New South Wales
Art Gallery of NSW
The Conservation Department bids farewell to Paula Dredge, Margaret Sawicki and Lily Yang, who have accepted offers of voluntary redundancy made by the Art Gallery. The team wishes Paula, Margaret and Lily well with their future careers, and acknowledges their individual and combined contributions to the Art Gallery over a 30+ year period, and their contribution to conservation scholarship and practice more widely.
Paintings & Frames
The Old Courts rehang has kept the Paintings and Frames teams very busy. Prior to the end of lockdown, the conservators and technicians were back on-site working on the artworks that still required treatment before the opening of the courts. The major projects on The lady in blue by Hugh Ramsay, the frame of Waiting by Gordon Coutts and a Hilda Rix Nicholas new acquisition resumed recently and we are hoping these artworks will join the Old Courts very soon.
The teams have also been involved in the preparation and installation of several exhibitions such as Matisse Alive and Matisse: Life and Spirit .
We are now getting ready for next year’s major project including the Modern Galleries rehang and the opening of the Sydney Modern Project (SMP).
Paper/Photographs & Mountcutting
The Paper team is excited to welcome Julia Bavyka, who will be working as a Conservation Technician two days per week to assist conservators Analiese Treacy, Sarah Bunn and Lois Waters with upcoming work in preparation for SMP. Over the last two months, the team has been involved in a number of activities including the installation of 116 works included in the touring exhibition Brett Whiteley – Drawing is everything at Bathurst Art Gallery (opening 22 November). The team has also been busy preparing a selection of works on paper, photographs and archival material for inclusion in the Grand Courts rehang. These inclusions are significant as light sensitive works have not usually been featured in the Courts to date, but a recent upgrade of the space including the lighting system have made this possible.
The team has also been fortunate to be involved in the preparation of a number of works from the AGNSW Collection and archive including the Jazz series for inclusion in the Matisse: Life & Spirit exhibition. In addition to this, a number of works by artists Patrick Caulfield, Antonio Morandi and Helen Johnson, to name but a few, have been prepared for inclusion in Matisse Alive, an exhibition showcasing the influence of Matisse’s style on contemporary artists. Finally, the team has been preparing works from the Asian art collection including a number of scrolls for inclusion in The Way We Eat changeover in the lower Asian Galleries.
In Mountcutting, the team bade farewell to Jonathan Dennis, who is taking on a great new role as Technical Assistant TBA (Time Based Art team). The mountcutting position will now be filled by Grant Hawkes, whom we warmly welcome to the team!
Collection Care and Conservation
Having first walked through the doors of the Conservation unit of the Australian Museum in 2002, almost 20 years ago, Megan Dean-Jones has decided to hang up her lab coat for the last time. No, she doesn’t have any firm plans yet as to what better things she may spend her time doing but has every confidence that, after a well-earned restorative break, she will. Megan will particularly miss her exceptionally clever and interesting colleagues (she wrote that bit) and the aardvark. Working for the Australian Museum has been a weird, wild and wonderful ride. And never ever dull.
Megan and I (Sheldon) have worked together for nearly 10 years. Together we have navigated the strange, fascinating and at times completely bewildering world of natural science conservation. Megan has been an excellent colleague and friend over these years, stoically putting up with my random requests and mad thought patterns, and interpreting my nonsensical sentences. Nothing has phased Megan, exploded aardvark noses, missing vulture wings and rhinoceros pedicures have all been accepted as normal work tasks. Megan’s attention to detail established her as reigning storage queen and a talented treatment conservator. While we have hopefully not seen the last of Megan – maybe we can tempt her back for some contract work – I will sorely miss having my right-hand buddy around. We wish Megan all the best for her future endeavours.
Sophie Phillips has started working as a conservator in the Natural Sciences team under Sheldon Teare on a backlog of specimen treatments. Sophie has flown into a range of treatments from repairing broken feathers, deep diving into infilling insect damage on large historic taxidermy fish, humidifying and relaxing fish study skins, and taking a deep breath while making low oxygen microclimate enclosures for pyrite-affected minerals.
The relaxing of the fish skins has revealed some interesting old repairs done using textile strips covered with sand to blend into the skates’ (like a manta ray) skins. There is no floundering around with this treatment as the old repairs all need to be removed as they are distorting the fragile skins, so Sophie had better get her skates on!
Raja whitleyi specimen during humidification treatment. Image by Sophie Phillips.
Raja whitleyi specimen after humidification treatment. Image by Sophie Phillips.
Sheldon continues to break down our understanding of specimen preparation by working with Taxidermy staff in assessing composting as a preparation method for skeletal specimens. This work is getting to the bare bones of preparation and will add to the (bio)diverse knowledge of the Australian Museum.
