University of Toronto; Lisa Ellis, Conservator of Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and Jane Bassett, Head Conservator of Decorative Arts and Sculpture at the J Paul Getty Museum –  examined the three Bernini bronzes in Australia using their eyes and brains along with portable XRF and 3D mapping equipment as well as some micro-sampling for later ICP-MS and micro-CT analyses. The team was extremely receptive to the students who attended the NGV and NGA sessions and they commented on how privileged they felt to be able to discuss their project with them. Two well-attended public-facing events were organised at the Grimwade Centre: the first a talk to introduce the project and the second a day-long series of seminars and discussion. Other experts on the project contributed from afar to this second event, including Aaron Shugar, Professor of Conservation Science at SUNY Buffalo State; Branden Rizzuto from the University of Toronto; David Bougarit, achaeometallurgist at the Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France (C2RMF), Paris; and Chandra Reedy, Professor and Director of the Center for Historic Architecture and Design at the University of Delaware. A lively panel discussion rounded out the day involving Evonne, Lisa and Jane being joined by world-renowned metals conservator Dr Ian MacLeod, Renaissance art historian Prof. Jaynie Anderson (UoM), and archaeometallurgist Dr Chris Davey (UoM) to discuss aspects around the materiality and authorship of Bernini’s bronzes.

ICS Melbourne

Conservators Katie Smith and Kristine Allinson recently undertook a public art survey for the City of Ballarat, which included a large range of sculptures and murals. Whilst there they undertook a thorough structural analysis of Hercules, a marble statue in the Ballarat Botanic Gardens, ahead of reparation works.

Katie Smith measuring the Miner’s Rest Soldier’s Memorial for the Ballarat public art survey. Image credit International Conservation Services.

Kristine has been managing a number of small projects for private and institutional clients, including the treatment of paper artworks, textiles and prints. Kristine and Katie undertook the cleaning of a three-module acrylic sculpture at Werribee Park Mansion.

Katie Smith inspecting the Werribee Park sculpture. Image credit International Conservation Services.

Conservator Bruno Bell recently graduated from a horology course through the British Horological Institute, where he learnt technician-grade practical clock and watch servicing. He has now begun servicing for private and commercial clients. Bruno has also treated a number of ancient Greek objects, and some objects of note from the Victoria Police Museum.

The whole team also returned to the Fitzroy Gardens to undertake comprehensive case studies on the Fairies Tree and Scarred Tree.

Katie Smith and Bruno Bell on site at the Fitzroy Gardens. Image credit International Conservation Services.

ICS Melbourne is beginning to grow, with Sarah Neaves joining the team as Administration and Projects Officer in July. Sarah is a trained architect with experience in similar project-related roles and has already become a valued member of the ICS Melbourne team.

National Gallery of Victoria

General news

Michael Varcoe-Cocks, Associate Director, Conservation, has been busy in his role on the steering committee of the design team for NGV-C supported by Manon Mikolaitis, Conservation Project Assistant. Manon has also been assisting with the auditing and preservation planning of the NGV’s time-based media collection. Earlier this year, it was announced that the NGV was a recipient of the 2022 Bank of America Art Conservation Project to support the treatment of works in the NGV’s Indigenous Collection from Papunya and Lajamanu communities in the Northern Territory. Michael and Manon have started working on this project while preparing to recruit an Indigenous conservator to drive the conservation.

We welcome Rahila Merchant to the NGV Conservation team. Rahila has most recently worked at ICS as Client Services Manager and will apply her project management and service skills to the role of Conservation and Collection Project Assistant. Rahlia will be working on preventive conservation and outreach activities with MaryJo Lelyveld, Manager, Conservation.

The NGV conservation department has taken delivery of a new mobile digital X-ray system, which will enable us to rapidly increase the volume of our ongoing radiography program. Our first job will be to optimise the unit for the radiography of a wide range of works of art. We look forward to reporting back on the applications and effectiveness of this new tool in the coming months.

Paintings 

The past few months have seen the Paintings conservation team hard at work on their individual major projects: Raymonda Rajkowski on Peter Upward’s Untitled (Blue); Caitlin Breare on Marie-Victoire Lemoine’s A Young Woman leaning on the edge of a window; and Carl Villis on Murillo’s Immaculate Conception. Raye Collins has been carrying out the varnish removal of Spencer Gore’s The White Seats, along with varnish solubility testing and investigations on a group of early 20th century paintings.

In late June, Carl flew to Paris to stretch a large canvas by Sally Gabori and supervise the installation of others for the major exhibition of that artist’s work at the Fondation Cartier.

