Archive for the ‘Conservation’ Category

Spangled and patched

June 24, 2014
The proper left foot curtain of the spangled bed (inv. no. 129462), shown from the top end. ©National Trust

The proper left foot curtain of the spangled bed (inv. no. 129462), shown from the top end. ©National Trust

One of the objects at Knole currently undergoing conservation treatment is the so-called ‘spangled bed’. This bed may have been created in the early eighteenth century using an Elizabethan or Jacobean royal canopy of state which was sewn with silver sequins.

The spangle bedroom at Knole. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The spangle bedroom at Knole. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The silk curtains of this bed are being analysed and treated at the National Trust’s Textile Conservation Studio. The Knole Conservation Team Blog has recently shown these images of the initial findings.

Yellow damask section at the top end of the proper left head curtain, which seems to have been part of the original lining. ©National Trust

Yellow damask section at the top end of the proper left head curtain, which seems to have been part of the original lining. ©National Trust

It turns out that the curtains are a patchwork of different elements, including six different types of silk damask, a plain silk section and a linen section.

Pink damask patches at the bottom of one of the curtains. ©National Trust

Pink damask patches at the bottom of one of the curtains. ©National Trust

All these patches seem to have had previous uses before they were inserted into the bed curtains, as they show additional seams and darning.

Green damask patch at the top of one of the curtains. ©National Trust

Green damask patch at the top of one of the curtains. ©National Trust

There are a number of different types and styles of seams, suggesting that there were several successive repairs.

Yellow damask patch. ©National Trust

Yellow damask patch. ©National Trust

At some point the curtains seem to have been turned upside down, so that the damaged and patched hems would be at the top and therefore less obvious.

Patch of a different crimson damask. ©National Trust

Patch of a different crimson damask. ©National Trust

All this gives some glimpses of the life of this venerable bed, as well as of the thrifty housekeeping methods of previous generations.

Alfred, the emblematic king

June 20, 2014
Historic building conservator Philip Scorer inspects the fabric of King Alfred's Tower. ©National Trust

Historic building conservator Philip Scorer inspects the fabric of King Alfred’s Tower. ©National Trust

The National Trust’s South West Blog keeps coming up with great images at the moment. A suitable caption for this one might be ‘Just another day working for the National Trust.’ I love Philip Scorer’s studious pose, pen and paper at the ready, while dangling off the side of an eighteenth-century folly.

King Alfred's Tower, Stourhead. ©National Trust Images/Stephen Robson

King Alfred’s Tower, Stourhead. ©National Trust Images/Stephen Robson

In fact it shows Philip inspecting King Alfred’s Tower, on the Stourhead estate, which is in need of repair. Significant funds have already been raised, including grants from the Viridor Environmental Credits Company and from the Mackintosh Foundation, but we are now trying to find the final £24,000.

King Alfred the Great, attributed to Samuel Woodforde (1763-1817), at Stourhead, inv. no. 732296. ©National Trust, image  supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

King Alfred the Great, attributed to Samuel Woodforde (1763-1817), at Stourhead, inv. no. 732296. ©National Trust, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

The tower demonstrates how the figure of King Alfred (849-99) was used as a cultural emblem in the eighteenth century. This Anglo-Saxon king was known for repelling vikings, rebuilding towns and cities, reforming the legal system and encouraging scholarship and religion.

Bust of King Alfred in the Temple of British Worthies at Stowe. ©National Trust Images/Jerry Harpur

Bust of King Alfred in the Temple of British Worthies at Stowe. ©National Trust Images/Jerry Harpur

From the sixteenth century onwards Alfred ‘the Great’ came to be revered as the epitome of a virtuous monarch. He was seen as a symbol of British virtues such as patriotism, love of liberty and respect for the rule of law.

Portrait of Anne Hoare, later Lady Mathew (d.1872), with King Alfred's Tower in the distance, by William Owen, RA (1769-1825), at Stourhead, inv. no. 732267. Image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Portrait of Anne Hoare, later Lady Mathew (d.1872), with King Alfred’s Tower in the distance, by William Owen, RA (1769-1825), at Stourhead, inv. no. 732267. Image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

King Alfred’s Tower at Stourhead was designed by Henry Flitcroft (1697-1769) for Henry Hoare II (1705-85). It commemorates the peace with France in 1762 and the recent accession of King George III (1738-1820), like Alfred seen as ‘a truly British King’.

Painted plaster relief of King Alfred, probably 1760s, in the Caesar's hall, Kedleston Hall, inv. no. 109000.2. ©National Trust/Andrew Patterson

Painted plaster relief of King Alfred, probably 1760s, in the Caesar’s hall, Kedleston Hall, inv. no. 109000.2. ©National Trust/Andrew Patterson

American readers of this blog might well question George III’s credentials as a champion of liberty, but I suppose that is one of the ironies of history.