Michael Kelly continues to work on the Early Correspondence (1880s) treatment and rehousing project. The treatments involve cleaning, stabilisation, and re-housing of the material.
Melissa Holt has begun work as a contract conservator on an AMF-funded project to conserve (and resurrect) four cartonnage objects including three masks. So far work has been done to stabilise two of the objects, and has included humummification and reshaping, consolidation and adding Japanese tissue repairs. A blog series has started on the Australian Museum website that details the treatment and unmasking of the history of their construction. The rest of the team sphinx they look great and Mel should be very shroud of herself!
Sheldon and Sophie have been rocking out with the Geosciences collection to relocate a collection store prior to renovations to improve the space. The team’s out-of-this-world knowledge has enabled several hundred oversized specimens and meteorites to be rehoused and moved so far. Sheldon has been prospecting the collection to provide advice and support for thousands of fragile specimens that are to be packed and relocated, upgrading the building environment, and selecting new storage furniture.
Kyra Kim is working with the World Cultures Collection to rehouse Indonesian textiles, paintings, and puppets. This project will reduce overcrowding and improve the storage conditions for collection items into new standardised plan-file cabinets.
Collection enhancement project
Clare Kim is investigating ways to apply best labelling practices for AM’s Natural Science wet collections by liaising with other museums and different suppliers. Materials testing and non-scientific experiments are being undertaken to test the longevity of new materials and labelling technology in three diverse types of fluids: ethanol, formalin, and glycerol.
Sheldon and Sophie have dived into the lengthy process of transferring fish and shark specimens from ethanol into aqueous glycerol for display. Specimens will swim from ethanol into a ladder of glycerol and water, with the pool’s glycerol concentration being increased over time (several months).
Sophie has taken on the Minerals exhibition work from Megan and is steadily working through the specimens selected for display.
The Collection Care program schedule has not been bare, with the low-temperature IPM treatment of a bear specimen from the Wild Planet Gallery. This grizzly treatment was no picnic, requiring the Museum staff to clamber out of our lockdown hibernation. The large bear specimen barely made it out of its case without careful planning from staff; luckily, however, the team is smarter than your average bear and we’re happy to bear down on a challenge. The good news in this situation is that while the bear was undergoing low temperature treatment the public didn’t miss out as they were able to still enjoy a bare case.
Conservator Sophie Phillips barely making it into the frame with the bear specimen prepared for low-temperature treatment – hibernation. Image by Rehan Scharenguivel.
Australian National Maritime Museum
It is with great pleasure that we announce that Jeff Fox is now officially off the market, having gotten married on 4 November! We wish Jeff and his partner, Brendan, an almighty congratulations on their nuptials and all the best in their years to come.
Jeff Fox and Brendan Barker on their wedding day. Image by Kat McRae.
The entire conservation team is now officially back in the labs and on-site.
Siobhan Elliot returned to us on 1 December when the Museum was officially reopened. Siobhan is one of our long-term student interns who has been a huge help in the documentation and treatment of the Rice Collection.
Conservators Nick Flood, Amy Walsh and Emma Hayles undertook the large-scale consolidation of the Tasman Light Lens litharge (the putty used to hold the lens prisms in place) in September. Lead testing of the litharge, done during the yearly maintenance clean, returned a positive result. The project aimed to negate the lead risk through the full consolidation of the hazardous material. With the 2021 COVID-19 closure of the Museum, it was an optimum time to undertake such large-scale work. Using a solution of Aquazol 500 in ethanol, the work took five days, with plans to monitor the material closely in the future.
L: Scaffolding setup around the Tasman Light Lens for the consolidation project. R: Nick climbing down scaffolding using the ladder. Images by Emma Hayles.
Amy Walsh and Emma Hayles extended their conservation skills under the guidance of Jeff Fox by undertaking the humidification and flattening of a piece of parchment. Using a Gore-Tex and blotter sandwich, the piece was gently humidified over two hours and reached 90% relative humidity. It was then removed and stretched out using bulldog clips with mount-board spacers attached to pins in a corkboard via elastic bands. Whilst the large tear in the upper right corner wasn’t brought back together, the parchment is now flat and easier to read, and can be housed more safely. The final step was to produce a UVA-induced visible fluorescence photograph of the document, with the help of Nick Flood, so that the signatures, largely illegible, could be documented and better read.
Before treatment condition of the parchment; humidification sandwich with RH reader in bottom right corner; parchment being gently stretched on corkboard; and after treatment condition of the parchment. Images by Emma Hayles.
Visible light photography and UVA-induced visible fluorescence photography of faded signatures on the parchment.
