Easel Paintings Conservation at National Museum Cardiff, Winter 2013
Our busy schedule includes several interesting conservation projects which cover several centuries! Currently Charles Reed is carrying out a full structural conservation and restoration of three rare 16th Century panels which portray the Stradling family. We have already undertaken a full technical examination of the artist’s materials and techniques, which includes real gold. In the first image Charles is seen removing layers of discoloured varnish and old restoration to reveal the original painting below.
Loans out to other museums and galleries in the UK and internationally are a major part of our work. In the second image conservator Adam Webster is seen examining a painting by Richard Wilson prior to transit to the US for a major exhibition which will be in Cardiff in 2014. Transporting paintings safely is a delicate art in itself which takes hours of preparation.
In the final image we have Katy Sanders working on an unvarnished painting by Rose Bonnor. The painting has become disfigured by a surface bloom caused by material migrating from the paint film. The bloom is being removed by Katy Sanders using a chelating agent which is added to water to safely remove unwanted material. This will allow us to see this beautiful portrait head in its full glory.
Wow the trees are beautiful at St Fagans: National History Museum this week! I love the autumn colours.
What colour are the leaves where you live, brown red, yellow or all gone? The trees like the spring bulbs are finely tuned into our temperatures. Not been too cold in Cardiff yet, so in places we still do have some green leaves. But if it's been cold where you live the leaves may have already dropped.
85 records in this week - thanks to all of you who are getting out each day to keep your weather records!
The coldest temperature recorded so far is -1 degree Celsius recorded by St. Blanes Primary School in Scotland. St. Blanes: "It's soooooooo cold today Professor Plant today! We had to wear our hats, scarves & gloves when we went outside to take our weather readings. We discovered that all the water had frozen and turned into ice - WOW! Room 3 in St Blanes are LOVING this project, even though our teeth are chattering!" Take a look at where they are on the map or view their temperatures.
The most rain was recorded in Ysgol Bro Eirwg this week 140mm! Bro Eirwg: "We've enjoyed collecting data this week. When will the bulbs start to grow?" They will be growing beneath the soil already but shoots should appear above the soil from January onwards.
Your questions - my answers:
- Culross Primary School. Very cold week - children enjoyed measuring rainfall and looking at temperatures. We also discussed the importance of trying to record results at the same time each day. Prof.P: Very good - this is important for ensuring a fair test!
- St. Blanes Primary School. We are excited to go out into the school garden everyday to check our rain gauge and thermometer! Ysgol Sychdyn: We have enjoyed recording the weather data. Prof.P: Fantastic - you'll be weather experts soon!
- Cawthorne's Endowed Primary School. Hello Professor Plant this is a very good idea. Prof.P: thanks you very much!
- St. Mary's Catholic Primary School. Thank you Professor Plant for sending us the bulbs. We enjoyed planting them and can't wait to see what they look like when they grow. From Year 1 children at St Mary's in Leyland. Prof.P: I'm sure the flowers will be beautiful Year 1!
Kids take-over National Museum Cardiff!
Last Thursday 14th November Year 6 pupils from Trelai Primary School took part in National Taking Over Museums Day - a celebration of children and young people’s contribution to museums, galleries and heritage sites across the UK.
The pupils worked with Learning Staff and Natural Science Curators at the National Museum Cardiff to help develop content for a new family science exhibition, which is due to open in July 2014.
Pupils gave us feedback on existing science galleries, chose objects for the exhibition and tested some potential activities for this hands-on exhibition.
It was a really successful day and the feedback from the children was so insightful, with lots of really useful ideas that will help inform our planning of the exhibition.
We’re really looking forward to inviting them back to the exhibition launch in July.
More information on Kids in Museums can be found here:
Archaeology Discovery Day
Tuesday 29th October saw many staff from Archaeology & Numismatics take over the Main Hall in National Museum Cardiff for our special half-term Discovery Day. We were overwhelmed with the positive response from all who visited us.
We wanted to give you an idea of a little of the vast range of work we do and see some hidden gems from our collections, which you might not otherwise get a chance to experience.