Frames and Furniture

Annie Swynnerton’s sumptuous full-length portrait The lady in white, 1878, is now on display in a handsome and historically accurate frame, thanks to many months of work by Jason King, NGV Frame Maker. A Watts-style frame, named after English artist GF Watts, was chosen following extensive research, with information and advice from Manchester Art Gallery and Tate Britain. We were fortunate to have in the NGV Collection two Watts paintings in Watts frames on which to base the reproduction. Jason undertook all aspects of the production from wood machining, compo ornament making, gilding and toning. Dental silicone was used to take impressions of the ornament on one of the original frames, and there was much work involved to create accurate master moulds used to press out many metres of compo ornament for the new frame. This project was made possible by the NGV Centre for Frame Research, which is generously supported by the Professor AGL Shaw AO Bequest.

In April, University of Melbourne student Jennifer Parker joined us for a three-week internship. Amongst her activities, Jen was involved with testing on frames and furniture with the department’s Artec Eva 3D scanner. Subsequently, Jen wrote up instructions for using the device, including processing steps to create frame profile drawings. Jen is now working with us on a two-month contract, assisting Holly McGowan-Jackson on the continuing treatment of the massive frame for The Pilgrim Fathers: Departure of a Puritan Family for New England. Holly has been using Nanorestore gels Peggy 5 & 6 with various aqueous solutions for cleaning the very discoloured bottom frame member, while still retaining the original glue-based coatings on the gilded surfaces.

Suzi Shaw has been preparing numerous new acquisitions for display, including lighting by Charlotte Perriand and Isamu Noguchi. Suzi has been testing a variety of Smart globes to enable the selection of a specific colour temperature and brightness for individual lights (rather than buying globes with varying wattages and colour temperatures), as well as the timing of operation of the lights. Suzi has also been consolidating the mother of pearl decoration on a Korean lacquered box with extensive old wood borer damage.

Jason applying compo ornament to the reproduction frame for The lady in white.
Image credit NGV Photographic Services.

The lady in white, 1878, by Annie L Swynnerton, oil on canvas, 194.8 × 116.0 cm (canvas), National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Gift of Krystyna Campbell-Pretty AM and Family through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, 2020. Frame: reproduction, 2022, based on a Watts frame by WA Smith, London, dated (c.1887). Image credit NGV Photographic Services.

Objects

Marika Strohschnieder, Di Whittle, and Trude Ellingsen of the Objects lab hosted the Bernini research team over a three-day period in July as they assessed two Bernini works in the NGV Collection. Evonne Levy (University of Toronto), Lisa Ellis (Art Gallery of Ontario) and Jane Bassett (J Paul Getty Museum) were accompanied by Jonathan Kemp and a select number of students from the Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation.

Paper and Photography

The NGV has recently been gifted 77 watercolours from the Hermannsburg School of artists, pioneered by Albert Namatjira. The watercolours were painted during the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s by an array of artists, depicting stunning landscapes throughout Central Australia. Ruth Shervington, Louise Wilson and Bonnie Hearn have been working through the collection, removing non-archival mounts, tape and adhesive residues, and undertaking backing removals to ensure the preservation of the collection.

The team is excited to announce that the Büllingen Watermark Album database has been added to the Memory of Paper website. Louise Wilson has been working with Emanuel Wenger to upload approximately 350 watermarks from the album. Louise has written about the rare watermark album in ‘‘Bibliomania; or Book Madness’: The Story of the von Büllingen Album of Watermarks’, published in The Quarterly, the journal of the British Association of Paper Historians (No. 120, October 2021).

Ruth Shervington has been invited by ICCROM and TOBUNKEN – Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Property – to speak at the Japanese Paper Conservation Evaluation Seminar 2022. Ruth will share how the NGV Paper, and Photograph Conservation studio has adopted and applied traditional techniques learnt by our Japanese colleagues over the last 20 years.

Peter Block, Senior Conservation Mount-Cutter, has now been joined by Andre Piguet, Conservation Mount-Cutter. Andre will be ably assisting with the preparation of works for permanent collection changeovers and upcoming exhibitions including Fred Williams: The London Drawings, which brings together approx. 150 of Williams’s drawings made during his years in London (1952–56) when he first came to maturity as an artist.

Textiles

Skye Firth, Kate Douglas, Bella Lipson-Smith, and Ellen Doyle of the Textiles team have been busy preparing works for the upcoming Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse exhibition, which will be showcasing over 100 garments from McQueen’s critically acclaimed collections.