After years on permanent display, 11 silver coins from the Batavia shipwreck were treated by Emma Hayles, Amy Walsh and Nick Flood. To help improve their tarnished appearance, the coins were treated in a bath of 5% w/v sodium carbonate solution that was slowly heated to 30°C in glassware lined with aluminium foil. This approach results in an electro-chemical reaction that causes the tarnished (oxidised) silver to undergo reduction back to its silver form. The treatment is safe, easily controlled and avoids the material loss associated with mechanical cleaning and polishing.
Tu Do, our 1975 Vietnamese refugee vessel mentioned in the last newsletter, has been taken out of the water and was at Sydney City Marine before coming to the Museum on 3 December. Many thanks to Agata Rostek-Robak, Manager Conservation, for organising and managing the very complex and difficult process of lifting and transporting such a vessel, the logistics of the project having been one of the biggest hurdles to overcome. The conservation process started over at Sydney City Marine where Tu Do was undergoing a washing schedule, overseen by Nick Flood and Jeff Fox, to remove carbonates and chlorides, and minor consolidation of the paint layers using a solution of Lascaux 498 in ethanol to reduce paint-loss along the waterline. Since being at the Museum, ANMM shipwrights have started structural repairs for WHS reasons, and the plastic ‘skirt’ has been set up for the slow drying process.
L: Nick setting up the sprinkler system; R: taking conductivity readings from the interior of the vessel
L: Amy and Emma consolidating paint; R: Jeff taking conductivity readings from the exterior of the vessel
L The team setting up the plastic ‘skirt’ whilst at Sydney City Marine; R: and Tu Do being lifted and placed in the carpark at ANMM. Images by Emma Hayles and Jeff Fox.
Amy Walsh and Emma Hayles have started a collection survey of the Museum’s paper collections. This process will help us identify our next big projects and where the conservators need to focus their attention. With current travel restrictions, the survey has been both wonderful and depressing as large portions of the content revolve around P&O cruises and travel destinations! Thankfully it is giving Amy and Emma great ideas for future holiday destinations.
Amy smiling (in a mask) in our Paper Object Store. The brochure she was surveying was for ‘useful hints for your HAPPY HOLIDAY IN FIJI’. Image by Emma Hayles.
The Museum decided to hold off opening until 1 December to allow more time for changeovers and installation of exhibitions. Exhibitions conservator Alayne Avis ‘woke-up’ the museum, removing exhibition case covers, opening books and ensuring changeovers were in place, while special project conservator Nick Flood checked the Cape Bowling Green Lighthouse and outdoor sculptures surrounding the Museum in preparation for opening.
Two new exhibitions were completed during the closure. One Ocean, Our Future and Sanyo Maru were installed and are now open to the public. While most of the items in Sanyo Maru are on loan from the Northern Territory Government, Alayne had to document and clean several of the Museum’s pearl shells for display.
Above: Alayne gently cleaning a pearl shell with deionised water and cotton wool swabs. There were about 25 in need of a surface clean for the Sanyo Maru exhibition. Image by Emma Hayles.
With these new exhibitions out of the way, Alayne has started preparation of Shaped by the Sea, our next exhibition. The large scale of some of the objects means that Alayne and Managing Registrar Cameron Mclean had to ‘tape-out’ the desired showcase shapes to make sure everything would fit!
The floor of the loading dock with intended showcase designs ‘taped-out’. The size and shape of the canoes and rafts intended for the display meant extra caution was needed to ensure they fit perfectly. Image by Emma Hayles.
ANMM conservators ‘attended’ the NZCCM Annual Conference online again this year. After three days of stimulating conference papers and truly excellent workshops, we’d like to congratulate the NZCCM for running an outstanding event. It’s shown us promising signs of what’s to come next year, when the NZCCM hosts the IIC Congress in Wellington.
Amy Walsh and Emma Hayles attended Icon’s Ceramic and Glass conference ‘Fragmented Stories: Case Studies in Ceramics, Glass and Stained Glass Conservation’.
Most of the ANMM conservators have been taking advantage of lectures run by IAP and Mathew Cushman. As the conservators are hoping to use gels and emulsions for the removal of varnish layers on SS Orontes – a extra-large ship model – these talks have been very insightful.
International Conservation Services
The Paper team is pleased to welcome our new Conservation Framer, Elric Ringstad. Katie Wood has been busy preparing an oversized four-panel series for display for the White Rabbit Gallery. Work continues on the National Trust’s Rescue Revive Reveal Program. Caroline Whitley and Suati Rojas undertook stain reduction and retouching of some beautiful silk wallpaper. Caroline has also recently worked on some stain reduction on two Hokusai prints, with Elric creating the float mount. Following the recent rainfall and raised humidity in Sydney, the Paper team has received a number of calls regarding water- and mould-affected items. We expect this to continue over the following weeks as the rain goes on.
Suati retouches the silk wallpaper. Image by International Conservation Services.