A special treat was one of our conservators, Penny Hill, working on a large Roman pot from the recent Caerleon excavations by Cardiff University. Normally the conservation work has to take place in a lab in our basement, but she managed to get this wonderful item upstairs for you to see the work being done on it. It was too fragile to be fully excavated in the field, so it was carefully lifted, mud and all, and brought to us. Penny was gently scraping off the centuries of dirt to reveal the pot and its contents of bone.
We’re not usually so lucky as to have a pot so intact. Usually they are broken into numerous pieces, with eroded edges and not all present. It’s like putting together a jigsaw, without the picture, lots of missing pieces, and with the existing pieces the wrong shape. Louise Mumford is also a conservator and brought along some replica pots to demonstrate how she works her magic on them. Our visitors learnt how to look for matching edges and assemble the pots. They also had advice on sticking back together their own broken treasures.
Siân, Jody, Mary, Julie and Alice led art activities based on pieces in our collection. Siân Iles’ specialism is medieval pottery, and she brought out some lovely examples of medieval tiles from our stores. Our visitors were able to see the wonderful designs on them, and how they built up across a floor to form a larger pattern. They then coloured in their own section of a “floor tile” on paper, to form part of a larger pattern which we displayed and added to throughout the day.
Jody Deacon works with prehistoric artefacts, and Mary Davis is a conservator with a particular interest in the analysis of materials, especially Iron Age and Bronze Age metals. They brought out some designs from Iron Age coins, and talked about how they were decorate with the symbols and patterns which meant something to the people of the time. Our visitors used multi-coloured scratch card to make their own beautiful designs.
Julie Taylor does the admin for the section, and Alice Forward is with us for a year on a Community Archaeology placement. Julie is a textile artist in her spare time, and is interested in the memory of places. An archaeological excavation can be like digging up the ghosts of the past – a small trace of someone, a stain in the ground, an unclear, faint picture. Julie and Alice helped the visitors to make “ghost pictures” – the visitors chose an object from our Origins gallery to draw on acetate, which was then transferred to light-sensitive fabric, making an ephemeral image of what you had seen. We have a few pieces which were left behind, so if you see yours here and want it back, do call to collect it.
Del Elliott can normally be found helping you to use the Clore Discovery Gallery or as a Museum Assistant in the general exhibitions. He also volunteers with our handling collection in the Origins gallery. He used a model of the “Celtic Warrior Grave” to talk to the public about the burial traditions of the Iron Age, the artefacts found in the grave and how they have changed over time.
Evan Chapman works with our Roman archaeology, and also looks after the image archive in the department. Some of our earliest photographs only now exist on glass-plate negatives; extremely fragile and difficult for anyone to use. The Museum has received a grant from the Esmée Fairbairn foundation to enable us to digitise some of these negatives, and Evan brought along a wonderful presentation of old photographs of excavations in Cardiff Castle, Llanmelin Hillfort and Segontium, also an archive of Early Christian Monuments from Glamorgan.
Last but not least, Jackie Chadwick and Tony Daly are the A&N illustrators. Photographs are a very useful record, but often a great deal of detail exists in the artefacts which simply cannot be picked up by the lens. Jackie and Tony have produced some incredible drawings, showing such things as the subtle marks left in the manufacturing process and the texture of an item. They also play a large part in the interpretation of a site or object, by illustrating how a site may have looked or an object used, based on the complex archaeological evidence. The visitors could chat to them about the process, see some of their work, and have a go at making their own illustrations.
We could not have done the day without our fabulous volunteers. Kym, Luke and Ciaran generously gave up their time and worked so hard with us to run the activities. A huge thank you to all of you!
The day was a bit of a swan-song for the Origins gallery – the gallery will close in February next year and the collection prepared for the new displays planned for St Fagans National History Museum. Archaeology & Numismatics is now part of the larger History and Archaeology Department, and the new displays are intended to cover the prehistory and history of Wales at a single site.
Archaeology will still have a strong programme of events in this new structure – look out in the What’s On guide for our regular series of lunchtime talks and Behind The Scenes tours. Another Discovery Day is on the cards during the CBA’s Festival of British Archaeology next July, and we are planning a one-day conference for next autumn; dates to be confirmed.
