Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Caring for the Collections

Work at the Museum stores continued throughout the cold and gloomy winter months. Collections and conservation staff are systematically improving the storage of vulnerable collections and those things considered difficult to move and access in their current storage. We replace old boxes with new conservation grade materials. To this end we have completed the arrows project, re-storing and locating all arrows in storage, adzes and axes have been moved to larger shelves and we are now working on mats and fibre clothing.

Mats retrieved from storage in the conservation lab for humidification
© Pitt Rivers Museum 
Tubing cut to size to roll mats onto © Pitt Rivers Museum

The Museum has a good collection of mats from all over the world, which are currently stored rolled on shelves on movable racking. When the racking is moved to access collections behind or in front of the mats the mats are at risk of falling off the shelving or being squashed. The solution to this is to store the mats rolled on tubing which can be easily removed from brackets on the shelves. We have been taking the mats back to the Museum so that Senior Conservator, Jeremy Uden can humidify the mats, check their condition and eventually roll them onto the tubing once the tubes have been cut to size.

Unwrapping a Malaysian mat; 1940.3.028 (above and below) 
© Pitt Rivers Museum
Sometimes at the store we come across objects wrapped in brown paper packaging, often the packaging that the object came to the Museum in the first instance in. Unwrapping the brown paper is exciting for us. Last week we unwrapped a fabulous mat and pillow from Malaysia. The mat is richly embroidered with silk and sequins and belonged to the Sultan Idris.

Detail of embroidery on Malay mat © Pitt Rivers Museum

Plant fibre fringed skirt in new box
© Pitt Rivers Museum
Whilst or technical team work on constructing the new storage unit for the mats we have been working through the fibre clothing including many grass skirts from Polynesia, Japanese fibre rain capes and African masquerade costume. The fibre clothing is made from grasses, palm leaves, bark and other plant material. This material gets very brittle over time and becomes delicate and fragile. These items of clothing were often worn and danced and used, they were not supposed to last forever by their very nature. Given the age of the some of the pieces and the distances they have travelled to be in the collections they are in remarkably good condition. The re-storage project will involve moving the clothing to larger custom made Corex boxes. We have already discovered an important fibre skirt from Captain Cook's voyages to the Pacific which had been previously un-located.

Plant fibre skirt from Tahiti, Forster 36, 1886.1.1179 © Pitt Rivers Museum
Custom made Corex boxes filled with plant fibre clothing 
© Pitt Rivers Museum

Conservation grade standard sized boxes for 
smaller garments © Pitt Rivers Museum 

Fibre clothing laid out on the table at store for cataloguing (above and below) 
© Pitt Rivers Museum

Custom Corex boxes on store shelves © Pitt Rivers Museum 

Faye Belsey & Jeremy Uden
Assistant Curator & Senior Conservator

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