The Paintings team has been closely following the incredibly interesting talks from this year’s Painting Symposium Australia Made. Eden Christian presented on a current treatment in conjunction with the White Rabbit Gallery. The original treatment has thrown up some fascinating topics involving surfactant migration, ethics of conservation and whether strict industry environmental controls are changing in response to modern materials. The painting is a prime example of the adverse effects the standard environmental controls may be having. It is a common occurrence, and something that we in the conservation industry know little about.
Adam Godijn and Claire Heasman took part in Ask a Conservator Day at Mosman Art Gallery, where members of the gallery were invited to watch a live conservation treatment involving a complex tear repair. Our team also hosted the National Trust on Ask a Conservator Day, as they took a tour around the lab.
Adam and Claire at Mosman Art Gallery. Image by International Conservation Services.
Matteo Volonté has been working on Midwinter Spring – James’ Garden by Colin Lanceley for the National Trust. The artwork is considered by some as a Modern Australian masterpiece and was commissioned by James Fairfax for his estate at Retford Park. Some of the painted wooden elements were either broken off or sections of the paint layer were unstable. An unusual haze was also found to be present on some of the painted geometric shapes, which, after sample testing and analysis, was found to be mould. The elements and paint layer were stabilised and the entire artwork was cleaned to reduce the chance of mould returning. Discussion has taken place in conjunction with the National Trust team to determine which losses of media should be restored.
Matteo works on Midwinter Spring – James’ Garden. Image by International Conservation Services.
The Paintings team has also been working on the murals at the historic Bondi Pavilion theatre. The theatre was refurbished as part of the large renovation of the iconic pavilion undertaken by Waverly Council. The murals are believed to have been painted by the artist David Henry Souter before his death in 1935, as part of the Palm Court Ballroom space. People danced in this space, which would have beautifully complemented the experience of bathing in the old Turkish Baths on the ground floor. The murals were subsequently covered with layers of paint, which were partially uncovered in the 1970s. The ICS Paintings team has been working to reveal the hidden murals and preserve them, ready for the great opening.
Overpaint removal with gels, and cosmetic corrections. Images by International Conservation Services.
Despite lockdown, Yolanda El Khouri has been busy preparing six textiles for display at the Sydney Museum, where different mounting solutions were sought. Yolanda also stabilised several large leather tears in a beautiful old armchair. She worked on gently applying heat to the replacement seat to make its appearance match the aged patina of the rest of the chair.
Alis and Grace condition checked and packed four Akira Isogawa outfits for an outgoing loan. Fiona Tennant completed an assessment of Sydney Living Museums’ costumes, which were in need of conservation and mounting in preparation for digitisation.
Christina Ritschel completed a light assessment of Hear the Plant Song, a tapestry by Janet Laurence, and commenced stabilisation with net overlay of two delicate and fragile silk maps with colourful embroidery.
Hear the Plant Song by Janet Laurence. Image by International Conservation Services.
The Textiles team was sad to say farewell to Yolanda this month but has welcomed Bella Taylor to the team as Conservation Assistant.
During Melbourne’s sixth lockdown, the team used its time to work on professional development. Kristine Allinson completed her project management training, which will assist her in her new role. She also completed a Hazards in Collections course and took classes in photogrammetry.
Bruno Bell has continued his studies in horology and is now very close to graduating from a one-year distance-learning course with the British Horological Institute. Bruno says, ‘In order to offer clock conservation, one first has to understand how the clocks are made and learn the traditional methods of restoring them’. He has now restored a number of clocks including this American Ansonia. The Ansonia has undergone complete dismantling, cleaning, rebushing of several worn pivot holes, burnishing of pivots, reshaping of a wheel’s tooth, fabrication of the adjusting nut, oiling, reassembling, and adjusting of its time keeping.
American Ansonia clock, before, during and after treatment. Images by International Conservation Services.
Katie Smith has undertaken several condition surveys on a range of heritage assets, from furniture to stone monuments and wall paintings. Katie and Bruno also undertook some urgent works at the Fairies Tree in Fitzroy Gardens.
Objects and Outdoor Heritage (OOH)
Post COVID-19 lockdown, OOH is busier than ever! Multiple large projects are currently underway with Christmas deadlines looming. The most intriguing of the bunch is the Hornsby Water Clock Fountain. The team has been on site for a few weeks now, managing various components of the project and treating the bronze, glass, and Perspex elements. The clock, Man, Time and the Environment by artist Victor Cusack, has been a focus of public discourse since its installation in 1993. This will be the clock’s first full-scale refurbishment, so our team certainly has its hands full.
The blend of sculpture, water, engineering, and horology that is Man, Time and the Environment. Images by International Conservation Services.
Wendy Reade and Alis Jitarescu have been preparing a historically significant rope ladder with wooden rungs for storage and potential display. Found in the Hawkesbury River during the new Windsor Bridge project, the rope ladder was brought to us in a container of mucky river water. Wendy and Alis undertook treatment by removing the clay and river sediment and stabilising in a PEG 400 bath. The ladder was then realigned along a secondary support.