If you want to volunteer with us, you can get in touch with the Museum’s volunteer co-ordinator Ffion Davies.
We’d love to hear your thoughts – what did you think of the day, what would you like to see at the next one, what can we do better? Just comment below.
Bye for now
The steady march of the mobile device
Graham Davies, Online Curator, Amgeddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales
Access to online content is showing a steady shift towards the mobile device. What are the implications for Amgueddfa Cumry’s own website?
There has been much discussion in the museums digital sector lately on the significant rise in websites accessed via mobile devices. It was one of the focuses of the 'Let's Get Real' Action Research project run by Culture24, of which the Museum was a part. The V&A have recently been publishing their findings on what devices people use to access different areas of their website.
In light of this, I decided to uncover the trends taking place on the National Museum Wales own website: museumwales.ac.uk
Mobile device growth over two years
From the National Museum Wales’ perspective the rate of acces from mobile devices shows pretty much the same pattern reported from other similar institutions.
Overall, we see close to a 25% rise in visits via mobile device to the website over a two year period. This is significant, but applying this as a generalisation of the website as a whole may be hiding other, more significant trends.
Figure 1 shows that people are increasingly looking at our website through mobile devices, but what parts of the site are fuelling this rise? What other trends become apparent when we look at areas such as visiting information, or our content rich collections pages?
So, lets break this down and let's see if we can work out what’s going on here…
What are people mainly looking at when using mobile devices?
A comparison of Figure 2 and Figure 3 clearly show a markedly higher percentage of pages accessed via mobile device to our 'visiting' pages than our content rich Art Online collections pages, (which incidentally show more of a rise in tablet use than mobile.)
What this all boils down to is that our content is now being accessed (and increasingly so) through all manner of different devices, and in all manner of different environments, from coffee shops, trains, your sofa, at work etc., etc.
The devices we choose are driven by the context (or setting) we are in, also the time we have to find out what we need to know. Think about it for a minute. How do you use digital devices to locate and find out information? Sat at a desk in your lunchtime, with time to sift through search results to find local events this coming weekend, filtering and refining on a large screen with a mouse and keyboard. Then there’s that last minute check on opening times and directions on your mobile phone whilst in a crowded train on your Friday night commute, straining to keep your phone viewable whilst jammed up against another person, typing with one finger. Come Sunday evening, you’re lying on the sofa, tablet on lap learning more about that nugget of information you picked up, or writing about your experiance on a review site.
This behaviour is quite logical if we take time to consider user behaviour on different devices, but what does this mean for our website and how we manage it?
What we must ensure when publishing our content is that we understand that the users could be anywhere, doing anything. A the moment, the evidence seems to suggest most mobile access targets visiting and location based information, whereas in depth collections data remains to be largely accessed via desktops.
The decline of the desktop (well, for visiting information at least)
Figure 2 shows that more people are viewing our visiting information from mobile devices than they are from desktops or laptops. It is therefore critical when planning content and designing websites, that areas of the website need to be thought out in separate ways, with visiting and site based information being designed and created first and foremost to be viewed on mobile devices.
In addition to functionality and design, we must also ensure that the content we provide for those areas of the website that are accessed primarily through mobile devices is crystal clear, succinct and quick to discover and understand - after all, you may only have a 5inch screen to get your information across.
Given the rate of growth from mobile devices it will be interesting to see where we will be this time next year...
Adobe Digital Marketing blog
Planting and measuring
All the bulbs are now tucked safely into the soil! Over 6,000 in total were planted across the UK by the Super Scientists that have begun keeping weather records to investigate climate change.
The weather on the week of planting was very wet but despite this the pupils got outside and enjoyed gardening. The pupils created labels for their plants and adopted them and will care for them until they flower next spring. See some of the pictures sent in from schools.
Last week schools began keeping weather records. They are learning how to record temperatures and measure rainfall. They then upload these records to our website using their ICT skills. So far, I’ve received fifty four records - which is amazing! Keep up the good work bulb buddies!
I'd like to say a special hello to Isaac from Lancashire who visited Cardiff Museum over half term and popped in to say hello. Unfortunately, I was working planting our new Urban Meadow and so missed Isaac but I did get the lovely note. Sorry I missed you Isaac - hope you enjoyed your visit to Cardiff.