Exhibitions

During May and June, Exhibitions Conservation worked on installing the Melbourne Winter Masterpieces 2022 The Picasso Century. Catherine Earley, Janelle Borig and Camielle Fitzmaurice worked alongside couriers from lenders Centre Pompidou and Musée Picasso to document and install these works from Picasso and many of the artists he intersected with throughout his career. The Exhibitions Conservation team was able to use French digital condition-reporting software ArtReport for the first time and they were very impressed with its applications. They were also able to enlist the help of Senior Conservation Art Technician Gervais Battour to glaze several of the works, as well as refitting and re-framing. This was a lovely opportunity to work closely with overseas colleagues and see curator Didier Ottinger in action.

Catherine and Camielle condition reporting works in-situ. Image credit Janelle Borig.

State Library Victoria

Collection Care

Social news

We are nearing the end of the alphabet on the Library’s popular A–Z series on our social media channels. Each fortnight, a different Collection Care activity or material was showcased. Most recently we posted ‘U is for … Ultraviolet Light’ and ‘V is for … Vellum’, to name a couple. There are endless opportunities in this series, and everyone gets a chance to write a post.

V is for Vellum Vellum Ethiopian healing scroll. RARESEF 091 ET3 (9). Image credit Anna Welch. 

Staff changes

In May, we said goodbye to Book Conservator Bonnie Hearn who moved to a new position at the NGV. Bonnie made a big impact on the Book team in the short time she was with us, and we miss her greatly.

Professional news

Earlier this year the Conservation Department hosted second-year paper conservation students from the Master of Cultural Materials Conservation course at the University of Melbourne. This is an annual event with members of the Book team sharing their extensive knowledge of book structures and how to make custom phase boxes. The Paper team offered an introduction to paper conservation and shared what they were working on and their tools and treatment methods of choice.

Treatment projects

A small group of ephemeral paper theatre set models was recently uncovered in the Coppin Collection. After intensive cleaning by Preservation Technician Savina Hopkins, Paper Conservator Albertine Hamilton has completed the first set for Act 1 of vaudeville production The Cotton King as a pilot treatment for the remaining sets.

Coppin Theatre set models—being treated by Alby Hamilton, and rehoused. Image credit Helen Mc Pherson.

A water leak earlier in the year resulted in a small number of very wet perfect bound books. This provided the opportunity to engage the freeze-drying services of Steamatic. The results were excellent, as these books were considered unsalvageable. While there was some distortion, the pages were no longer blocked and material was once again retrievable.

Preservation technicians Leah Williams and Christine Mizzi continue to survey flexible based negatives currently in cool storage. Using IPI A-D test strips, they hope to determine the overall condition of acetate film and to set priorities for improved storage and potential digitisation.

An unexpected find in our Manuscripts Collection has given Leah Williams the opportunity to determine safe and effective storage of fragile botanical specimens. The collection, collated (and partly collected) by Baron Ferdinand von Mueller (Director of Melbourne’s Royal Botanical Gardens & Herbarium), has been removed from Coreflute and rehoused with paper inserts within blue-grey board enclosures.

Educational collections of Australian plants, under the auspices of the Victorian Government / issued by Baron von Mueller, Government Botanist. MS 10867. Image credit Kate Holloway.

Sustainability

We continue to find ways to reduce our use of plastic products. Preservation is assisting with the replacement of deteriorating Coreflute in some collections. Previously used for bag supports and box construction, its inherent instability is becoming more obvious, and we are now using 20pt library board for supports and enclosures.

Deteriorating Coreflute. Image credit Kate Holloway.

Research projects

Senior Book Conservator Katrina Ben is investigating the implications of recent research being conducted at Winterthur, USA, on potentially hazardous 19th century green cloth bound books. We are happy to hear from anyone else embarking on this topic.

Collection Care also continues to identify potential hazards in other parts of our collections. Preservation Manager Kate Holloway has produced a firearms and weapons register, and new secure storage cabinets have been purchased, ensuring safe storage and controlled access.

WP Evans Collection sword. LTRE 618 H29283. Image credit Kate Holloway.

Exhibitions

In June, we opened our second exhibition in Victoria Gallery: Handmade Universe, From craft to code and the spaces between, bringing together diverse objects from the study of botany to astronomy.

One highlight was the installation of A is for Alam (pen), 168 cyanotypes created by artist Deanna Hitti. This involved working with the artist to mount the prints in a grid pattern using magnets.

Another unusual installation was a machine-knitted wool celestial map measuring 2.8 x 4.6 metres. Conservation collaborated in designing a way to safely display the map. Creator Sarah Spencer, a software engineer, had the vision to hack a domestic knitting machine to construct the Stargazing map (H2021.93/1-3). A complex array of electronic components comprising over 800 RGB LED lights and mini circuit boards with cabling, all attached to a secondary cotton support stretched over a wooden frame is auxiliary to the map.