L: The ladder and its accretions when they arrived and R: laid out on its new hessian support. Images by International Conservation Services.
Claire Rowson managed conservation works on the stainless-steel shields at Wireless House, alongside the artist Nigel Helyer, who was delighted with the outcome.
The artwork consists of eight stainless-steel panels attached to the exterior of the old radio building in Dr RJ Foley Park, Glebe. Alongside the external panels, Nigel installed a sound component where sensors detect the approach of visitors and randomly select and broadcast audio sequences from local oral history archives. The building now also emits Wi-Fi to the park, reconnecting the site to its past purpose.
The brush-finished stainless-steel panels after conservation. Images by International Conservation Services.
Claire has also been busy managing large-scale bronze conservation projects. The team has undertaken works on a selection of big bronze sculptures in the Sydney CBD. Most recently, OOH closed down lanes on the Cahill Expressway sliproad to work on the massive Edward VII sculpture. Claire and Keir donned fall-arrest harnesses and drove two boom lifts in to clean Edward’s upper limits. Wendy and Alis have also done a wonderful job undertaking works to the Shakespeare Memorial, located outside the NSW State Library.
The ICS team at Edward VII. Images by International Conservation Services.
Grace Bushrod oversaw the cleaning and repointing works to the Paddington War Memorial. Alongside the installation of new chairs and paving, the memorial is now an inviting place to take a break from walking up Oxford Street.
Alis works on a plaque from Taronga Zoo. Images by International Conservation Services.
Alis and Keir have been undertaking the cleaning and surface conservation of a series of plaques from Taronga Zoo. They all commemorate Sir Edward Hallstrom, past president and benefactor of the Taronga Zoological Park Trust. The bas relief of Hallstrom was designed and made by his daughter. Removal of the thick and failing paint layer revealed it to be made of cast aluminium electroplated in copper. It has been a pleasure to collaborate with the zoo’s Heritage Specialist.
In addition, the OOH team can very luckily say it has welcomed Kristina Taylor, who has taken on the role of Graduate Conservator and Technician. Kristina brings experience from both Europe and Australia in conservation, prop making and workshop coordination. She has already proven herself to be indispensable with her help prepping and undertaking these large projects.
ICS on SBS TV
Finally, we were very pleased to see our CEO, Julian Bickersteth, in the SBS documentary Inside Central Station. Julian appeared on Episode 10, W3 Restoration and St James Tunnels, which showed him consulting on the conservation of Sydney’s historic St James tunnels. Built in the 1920s, these hidden tunnels were part of Australia’s first underground railway network. They were later transformed into air-raid shelters during WWII and are a remarkable standing relic of Sydney’s WWII defences. Julian assessed the condition of the historic air-raid warning posters, painted inscriptions, and graffiti.
Julian, in his role as President of IIC, initiated a joint commitment between IIC, ICOM-CC and ICCROM for conservators worldwide to take action on climate change in the lead up to COP26 in Glasgow. He also provided the voice over for a video prepared for COP26 on the work that conservators are already undertaking in combatting the impact of climate change on cultural heritage. Both can be viewed here
Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences
As we approach this Christmas season, Conservation staff at MAAS continue to work as hard as ever. We are looking forward to having time to stop and reflect on the year that was 2021.
Kate Chidlow and Teresa Werstak have guided our Exhibition teams, successfully installing another two exhibitions in recent months, bringing the total number of new exhibitions to seven for this year.
Suzanne Chee’s term as Lead Conservator with the Collection Relocation and Digitisation (CRD) Project is coming to a close and we will be welcoming her back to our Strategic Collection team. Suzanne has quietly managed a vast team of conservators and assistant conservators through numerous stages of the digitisation project and we are so grateful.
Brooke Randall continues to lead the Hazards and Preventive team for both the CRD Project and our usual business of collections management, exhibitions and storage. Conservation is building strong relationships with the assessment and digitisation teams to safely handle a range of hazardous materials and has developed a range of procedures and protocols to support this work.
Amy Heffernan has been appointed Conservation Laboratory Technical Officer. Amy will assist with the day-to-day management of the conservation laboratory, including chemical management, and will also assist the Hazards team with work on the CRD Project.
Megan Hall has taken up the position of Collections Manager at the Golden Dragon Museum in Bendigo, Victoria. Megan has worked at MAAS for five and a half years in a variety of conservation roles. It was very sad to say goodbye to Megan, but we fully expect to continue contact with her both professionally and personally. Congratulations Megan on this exciting new role and we wish you all the best.