Cover to reveal

June 17, 2014
Collections officer Ruth Moppett showing the protective Eyemats in the chapel at Tyntesfield. ©National Trust

Collections officer Ruth Moppett showing the protective Eyemats in the chapel at Tyntesfield. ©National Trust

I just read on the National Trust’s South West Blog that the colleagues at Tyntesfield have commissioned high-tech floor coverings for the high Victorian chapel there.

View into the chapel. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

View into the chapel. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The chapel floor is an elaborate and sumptuous feature created by Powell and Sons for the ‘high church’ Gibbs family in the early 1870s. The materials used include marble, faience, Mexican onyx and blue john or Derbyshire fluorspar.

Detail of the vine leaf mosaic on the floor of the chapel. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Detail of the vine leaf mosaic on the floor of the chapel. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The floor is too fragile to withstand the wear and tear of the 220,000 visitors that Tyntesfield receives each year. So previously there had been carpets in the chapel, but that meant that the floors could not really be appreciated.

Quatrefoil stained glass window in the chapel at Tyntesfield. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Quatrefoil stained glass window in the chapel at Tyntesfield. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

So Tyntesfield commissioned the Eyemats company to create protective flooring printed with ultra high definition photographs of the floor. These ‘mats’ are so realistic that visitors often don’t notice them at all. And it allows the design of the floor to be appreciated in concert with the other decorations and furnishings in the chapel.

Detail of the wrought iron gate through which the priest would enter the chapel. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Detail of the wrought iron gate through which the priest would enter the chapel. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Similar illusionistic floorings has been used at a number of other National Trust properties and also at places such as Bowhill, Dumfries House and Houghton Hall. Apart from being a practical solution, they can also be appreciated as a metaphor for conservation in general: a little bit of artifice to bring out more of the historical reality of a place.

A closer look at Dyrham Park

May 20, 2014
Dyrham Park ©National Trust Images/Rupert Truman

Dyrham Park ©National Trust Images/Rupert Truman

From a distance historic houses can appear almost eternal. But a closer look usually reveals some evidence of the ravages of time.

Experts looking at the repairs needed to the roof at Dyrham Park, South Gloucestershire. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Experts inspecting Dyrham’s roof. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Dyrham Park has been receiving quite a lot of scrutiny recently. Its roof is now over 200 years old and beyond its natural life.

Patch repairs on the roof at Dyrham. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Patch repairs on the roof at Dyrham. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Patch repairs are no longer sufficient and the roof needs a complete overhaul.

Spalling stonework on the roof at Dyrham ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Spalling stonework on the roof at Dyrham ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Some of the stonework is also beginning to fail, exacerbated by the freezing and thawing of excess rainwater. So as well as urgent stone repairs the house needs improved gutters to prevent future damage.

Damaged stonework on the west front of Dyrham. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Damaged stonework on the west front of Dyrham. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

In addition access to the orangery roof needs to be made safer, so that high-level maintenance can be carried out more frequently and efficiently.

Water damage in the orangery at Dyrham. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Water damage in the orangery at Dyrham. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

That is why we are trying to raise £500,000 towards the total cost of £3.54 million. Any donation is welcome, and can be made here.

Roofscape and landscape

February 25, 2014
©National Trust/Lucy Reynolds

©National Trust/Lucy Reynolds

When you have a big roof that leaks, you have a big problem.

©National Trust/Steve Heywood

©National Trust/Steve Heywood

At Castle Drogo the roof has never really been watertight since the castle was built by Sir Edwin Lutyens for grocery magnate Julius Drewe between 1910 and 1927. But then they do say that all great architecture leaks…

©Lobster Vision

©Lobster Vision

Following intermittent repairs over the years, the National Trust has now initiated a five-year project, with major support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, to finally sort out the problems with the Drogo roof.

©National Trust

©National Trust

A huge and almost Piranesian scaffolding structure has been erected to provide access and protection for the contractors.

©National Trust/Lucy Reynolds

©National Trust/Lucy Reynolds

A two-layer membrane designed by Bauder will be introduced to cope with the extreme temperature fluctuations and heavy rainfall of the Dartmoor area. This will involve the removal and reinstatement of 2,355 separate granite blocks weighing 680 tonnes.

Channel 4 television has just broadcast a special Time Team programme about the restoration of Castle Drogo, entitled The Edwardian Grand Design.

