Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Paddles Project in the Lower Gallery

The lower gallery of the Museum is currently closed to enable the movement of several large display cases at the east end of the gallery. While the gallery is closed a team of conservators, collection managers and technicians are taking the opportunity to take down over 500 objects suspended from the floor of the gallery above. All four sides of the gallery have paddles, walking sticks, staffs and calendar sticks on open display above the heads of the visitors.

Grills in the floor 
© Pitt Rivers Museum

The last time the objects were taken down and cleaned was in 2009, when the Museum was closed to redevelop the entrance and install air conditioning equipment. As part of the building works, holes were cut into the floor of both galleries and metal grills installed. This was done to improve circulation of the cooled air to all parts of the Museum. Unfortunately, collections and conservation staff have become concerned over the past year that the addition of the grills in the floor has substantially increased the levels of dust and debris settling on the objects suspended beneath. While high levels of dust are not good for an object, it can generally be removed fairly easily. However, we have found paddles with new water stains, sweetie wrappers and even breadcrumbs stuck to the surface.

Examples of some of the paddles covered with dust and debris 
in the areas directly below the grills © Pitt Rivers Museum

Staff originally tried to think of a way to prevent the dust and debris falling through, but this was problematic as the grills needed to remain clear for the air to circulate. It was also not possible to remove the objects, as the Museum does not have capacity in its stores for over 500 additional long objects. Even if space were available, it would be a sad decision as the paddles on open display are part of the quirky nature of the Museum.

A conservator removing the dust a debris with a brush and vacuum 
© Pitt Rivers Museum

Technician Alan Cooke working from a scaffold tower 
to remove the brackets from the old positions 
© Pitt Rivers Museum
The solution we have devised is to move the brackets supporting the objects to positions where the objects do not sit directly below the grills in the floor. This involves taking down all the objects from a rack, unscrewing the brackets and moving them to the new positions along the wooden beams. In some areas the brackets need to be re-orientated to avoid the grills. While the objects are down they are cleaned, assigned a condition assessment, and their cataloguing and location information checked. The objects are then returned to their new positions.

When the gallery re-opens on Saturday 6th September, remember to look up!

Heather Richardson

Head of Conservation 

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