We also farewelled Wajeeda (Jee) Tabassum, who accepted a conservator position at the State Archives NSW. Jee contributed to the CRD Project and to our exhibition program and we miss her quiet, efficient manner in our workplace.
The CRD Special Collections team farewelled Amy Heffernan (see above), Emilia Zambri who has been appointed to work on the Packing phase of the CRD Project, and Freya Gabbutt who is currently on maternity leave and has welcomed a baby girl. The team congratulates Caitlin Knight, who was appointed to backfill Freya’s position as Deputy Team Leader, Conservation.
Brooke Randall presented at the IIC Safety and Cultural Heritage Summit: ‘Preserving Our Heritage and Protecting Our Health’ held by the Washington Guild of Conservators and the Smithsonian Institute. The presentation will be available through the Smithsonian National Collection Program (NCP).
Dave Rockell and Tim Morris lowered Dick Smith’s solo-around-the-world helicopter VH-DIK to ground level in the main entrance of the Powerhouse for the launch of Dick Smith’s book My Adventurous Life. After the successful book launch, visitors were delighted to have front row seats to watch the helicopter being re-suspended in its usual position.
CRD Project and treatment update
The CRD Project continues with a focus on preparation and digitisation of Special Collections. CRD paper conservators Karina Lavings and Beate Yule have so far treated over 1500 paper-based objects and are beginning to look at the conservation requirements of the collection archives. Karina and Beate recently attended an online seminar on nanocellulose papers and are experimenting with their use in the treatment of tracing paper plans.
In collaboration with the Digitisation and Packing phases, the Hazards team has begun the process of transporting hazardous collection items to the Museum Discovery Centre in Castle Hill. To date, the Hazards team has assessed over 12,000 items as part of the CRD Project, with a further 4,000 scheduled for assessment by mid-2021. This includes using XRF and FTIR to identify 5,178 items containing heavy metals or malignant plastics.
Tim Morris and the team have taken advantage of the COVID-19 lockdown to start some much-needed maintenance on the two domes that house the telescopes in the heritage-listed Sydney Observatory Building. MAAS contracted a specialist engineering company to work on these historic structures. The work entails lifting the domes from the large bearing assembly on which they rotate and then cleaning and repairing the bearings and drive chains.
The last major overhaul of the domes was completed in 1970. The south dome has now been repaired, the 24 four-inch ball bearings have been replaced, and the perimeter drive shaft has been cleaned, lubricated and adjusted. The north dome is next on the list and when the work is complete both domes will be ready for another 50 years of service.
The Conservation Department recently acquired a Bruker BRAVO handheld Raman Spectrometer. The device will initially be used to analyse the Museum’s extensive collection of industrial chemical and pharmaceutical samples.
Kristyn Bullen from MAAS assisted Kerry Etherington, visiting from the Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation, to undertake FTIR analysis as part of the ARC-funded PolyMuse Project. Development of the Museum’s plastics collection began in the 1930s with the acquisition of specimens of plastic raw materials and finished products. This collection was driven largely by Arthur de Ramon Penfold (1890–1980), a former industrial chemist who worked as curator and later director of the Museum from 1927 until 1955.
Brooke Randall and Meredith Freeman, in collaboration with MAAS Research Manager, submitted an application to the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) to analyse items from the Museum’s extensive wool collection using IR microspectroscopy and XRF microscopy. The wool collection held by MAAS contains over 7,000 samples collected between 1804 and 2003. In 2007, the Museum undertook optical fibre diameter analysis to assess the quality of 1,210 wool samples. IR microspectroscopy and XRF microscopy will be used to ascertain the role of individual breeding programs and climate on the quality of wool and conversely to deduce environmental conditions from wool composition.
Awareness and understanding of environmental monitoring and IPM continue to strengthen across the whole organisation. Jessie Gray, Preventive Conservator, and Brooke are sharing their knowledge of preventive conservation and hazards management through presentations and talks to internal and external stakeholders at conferences and webinars.
Exhibition conservators worked through the Sydney lockdown to deliver five exhibitions, which opened in October 2021. The exhibitions cover a wide range of interests from: Clay Dynasty, capturing 50 years of studio ceramics in Australia; Eucalyptusdom, celebrating our relationship with the gum tree; Robert Rosen: Glitterati, one of Australia’s foremost social photographers; Electric Keys, covering the history or electric keyboards; Graphic Identities, documenting nine Australian graphic designers; and the adorable Microcars, a collection of the tiniest cars ever made. Rebecca Ellis, Vanessa Pitt, Tim Morris, Dave Rockell, Kate Chidlow and Teresa Werstak all did fantastic jobs of installing these exhibitions.