Your comments - my answers:
SS Philip and James CE Primary School: We're not sure our laminated labels will survive the winter so we wrote our names on the lollypop sticks and on the side of the pots in case the pictures fall off. Any other advice welcome! Here are some comments from the children: "I really liked comparing the size of the bulbs." "I enjoyed seeing the pointy part of the daffodil peeping through the compost." "Putting the soil in and getting my hands messy was the best bit". "It was really cool." Prof.P: Glad you enjoyed planting. Keeping the tags on the labels is tricky. I think what you have done is great. Some schools use a permanent white marker pen to write on the pots.
Kilmaron Special School: This year we have planted our bulbs in 4 different places to see if they grow better at the front of the school or at the back. We have planted some in the bulbs in a new bed and some in old beds to see if the soil makes a difference. Prof P: Great investigative skills Kilmaron - please let us know if you see any changes and if they are as you predict?
Glyncollen Primary School: Our bulbs are in good condition. We enjoyed planting them and can't wait to see them grow. Prof.P: Glad the bulbs are doing well and that you are enjoying the project again at Glyncollen.
Greyfriars RC Primary School: I am really enjoying it thank you for last year. I'm loving the bulbs mine are called Earl and Willum. Prof.P: I'm delighted to hear you enjoyed and are continuing to this year at Greyfriars.
Ladywell Primary School: We are really enjoying looking after the bulbs. We will be a few days behind everyone else as unfortunately they were knocked down and we had to replant the bulbs. We are thankful that you gave us more bulbs because they were destroyed. We are also thankful for including us in the project. Prof.P: Glad you got the bulbs and more importantly that you haven't given up!
Bleasdale CE Primary School: We have been scaring away the slugs! Prof.P: Many gardeners will be very interested to know how you are doing this Bleasdale. Let me know.
Raglan VC Primary: We removed lots of fallen leaves from the top of the pots. No watering required this week.
Ysgol Bro Eirwg: Ar ddydd Mercher cafon ni 19cm o law, sef 190mm - mae'r siart dim ond yn mynd i 100mm! Hefyd ar ddydd Gwener cafon ni 11cm o law, sef 110mm, yr un broblem gyda'r siart! Diolch Athro.Ardd: Llawer iawn o glaw! Wnai newid y furflen we - diolch.
Woodplumpton St. Anne's Primary School: It's interesting to see the difference between the highest and the lowest temperatures in one week. We are very excited to be taking part in the project. We want to know what will happen. Prof.P: Hopefully in the spring you will have some beautiful flowers!
Culross Primary School: We are going to send our weather reports on Monday’s. On Friday the rainfall was 10 mm because it was hailstones on Thursday evening. Prof.P: Wow hailstones already! We had some in Cardiff too - I got soaked!
Burscough Bridge Methodist School: There was a high amount of rainfall this week and due to the weather conditions over Wednesday night the gauges tipped and lost the contents. Prof.P: I use a big lump of clay to help keep my rain gauge in place but most days it should be fine in the soil.
The Participatory Forums
The Young Ambassadors
This group of young adults first met in early June. They have expressed great passion for the Museum’s redevelopment project and an enthusiasm to create and run an outreach programme aimed specifically at youths in Wales. The group will also be reviewing the programme of activities for young people and providing insight into gallery content and interpretation. They participated in the interpretation workshops in July (depicted below) and were described as ‘inspirational’ by staff involved in the session.
On Wednesday 30th October, National Museum Cardiff came alive for a haunting day of Halloween fun. Curators (and witches!) from the Natural History department filled the main hall with spooky specimens from our collections to share with the public on a busy half term day.
The botanists made a real impression by opening up the Herbarium and creating a spooky graveyard of deadly plants. This was a real hit with the children who left repeating some of the delightfully ghoulish names to their parents such as “Stinking Hellebore!” and “Bloody Cranesbill!”
The Fungus table had a case of wonderful wax models where you could match each fungus with its creepy name, such as the Trumpet of Death, Scaly Tooth and Witch Heart. Children, and adults, could make their own fungus with the colourful modelling clay provided, creating some amazing new species!
