Amgueddfa Cymru — National Museum Wales


Conservators are a misunderstood race. When we start talking about what we do (conservation, of course), many people see us cuddling pandas and elephant babies. Some of us do indeed work with elephants – but generally only long after their demise. Because we protect not the living from dying, but the dead from decaying.

Natural and cultural heritage (for a definition, please see here) does not last forever. In fact, heritage can be incredibly ephemeral. In the museum context, just think of all the materials we hold in store: paper, wood, bone, feathers, leaves, glass, ceramics – all things that can break or decompose easily. But this just happens to be what your heritage is made of. All those objects making up our cultural treasure chest are in constant danger of breaking, getting mouldy, being eaten by insects, falling apart.

It is the job of your friendly museum conservator to make sure your children and your children’s children will still have that cultural reference point in many years to come. This requires a lot of work, all of the time – the rot never sleeps. Usually, only when things go wrong do conservators end up in the news. Most of the time, these highly skilled and experienced people go about their jobs unseen, in laboratories and studios deep in the bowels of museums, or in the galleries long after closing time.

To be a conservator today requires years of training, and rightly so – our heritage is too precious to risk gluing a beard back on wonky and with the wrong type of glue. The National Museum’s team of 20 conservators cares for approximately three million objects. These collections are hugely varied: the museum collects helicopters, microfossils, skeletons, oil paintings, mobile phones, harps and 18th century ball gowns. Conservation is therefore definitely for the specialist.

Restoring a painting, cleaning a Viking sword or preparing a fossil dinosaur skull, let me tell you, is really not easy. If you want to do it well it takes knowledge of materials, history and analytical sciences, experience and skill. Is it any easier to store things? Well, no, actually, to store objects correctly – that is, without inviting decay – the store must be dry (but not too dry!), cool, clean, free from pests, well organised, and have the right type of shelving for whatever we are storing.

Do you now want a chance to find out what a conservator is and what they really do? If you have a coin bring it along to our first Museum Conservators Open Day – we’ll show you what it’s made from during half term week: 27th October 2015 at National Museum Cardiff. You can play the X-ray game (perfectly safe, promise!), find out what creepy-crawlies are eating our collections and your wardrobe at home, and try your hands at conservation skills. All for free from 10am to 5pm!

On Saturday 10th October, scientists from the Museum’s Natural Sciences Department and Cardiff University came together to mark both National Biology Week and Earth Science Week, and to prove that biology (and geology) does indeed rock!  Engaging displays and fun activities filled the Main Hall and were also scattered through the lower natural history galleries and Clore Learning Space.  Visitors collected a stamping sheet at the door and could claim a stamp for every activity they completed.  Everyone who collected ten stamps had the chance to colour in and make their own natural history badge to take home.  Museum scientists wowed visitors with specimens from our collections behind the scenes, including the largest seeds in the world, glow-in-the-dark minerals and huge scarab beetles.  Visitors could also explore sea creatures and seaweeds in a rock pool, and have a go at matching fossils to their correct place on a timeline of the Earth’s history.  Fans of the game ‘Operation’ had the opportunity to try their hand with an actual size, adult dummy version, courtesy of biologists from Cardiff University, who also presented a range of other fascinating topics, including what we can learn from road kill, how healthy babies are made, how toadstools get their white spots and how to extract DNA from strawberries.  Appropriately enough, the University’s team of geologists set up shop at the entrance to the Evolution of Wales gallery, and invited visitors to experiment with what makes an explosive volcano, try to bend rocks and have a go at stepping in the footsteps of dinosaurs.  The day also featured several family-friendly events linked to the ‘Reading the Rocks: the remarkable maps of William Smith’ exhibitionTheatr na nÓg gave three performances of a one-man play exploring Smith’s work from the point of view of his young Welsh apprentice, and scientific historian Dr Leucha Veneer gave a family talk looking at early ideas about rocks and fossils.

Chalkie Davies: The NME Years

The exhibition has just come to an end and so it's finally time to award our prize winners. It was great to see so many people taking inspiration from Chalkie's work, and interacting with the show.

The man himself had a chance to judge all the entries and we're happy to announce our prizewinners with you! 

First Prize

@3gsdevtrust - Well done! A signed Chalkie print and swag bag is on its way to 3Gs Development Trust, who work with young people across Gurnos, Penydarren and Dowlais. 

Second Prize

@fezzer64 posted this picture of a happy rebel and wins a Spillers Records voucher and swag bag:

Third Prize


A Seetickets voucher will be on its way to Aaron for this twisted and moody shot taken in Cathays Park

Chalkie also picked five runners up, who get a swag bag each: David Jones, @tflathers, @daniellestalbot, Paul Hurlow and @softfun. You can check out their entries, and more, on the #mychalkieimage storify.

Thank You!

Thanks to everyone who took part - and of course, to Chalkie for judging the photos for us. Have a look at everyone's entries on our #mychalkieimage storify. If you missed the show, learn a bit more about Chalkie and his iconic work below:

I’m back at my desk in St Fagans having just had one of those ‘I love my job’ kind of weeks. On Wednesday, I spent the day with an amazing group of Year 10 students from Ysgol Clywedog in Wrexham, gauging their opinions on devolution and its impact on Wales since 1997. Heavy-going stuff for 14 year olds? Think again!

With my colleagues Owain and Richard, I met the students at Wrexham County Borough Museum bright and early on Wednesday morning for an action-packed day of researching, questioning and debating. The aim of the day was to produce a film of the students discussing devolution and what it means to them as teenagers living in Wrexham today – a town which voted ‘no’ in 1997. We took a banner from the collection with us as a springboard for debate. This banner – made for the ‘yes’ campaign by the artist Mary Lloyd Jones – will be displayed in one of the redeveloped galleries here at St Fagans in the near future, along with contemporary voices from Ysgol Clywedog.

To kick-start the discussion, we asked the students to do a little background research. Some trawled the web using i-pads, while others accessed local newspapers stored on microfilm in the museum’s archive. Headlines and articles from the Wrexham Leader gave a snapshot of the debate at a local level – 44.3% of voters in Wrexham were in favour of devolution, while 55.7% were against. The Year 10 researchers were not surprised by the ‘no’ vote in Wrexham. This prompted a lengthy discussion about their identities as young people in north-east Wales, living so close to the border with England. Interestingly, eight out of the nine participants would have voted ‘yes’ in 1997 had they been eligible to vote.

We then moved on to analysing the banner. Without any prompts or contextual information, we asked the students to jot down their initial reactions and emotions on viewing it for the first time. Comments varied from questions about its design to its usage and meaning. In the afternoon, we filmed two group discussions, with the students directing questions to each other. This took on the feel of an informal Question Time, without the cheering and heckling! We were so impressed with the energy and enthusiasm of the students, it’s going to be a real challenge to edit the finished product.

A huge thank you to Thomas, Jess, Edan, Pedro, Morgan, Elise, Matthew, Lucy and Harry from Ysgol Clywedog for taking part in the project. We can’t wait to see the film on display. Our thanks also to Wrexham Museum for hosting and supporting the workshop. Diolch yn fawr iawn i bawb.

#YesForWalesBanner #MakingHistory

#BanerIeDrosGymru #CreuHanes

(with apologies to Lord Tennyson)

Our bachelor boys have had a visit to the beauty parlour for a wash and brush up, and now it’s time for them to leave us. As they have been bred from our pedigree flock they must go elsewhere in search of love, so they’re off to market to be sold as stud animals.

Our breeding rams will be going into the field with the ewes at the beginning of October and we’ll be expecting the first lambs to be born at the beginning of March. So look out ladies – here come the boys!