Peppered papers

October 22, 2013
Detail of a flower in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall, which was printed and then finished in colour by hand. The paper was hung in 1752. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Detail of a flower in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall, which was printed and then finished in colour by hand. The paper was hung in 1752. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Last Friday Andrew Bush and I gave a lecture at the fourth annual conference organised by China Culture Connect at the National Maritime Museum in London, which this time focused on the history and conservation of traditional Asian painting. We were talking about the Chinese wallpapers in the historic houses of the National Trust and what we have discovered about them so far with the help of a growing international network of experts.

Detail of a pair of ducks in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Detail of a pair of ducks in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

As we are keen to learn more about the art-historical context of the production of this wallpaper, we were delighted be able to attend talks by leading Chinese experts. For instance, we heard from Min-ying Wang of the Yiheyuan Summer Palace in Beijing about the conservation and restoration of wallpapers and other works on paper mounted as wall decoration there.

Detail of a lotus leaf in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Detail of a lotus leaf in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Although the designs of the wallpapers in the Chinese imperial palaces are different from those of the wallpapers made for export to the west, the materials and techniques are more or less the same. Pictures were sometimes pasted on top of patterned or plain wallpapers in Chinese interiors, a practice that probably influenced the development of pictorial wallpapers for export. And the printing seen on some export wallpapers (such as the one at Felbrigg Hall shown here) relates to the long-established pictorial printing tradition in China. This confirmed to us that Chinese export wallpaper was not an isolated phenomenon, but was grounded in the Chinese art-historical tradition.

Detail of a pomegranate in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Detail of a pomegranate in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Ms Wang also told us that treating wallpapers with pepper extract is very effective at deterring paper-munching pests – a wonderful example of a traditional technique that is as effective now as it ever was. Perhaps pepper should be added to the list of conservation materials in the National Trust Manual of Housekeeping.

Good news for Knole

August 1, 2013
Conservator removing dust from the headcloth of the state bed in the Venetian Amabassador's Room at Knole. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Conservator removing dust from the headcloth of the state bed in the Venetian Amabassador’s Room at Knole. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has just announced a £7.75 million grant to help secure the multi-year conservation project currently underway at Knole.

The state bed with its related suite of furniture in the Venetian Ambassador's Room. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The state bed with its related suite of furniture in the Venetian Ambassador’s Room. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The first phase or repairs to the fabric of the building is complete and, with the HLF’s support, the focus can now move to the interiors and contents of this Tudor palace.

Detail of headboard and headcloth of the state bed in the Venetian Ambassador's Room, with a Netherlandish tapestry behind it. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Detail of headboard and headcloth of the state bed in the Venetian Ambassador’s Room, with a Netherlandish tapestry behind it. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

As part of the project a bespoke and state of the art conservation studio will be created at Knole. Visitors will be able to watch the conservators at work and the studio will offer conservation and heritage-related training courses.

Conservator taking apart the bed in the Venetian Ambassador's Room. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Conservator taking apart the bed in the Venetian Ambassador’s Room. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Alongside the conservation work, the funding will also allow us to create stable environmental conditions in the rooms on show to the public. In addition we will open up previously unseen rooms and create improved visitor facilities.

Detail of the headboard, with James II's monogram, on the state bed in the Venetian Ambassador's Room.  ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Detail of the headboard, with James II’s monogram, on the state bed in the Venetian Ambassador’s Room. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Among the objects at Knole to be safeguarded and shown to better advantage are the extraordinary sixteenth- and seventeenth-century state beds. The bed shown here, in the Venetian Ambassador’s Room, was originally made for King James II in 1688.

The carved and gilded feet of the bed in the Venetian Ambassador's Room. The 'JR monogram stands for 'James Rex'. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

The carved and gilded feet of the bed in the Venetian Ambassador’s Room. The ‘JR monogram stands for ‘James Rex’. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

The bed was given to Charles Sackville, 6th Earl of Dorset (1638-1706), who was Chamberlain to the household of King William III and Queen Mary II. As a perquisite of his office the 6th Earl was allowed to dispose of furniture from the royal palaces when they were deemed to be out of date, and this is how the collection of magnificent Stuart furniture came to Knole.

Slow conservation

July 3, 2013
Conservation assistant at Osterley Park cleaning one of the Robert Adam-designed pier glasses. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Antrobus

Conservation assistant at Osterley Park cleaning one of the Robert Adam-designed pier glasses. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Antrobus

Since the 1980s the Slow Food movement has championed regional cuisine, traditional food and locally sourced products. Sarah Staniforth, museums and collections director for the National Trust, has argued for some time that the same principles should be applied to the conservation of historic buildings and collections.

A young visitor at Little Moreton Hall trying out the cleaning of the transomed windows under the guidance of a conservator. ©National Trust Images/Paul Harris

A young visitor at Little Moreton Hall trying out the cleaning of the transomed windows under the guidance of a conservator. ©National Trust Images/Paul Harris

In a recently republished article entitled ‘Slow Conservation’, Sarah makes the case for ‘a holistic approach to the care of collections that reduce the rate at which damaging change occurs, whilst recognising that some change is inevitable.’