Two witches stirred their potion in a cauldron alongside an eerie ‘Herbs in Medicine and Magic’ display. All Harry Potter fans would have immediately recognised the famous Mandrake, a plant often used in magic rituals due to its hallucinogenic properties, but there was no need for ear muffs as the real plant does not let out a fatal scream!
Marine and Mollusc curators put out an array of Halloween treats from ghost slugs and dead man’s fingers to blood cockles and pumpkin snails. Visitors enjoyed being able to touch sea urchins, spiny oysters and star fish. The pickled cuttlefish and squid were a real treat and produced a great mixed response, from awe to disgust, from children and adults alike.
The giant bloodsucking mosquito model dominated the Entomology stand whilst a witch displayed a table of British bats, from the largest Noctule to the smallest Pipistrelle.
Geologists enticed visitors with ‘fossils in folklore’, including echinoderms that were thought to be ‘fairy loaves’, and ‘dragon claws’ that come from dinosaurs. Those brave enough stayed to see the ‘Hell, Fire and Brimestone!’ stand which revealed specimens of larva, ash and volcanic rocks.
The Open Day was underpinned with an educational trail provided by the Education department. The trail took children around all of the displays, answering questions on blood stained petals and thunder stones, fungal fingers and tails of worms, to name a few. It was an excellent way to get families involved and encouraged children to interact with the curators. The trail proved to be extremely popular with 170 families taking part.
For those who wanted to know more, there was a scary ‘Dragons’ tour in the Evolution of Wales gallery and two behind the scenes tours of the Biology and Geology collections.
The day was a real success with 3127 members of the public coming through the museum doors. So, if you didn’t make it this time keep your eyes peeled on the ‘What’s On’ guide for more upcoming Natural History Open Days throughout the year.
Blog by Harriet Wood
Distributed Collections - More than the Sum of their Parts
This is ‘Part 2’ of my thoughts on distributed collections, the first one having appeared on this blog in May 2013. There is a drive to create a Distributed National Collection in Wales as part of a move towards joined-up content in museums, which is essential to provide both public and professional access to collection information and specimens alike. The Welsh Museums Federation is at the forefront of this development, with the main aim of the Linking Natural Science Collections in Wales being to implement the Welsh Museums Strategy’s concept of a Distributed National Collection for natural science collections.
If collections are dispersed, access to data and specimens can be difficult; there may not be much information about a collection, or access may be restricted because of lack of staff, or stores may be physically inaccessible – if you have anything to do with museums you will have been in a crowded store where you can’t swing a (mounted) cat for the number of boxes and things triple-stacked on top of each other. There are many reasons why collections may be dispersed and I would like to explore some of these reasons here.
Dispersal within a single museum
In many cases, particularly in museums with a social history focus, inaccessibility of natural science material can arise from the way the collection is classified and, accordingly, organised in the stores. Museums with dedicated natural science collections keep all vertebrates together, all fossils in one place and all insects in the same cupboard. However, if your focus is on collecting local social history objects your collections management system will be designed to help you classify dresses, wooden spoons and Victorian drill bits. Any natural science specimens will then be slotted into that classification system with the result that, for instance, some mounted objects and taxidermy are stored in the ‘Hunting’ section while others can be kept under ‘Domestic’. As a result, specimens which under one classification system (natural science) share common characteristics are physically dispersed throughout a store because under a different classification system (social history) the emphasis is on different features.
Dispersal within a regional area
Historically, many collections with local relevance ended up in local museums. This is why so many museums have a couple of stuffed barn owls and a box full of cow bones – seemingly unnecessary duplication. This may be a reflection of the relatively similar collecting interests of people – have you been able to resist the temptation of picking up some old cow bones when you saw them scattered in a field? And once you have them in your possession, what better to do with them than donate them generously to your local museum as an example of the local biodiversity?