The Invisible Revealed connects objects from our collection with science to explore, explain and reveal the invisible. MAAS partnered with ANSTO to scientifically investigate selected objects where analysis will contribute to an understanding of their manufacture, purpose or provenance. Using ANSTO’s state-of-the-art neutron beam and synchrotron X-ray facilities combined with digital visualisation techniques, this exhibition features digital 3D models of the objects and a digital reconstruction of the missing portions of a fragmentary carpet undertaken with Artificial Intelligence. Conservators Brooke Randall, Megan Hall and Vanessa Pitt facilitated and interpreted the science of this collaboration to ensure the discoveries made were translated into information our visitors can understand. Some of those discoveries include how to identify different makers of our samurai swords and how a 200-year-old pocket watch can play a waltz.
Five Hundred Arhats of Changnyeongsa Temple has been a collaboration with the Chuncheon National Museum of Korea and is a beautiful exhibition that draws on Buddhist teachings. The exhibition features one Buddha and 50 arhat statues, each with its own lifelike expressions, from joy and serenity to anger and sorrow, representing the gamut of human emotions. In Buddhism, an arhat, or nahan in Korean, is one who has attained enlightenment. ‘Five Hundred Arhats’ refers to the 500 disciples of the Buddha who gathered together to compile his teachings into the Buddhist sutras.
Rebecca Ellis and Skye Mitchell established a video conference set up in our conservation laboratory and worked via video link with conservators in Korea, our MAAS curator and an interpreter to condition check and agree upon display mounts for each of the arhats.
Refurbishment of the Boiler Hall is now complete. The previous permanent Transport exhibition was deinstalled and showcases dismantled, the carpet removed and the concrete floor resurfaced to create a more contemporary space suited to the industrial interior of our amazing Ultimo building.
Dave Rockell and Tim Morris organised a high-level clean of all the suspended aircraft in the Boiler Hall, which entailed multiple knuckle booms and scissor lifts manoeuvring our conservators around these very large objects to clean every surface possible.
Kate Chidlow organised teams of conservators, assistant conservators and Visitor Services officers to clean the large and very large objects at ground level, reviving the Transport display and ensuring the Boiler Hall was ready to install Microcars and welcome visitors.
Ralph Boesel and our wonderful Steam Educators continue to service and operate the many and varied steam engines including the iconic Boulton & Watt steam engine. The Steam Revolution exhibition had a clean during lockdown and is looking better for it. There is an ongoing maintenance program to keep these engines working, in good order and available to the public to enjoy.
Frances Fitzpatrick continues to manage the many and varied outgoing and incoming loans, despite frequent changes to timeframes and urgency of requests experienced during COVID-19 restrictions.
The 40th anniversary of the first official report of the immune illness later recognised as AIDS has seen a number of requests for loans of AIDS-related objects. MAAS receives many requests to borrow from our extensive collection of AIDS quilts, but it is rare for the venues to be able to accommodate the scale of these poignant works. We are currently facilitating the loan of an AIDS Memorial Quilt, which measures 3m x 3m, to Albury Library Museum. The quilts present multiple conservation issues due to the materials used in their construction by families and loved ones. The other AIDS-related loan includes several complex Mardi Gras costumes and accessories for the David Roche Foundation in Adelaide for its upcoming exhibition Silhouettes: Fashion in the Shadow of HIV/AIDS.
Frances has also been working on a request for loan of the installation piece Yilaalu Cont by Lucy Simpson for the State Library Victoria to display in its upcoming exhibition Handmade Universe.
Teresa Werstak is working on a collection of black-and-white photographs for an exhibition celebrating the life and career of Helmut Newton for loan to the Jewish Museum of Australia next year. She is also preparing a collection of paper-based objects including photographs, posters and papercuts for inclusion in the exhibition Sentient Paper, to be held at the Chau Chak Wing Museum. Sentient Paper will explore the communicative power of paper as an ancient enlightening technology and an embodiment of knowledge, as well as an artistic medium in both classical and contemporary Chinese art and culture.
The year 2022 is shaping up to be another busy one for the Powerhouse and I want to thank all the Conservation staff for their hard work and commitment to preserving, conserving and sharing our incredible collection and the buildings that house it.
(Meredith Freeman, Conservation Manager)
With our Director, Eoin, heading to Cape Denison, Antarctica, as part of the Mawson’s Huts Foundation expedition over Christmas, the last three months have been exceptionally busy.
This expedition is the first since 2015 and represents a fantastic opportunity for both Eoin and O’Sullivan Conservation. The project is not just a significant part of Australia’s history and early Antarctic research, but also has significant heritage values for Australia’s national Antarctic interests in the present day. We wish Eoin and the rest of the expeditioners the best of luck on their trip and look forward to seeing all the pictures (and not just of the penguins) when they return.
You can follow their progress on the Mawson’s Huts Foundation Facebook page and their Instagram page.