Tools used by dress conservators at Smallhythe Place. ©National Trust Images/Paul Harris

Tools used by dress conservators at Smallhythe Place. ©National Trust Images/Paul Harris

In practice this means focusing on preventive conservation, conserving what is there rather than spending a lot of energy on restoring something back to its idealised ‘original’ condition. Like gardening, preventive conservation is best done little but often. It also involves maintaining and building the right skills and sharing these with a wider public.

A conservator dusting the Elizabethan canopy in the Long Gallery at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Millar

A conservator dusting the Elizabethan canopy in the Long Gallery at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Millar

Sarah’s article can be found in the recently published book Historical Perspectives on Preventive Conservation, which she edited. This book also contains essays and excerpts on subjects as diverse as intangible heritage, Japanese kura storehouses, Mrs Beeton on housekeeping, cabinets of curiosities, the rebirth of the Louvre, the ‘Aer and Smoak’ of London and the impact of climate change.

The people behind the objects

March 21, 2013
Conservator inspecting the back of the headboard of the King James II bed at Knole. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Conservator inspecting the back of the headboard of the King James II bed at Knole. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Perhaps I don’t feature people often enough in this blog.

Conservator the late Linda Shelley dusting an urn in the Entrance Hall at Osterley Park. ©National Trust Images/Ian Shaw

Conservator the late Linda Shelley dusting an urn in the Entrance Hall at Osterley Park. ©National Trust Images/Ian Shaw

It is easy to overlook the people who actually preserve and open up the collections of the National Trust. Many of them beaver away modestly behind the scenes.

Volunteers conserving textiles at Tyntesfield. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Volunteers conserving textiles at Tyntesfield. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Also, unlike objects, people tend not to stay still for very long and are therefore more difficult to capture in photographs.

Food historian Peter Brears carrying a silver item to the Dining Room at Attingham Park. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Food historian Peter Brears carrying a silver item to the Dining Room at Attingham Park. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

But here are a few of the many different types of people involved with the collections of the National Trust, with some of the objects in their care.

Scrubs up nicely

March 14, 2013
Portrait of ‘young’ Sir George Booth, 1st Baron Delamer (1622-1684), by circle of Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723), at Dunham Massey, photographed following conservation. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Hollow

Portrait of ‘young’ Sir George Booth, 1st Baron Delamer (1622-1684), by circle of Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723), at Dunham Massey, photographed following conservation. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Hollow

In June 2012 we managed to buy this portrait of ‘Young’ Sir George Booth, 1st Baron Delamer of Dunham Massey (as I reported at the time). It was sent to London-based conservator Sophie Reddington for treatment and Sophie has just sent me these images of the work.

The portrait before conservation. ©Christie's

The portrait before conservation. ©Christie’s

The picture was quite dusty and dirty and even had some white splash marks which appeared to be emulsion wall paint. At some point it had also been relined using too much heat, causing the paint to melt in places.

The portrait midway during varnish removal. ©Sophie Reddington

The portrait midway during varnish removal. ©Sophie Reddington

Sophie cleaned the painting with deionised water and then removed several layers of discoloured varnish with various solvents. Old retouching and overpainting was removed, again with solvents and also mechanically with a scalpel.

Lord Delamer's sleeve during varnish removal. ©Sophie Reddington

Lord Delamer’s sleeve during varnish removal. ©Sophie Reddington

Then Sophie refilled the small paint losses with acrylic putty, applied a first coat of new varnish and added new retouchings, followed by a final coat of varnish sprayed on in several thin layers.

The portrait after the filling in of the losses and the application of the first coat of varnish, but before retouching. ©Sophie Reddington

The portrait after the filling in of the losses and the application of the first coat of varnish, but before retouching. ©Sophie Reddington

Where the canvas had become brittle and torn around the sides and the back of the stretcher Sophie mended it with nylon gossamer impregnated with adhesive.

Fragile and brittle tacking edges before treatment. ©Sophie Reddington

Fragile and brittle tacking edges before treatment. ©Sophie Reddington

Sophie also treated the frame, consolidating loose parts, retouching damaged areas with watercolours and bronze paint, lining the rebate with paper tape and felt and reinserting the picture.

The same tacking edges after treatment. ©Sophie Reddington

The same tacking edges after treatment. ©Sophie Reddington

On the back of the frame there is a label of James Bourlet and Sons, London frame makers, as well as the more recent Christie’s label.

Labels old and new on the back of the frame. ©Sophie Reddington

Labels old and new on the back of the frame. ©Sophie Reddington

All this has vastly improved the readability of the image and given it a new lease of life.


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