Stargazing is our first taste of time-based media, with LEDs powered by individual circuits talking to a remote tablet via Bluetooth. Head to https://www.slv.vic.gov.au/handmade/ to find out more about the exhibition and meet the artists featured.

Thanks to the NGV who generously helped us construct a rolling gantry to be able to work across the entire surface of the map while it was being assembled.

Rolling gantry made for installation of Stargazing map. Image credit Jane Hinwood.

Preparing Stargazing map for installation. H2021.93/1–3. Image credit Jane Hinwood. http://search.slv.vic.gov.au/permalink/f/1fe7t3h/SLV_VOYAGER3886315

Aerial view of Stargazing map undergoing assembly. Image credit Adam Meredith.

Moving prepared map onto display structure. Image credit Jessye Wdowin-McGregor.

Stargazing installation complete. Image credit Jane Hinwood.

The Book team has started the preparation of the next annual rotation of World of the Book, which will open in autumn 2023. This will feature among other things a showcase devoted to the Moomintrolls, a display of 17th and 18th century decorated paper bindings from the Kirsop Collection and the Library’s recently acquired Medieval Coffret c.1480, a wooden box made to transport precious things including books.

Conference attendance

In June, Photography & Paper Conservator Katy Glen attended a week-long Big Picture workshop at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The workshop covered conservation of contemporary oversized photography, included treatment, storage, and non-traditional display methods.

In July, Marika Kocsis tuned into a three-day IAP Hydrogels in Conservation lecture series online covering control and delivery of aqueous cleaning via rigid and flexible gels, all in a UK time zone. This will add to our accumulated knowledge about the use of gels in cleaning paper.

Ian MacLeod

A few frantic days consumed the end of May when equipment was finalised for relocation to an early 17th century shipwreck site off the islet Otočac, which lies a few hundred metres from the local dive centre on the island of Korčula in Croatia. I joined a team of seven maritime archaeologists, conservators and photogrammetrists who had come from many institutions and across Europe. Led by Dr Katerina Batur from the school of Archaeology at the University of Zadar, we operated out of the local Priščipac diving centre and the diving teams operated in two shifts, as the site was 28–32 metres deep. Double tanks were the order of the day. We assessed the impact of artefact collections on sediments in a 30cm-diameter circle and analysed the pH and the redox potential of the sediments in the field station. The diving team shared data collected on iron cannon and concreted anchors from the wreck at night, which provided plenty of training opportunities for emerging professionals. All too soon the week was gone and the two-hour ferry trip north to Split was followed by a 90-minute drive to Zadar.

Korčula fieldwork, 16 June 2022.

One of the team members took the meters and the special housing, which had been machined from a solid block of aluminium with only one port for all the electrode wires to minimise leakage points, to a wreck site in the north of the country where a series of cannon provided an alternative calibration procedure for the ones found off Korčula. It took two weeks of data analysis and writing-up time to ensure that I left the sovereign nation with its heritage data fully reported. Katerina kindly organised for me to present public lectures on the conservation of rock art and on WWII iron shipwrecks, which were attended by small but enthusiastic audiences.

Many Australian conservators have worked with the Japanese Institute for Anatolian Archaeology in Kaman over the past 30 or more years that it has been in operation. The main excavation site is now down through the early Bronze Age, and the assembled team of interns, conservators, archaeologists and paleo botanists all shared the common table at breakfast at 05:15 before beginning the working day at 06:00. Since they were clearing up one site from three years of inactivity (COVID-19 cancelled the last two years of works) our work was focused on laboratory testing of natural and chemical corrosion inhibitors for bronzes. The main thrust of the research was using the superbly impermeable ESCAL bags that allow oxygen monitoring through the plastic bag, while watching the corroded archaeological materials interact with the local microenvironment and consume oxygen. Detailed analysis of the corrosion rates will be assessed for improved operational effectiveness that includes better OSH outcomes. Watch this space and future ICOM-CC Metals Working Group conference proceedings, which will include the results of this research.

ICS Perth

The first few months of ICS in WA have been busy for Claire Rowson, and she has ventured to some interesting parts of the state. She completed a maintenance inspection and treatment of the Goatcher Curtain for the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, located in the Boulder Town Hall. The treatment was written up by the Kalgoorlie Miner newspaper and it even made the front page! Claire has also completed a small but complicated treatment on two British model aircraft this month and was fortunate to attend the AMaGA 2022 conference in June and see some familiar conservation faces in Perth.

Goatcher Curtain, Claire Rowson. Image credit International Conservation Services.