The quarter leading up to Christmas has seen a wide variety of projects undertaken at O’Sullivan Conservation. With the warmer weather in September, we were able to complete the conservation of the Cameron Park Fountain in Wellington and undertake a copper staining reduction poultice treatment of the white Carrara marble at the Governor Phillip Fountain in the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney. The purple hue of the poultice when removed was particularly vibrant.
Late afternoon pressure washing of the Cameron Park Fountain in Wellington.
Eoin applying the first coat of paint to the Cameron Park Fountain in Wellington.
Poultice removal on a relief panel at the Governor Philip Fountain.
Back at the workshop, the team enjoyed working on a collection of Cambodian and Burmese pieces for a private client, as well as several small metal sculptures, including a Rosalie Gascoigne and an Antony Gormley.
Two decorative wooden boxes and stands with micro-mosaic detail, possibly betel nut boxes – after treatment.
During October the team reassembled two Victorian mahogany museum vitrines in the old courts at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and early in November there was much excitement when we were engaged to undertake conservation repairs by a private client on a Triceratops skull.
Eoin dry fitting the detached pieces of epiossification (frill) from a Triceratops skull.
State Library of New South Wales
Sonia Lee has joined us in a fixed-term Assistant Conservator role in the Preservation team. Sonia previously worked at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences and International Conservation Services, and interned at the National Museum of the Philippines.
Phoebe Clarke recently joined the Collection Care Storage team in a fixed-term Assistant Conservator role. Phoebe worked as a rare book preservation technician at the State Library of Victoria in 2012 and subsequently as a professional fine art handler, working with a variety of institutions and collections here and in the UK.
The CC-DEP team has been returning on-site steadily as restrictions ease in Sydney and returned to projects set aside during lockdown. These include the Edmund Blacket architectural plans, County plans and Town plans. The team continues to treat, pack, and receive maps and plans returning from off-site digitisation.
Keyeele (Kiki) Lawler-Dormer and the team have been tweaking a technique to release tissue-thin letterpress correspondence in the George King papers. The leaves have laced iron gall ink and are adhered in stacks with animal glue and gum arabic into volumes. Using medipacks and hot water, Kiki is adapting a classic Gore-Tex® sandwich to release the leaves. This passive heat approach accelerates treatment, making up for lost time during lockdown. The letterpress leaves will be repaired with re-moistenable 3% gelatine 5gsm tengucho tissue prior to in-house digitisation.
Treatment of George King Correspondence. Top left: MLMSS 4364/Vol.2X before treatment, letterpress stacks adhered into volume with gum arabic. Bottom L and R: MLMSS 4364/Vol.1X during treatment, trial of Gore-Tex® sandwich using medipacks as heat insulators and released letterpress page before flattening and repair. Photos by Keyeele Lawler-Dormer.
Kiki and Hoa also presented a poster and paper at the recent Icon Book and Paper Group ‘ModCons 2021’ conference. Their research focused on identifying colonial links in WD Campbell’s Aboriginal Carvings volumes and collaborating with others to facilitate decolonisation and digitisation of these large volumes. Kiki and Hoa’s presentations have been well-regarded by attendees, receiving excellent feedback from colleagues near and far.
During the gradual transition from WFH to on-site work, the Preservation team – Nicholas Beckett, Silvana Volpato and Nicole Ellis – continues to review our procedures, updating and adding missing procedures to fill the gaps. We all enjoyed viewing the talks of the Icon Book and Paper Group ‘ModCons 2021’ conference. Catherine Thomson and Nicole completed standardising the reporting and alarm settings for our wireless environmental monitoring and have overseen the transfer of all 30 of our dataloggers to a new dedicated Wi-Fi network set up by the Library’s IT people. At the end of October the team happily welcomed Sonia Lee, who is filling in for Aileen Dean-Raschilla who has temporarily joined the Storage team.
Phoebe Clarke has also joined Aileen and Collection Storage Project Officer John Kyriazis in the Collection Care Storage team. Led by Collection Storage Project Manager Mark Stevenson, the team is undertaking the massive task of relocating two floors of collections ahead of the auditorium construction beneath the Library’s Mitchell Library reading room. Catherine, Nicole, Sonia and many others from within the branch and across the Library are also contributing to this impressive project. So far, the Library’s complete collection of glass plate negatives, miniatures, unprocessed manuscripts, and about half of the pictorial works on paper collection have been safely relocated to our Macquarie Street wing.
Catherine Thomson and Nichola Parshall moving the Library’s glass plate negative collection to a new location. Photo by Mark Stevenson.
In addition to these moves, the Library’s Collectors’ Gallery display of over 1,000 objects is to be emptied temporarily, due to its proximity to upcoming demolition and construction work. Felicity Corkill and Catherine are leading the project, with welcome assistance of registrars Caroline Lorentz and Lauren Dalla, and others within the branch. All these collection moves should be completed by 17 December.