Local museums are, of course, also fantastic repositories for local biodiversity and geology. However, there is rarely a collections strategy which would ensure systematic sampling of the entire local flora and fauna. As a result, the extent to which the local area is actually represented in the museum collection depends on a number of things (enough material for another article), essentially chance. This means that, theoretically and statistically, the combined collections of many museums in a geographical area may be a fairly good representation of the natural history and geology of this area. Is this really the case? While creating a Distributed National Collection in Wales we will soon find out.
Collections may be dispersed for other reasons, for instance entirely deliberately. The artist Marged Pendrell has her own take on dispersed collections of natural science material. Over a number of years she had collected a large number of skulls from North Wales. A recent move to a smaller studio prompted her to disperse part of her collection by offering sheep, fox and badger skulls – as being representative of her local environment in Snowdonia – to interested takers. Marged compiled photographs of the skulls in their new residences into a book (Dispersed Collection – Skulls). In that sense, while the collection was broken up physically, it still exists as a concept, with information about the specimens preserved and accessible.
Every museum with natural science collections has a near identical remit – to inform the public about biodiversity and natural history – and as a consequence every such museum has much the same material (although the extent and diversity varies with the size of the collection). There are numerous duplicate mounted foxes, mammoth teeth and trilobites of the genus Calymene in collections across the UK (and Europe). However, even before the recent haemorrhaging of specialists from museums only a small number of collections employed expert curators who would have detailed knowledge of very specific parts of collections. Therefore, many museums hold collections that are not publicly available, not even publicised. This is no fault of the curators – every museum has overlooked areas of collections which are low priority for that specific museum but which may be internationally important.
As a way around this dilemma Mark Carnall from the Grant Museum of Zoology has suggested – as a thought experiment – to reorganise collections taxonomically (scroll down to page 65). Instead of storing specimens from every taxonomic group, storage space would be used instead to house only specific taxonomic groups, i.e. all the nation’s badgers would end up in in museum A, all the dandelions in museum B, the fossil corals in museum C – you get the picture. Arguably, an impossible task, as the logistics and resources involved in achieving this would be phenomenal. However, there would be a number of advantages to such a system, mainly in terms of efficiency, specialist knowledge of each collection, access and research.
National Dispersal - the case of Wales
Natural science collections exist in more than 100 institutions in Wales. The majority of specimens are kept at the National Museum in Cardiff, but records of the natural history and gegology of Wales are, in essence, distributed across many different collections. Combined, these collections give a pretty good picture of Wales' natural environment (albeit one which may be distorted by historic events and the personal interests of individual collectors and curators). At present, however, it is difficult to access these collections as even local curators often do not have sufficient knowledge about their holdings.
The Welsh Museums Federation’s Linking Natural Science Collections in Wales project is aiming to improve this situation. It does not suggest changes of location or ownership of collections, but envisions much improved access to basic collection information for museum users. Collections reviews to establish a base line of collections knowledge are now under way, and a website will be the public access point to this information. In addition, a major touring exhibition of the treasures of Welsh natural science will showcase our wonderful collections and will be a powerful way of bringing them into greater prominence, offering the public a change to engage directly with our distributed national collection. Welsh natural science collections, wherever they may be stored, will be accessible to any potential user.
The Participatory Forums
The Our Museum Participatory Forum was established in 2011 during the development of the HLF redevelopment project bid and the bid to the Paul Hamlyn Foundation to develop community engagement within the Museum. This has meant that the two programmes have been integrally linked from the outset. The forum consists of Museum staff, Trustees and representatives from third and public sector organisations who work closely with community groups in Wales. Through their involvement in the forum the needs and interests of the communities they represent are voiced, and thus become a core element of the Museums methodology.
The aim of the Forum is to embed and sustain volunteering at the Museum and create a ‘Community of Volunteers’. The central aim is to ensure the volunteers needs are at the heart of what we do, making volunteering more accessible and relevant to the diverse communities we represent as a NationalMuseum.
Over the summer we ran a large scale volunteer recruitment drive. With the help of the Community Partners we placed approximately 50 volunteers in roles across the Museum with Departments such as the Historic Buildings Unit, Learning, Estates and Events. The volunteers have come from all walks of life and are all volunteering for different reasons; some retired, some students, some looking for a new challenge and others looking for routine and activity in a beautiful place where they can learn new skills and meet new people.