AICCM related activities continue in Bathurst with support from the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, Bathurst Regional Council, and the Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation. Between 26 November and 1 December 2018, a team of students from the University of Melbourne engaged with the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery (BRAG) in the first documented RE-ORG project in Australia. Lead by Master of Cultural Materials Conservation student Daniel Schwartz and Bathurst Regional Council’s collection manager Tim Pike, a group of conservation and curatorial students, as well as BRAG staff members put into action a planned re-organization of the BRAG paintings and object storage room. The project was supported with funds from the Willem Snoek Conservation Award 2018 and the Student Services and Amenities Funds grant from the University of Melbourne. The RE-ORG Bathurst team was comprised of conservation students Kate Ritchie and Elizabeth Gralton, as well as by Masters of Curatorship student Lisa Jacomos. The student team was joined by BRAG curator Emma Collerton and Bathurst Regional Council museums assistant Kate Bywater.
In their joint presentation at the November 2017 AICCM National Conference with Grimwade Centre director Robyn Sloggett and Museums Manager Janelle Middleton discussed the developing structural relationships between Bathurst Regional Council and the Grimwade Centre. During the brief introduction to the community museum spaces in Bathurst, they mentioned the state of the storage areas for the varying collections, noting the particular challenge with overcrowding. With the BRC’s focus on their new ‘Cultural Vision 2036’ initiative, it seemed a crucial and advantageous time for the Grimwade Centre to continue developing the relationships and conversation programs in the region with a new project.
The project was the implementation of the ICCROM-UNESCO and Canadian Conservation Institute global initiative, RE-ORG, a focused reorganisation of the collection’s storage areas at the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery. It used the published RE-ORG methodology as a framework for self-evaluation of current storage space conditions, the development of a plan for reorganisation, and its implementation and reporting. The storage reorganization project aimed to help museum professionals implement meaningful changes in their storage area(s) by providing a systematic, step-by-step approach to improve the collection’s potential for use and access, while ensuring its long-term preservation. The initiative seeks to actualize 10 key quality criteria in the collections:
- There is at least one trained member of staff in charge,
- Storage rooms contain only collection items,
- Separate spaces for other functions (office, workroom, equipment storage, etc.) are specified,
- No object is placed directly on the floor,
- Every object has a designated location and can be retrieved within three minutes,
- Every object can be moved without damaging another and without moving two others,
- Objects are arranged in a categorical manner,
- Key policies and procedures exist and are applied,
- The building is designed or adapted for conservation,
- Every object is free from active deterioration and ready to be used in museum activities. What really stood out about the initiative and methodology is its adaptability to the circumstances and limitations of the specific institution, understanding that dogmatic approaches are not always best or easily implemented.
After the in-depth of assessment of the storage condition, three major tasks were decided upon to support the BRAG collection. In addition to a series of smaller recommended changes in policy and administration of the collection, the team set out to ensure every collection item was directly labelled with its accession number, every item was photographed updated in the database, and that every item should be lifted off the ground.
The team began the project emptying the picture and object store of all items that were on the ground. This included relocating over 40 framed artworks and many large ceramics and sculptures that were in traveling crates outside the picture store in the cordoned off area behind the gallery. Once cleared, the picture store was vacuumed. Next, the object store was completely cleared of all collection and non-collection items. The ceramics and small sculpture were placed on the carpeted floor of the picture store, while acrylic boxes and other non-collection and exhibition items were relocated to the crate and pallet storage area, the room adjacent to the collection store. This allowed for the accession number processing and lining and refabricating of the shelving units. It also provided the space to wrap the paintings and get a solid count on exactly how many canvases and framed works need to be relocated.
The accession number labelling followed the published methodology of the Powerhouse Museum (https://maas.museum/app/uploads/2017/02/A_Simple_Guide_to_Lablling_Museum_Objects.pdf) and utilized materials sourced from Victoria-based conservation materials supplier Archival Survival®. In most cases, we employed the tissue method outlined in the above document. This involved using the water-based Artline texters to write accession numbers on a small piece of tissue, which was then coated (front and back) with a 20% Paraloid B-72 in acetone solution. Once try, an inconspicuous location on the object was tested with acetone on a cotton swab to ensure the solvent would not damage the object or surface decoration. If acetone proved to be harmful, an alternative 20% B-67 in mineral spirits solution was tested and used. If that also proved to be inappropriate, the objects were labelled with an archival paper tag attached with cotton ribbon. After all the work and counting, team members were able to label 435 objects!
Due to the limitations of storage space in the paintings and object store rooms, we decided that a series of mobile trolleys should be built to house the paintings that were on the floor. Not only will this raise the objects, but it provides the gallery with an efficient way to clear the store room when they need to access the hanging racks. These were built with pine boards sealed in a polyurethane coating and lined with Cellaire and Tyvek® sheeting. We built four trolleys in total, each able to hold between 10-20 artworks, depending on size. We were able to get close to 40 paintings and other framed works into the carts, and also managed to locate empty space on the hanging racks where smaller works could be stored. Oversized canvases that were too large for the trolleys, about 6 artworks, were put on Cellaire wrapped chocks to lift them off the ground as well. For additional protection, we also wrapped the canvases and framed works in archival tissue and Cellaire as a buffer from the carts and adjacent works to ensure no direct contact between the coatings and the artworks.
Another top priority was the object store, where about 50 ceramics, small sculpture, and framed works were sitting directly on the floor. This required refabricating the existing shelving units with additional shelf inserts on the bottom. These were also made with polyurethane coated pine boards. All the shelves in the store were lined with Cellaire for the protection of the objects. The objects were then reorganized to maximize the efficient use of space, grouping large objects and small objects together. Another task in the object store was the reorganization of the shelving unit naming system. It turned out that after the project, there was still room left on the units for additional objects!
Overall, the project was successful in achieving all the planned goals. Through the implementation of the RE-ORG methodology, the Gallery has opened up new avenues of access to their collection. What originally took over an hour, the staff are now able to clear and access the storage area. with over 90% of the collection accessible in under 3 minutes. The process of completing the RE-ORG also highlighted for the Gallery other ways in which they can improve access to the collection, as well as improve the care and long-term preservation of their artworks moving forward.
For more information on the project, or questions about the RE-ORG initiative, please contact Daniel Schwartz at firstname.lastname@example.org or find out more in the graphic below. Additional information can also be found here: https://www.iccrom.org/section/preventive-conservation/re-org.