On day 5 of the placement with the Decorative Arts department of Walker Art Gallery, we begun a task of upgrading the storage of a small collection of items in the store. I was allocated 3 large drawers of wedding related accessories and garments. Pauline (Costume Curator and my placement supervisor) advised us to photograph the contents of the drawer as they were before we upgraded the storage of them, in order to thoroughly document the results of our work.
The earliest item listed so far dates to 1855, an English wedding mantle, and the latest dates to 1979, a veil with matching headdress. The objects range from silk net veils, wax orange blossom headdresses, silk trains and a piece of fruit cake wrapped in tin foil from the 1904 wedding of Princess Alice and the Earl of Athlone. Some of the objects were encased in clear plastic bags by Pauline’s predecessor. The plastic needed to be removed – as they create a ‘micro-climate’ and easily collect dust – and replaced with conservation grade tissue paper. Some of the plastic bags can be seen in the photograph above.
I was instructed to sort the items into piles depending on type of item – typology – however I was required to keep all items with the same accession number together. For example, a headdress and veil that were collected together or donated, worn or owned by the same person or family, should be kept together. I sorted the following separate piles: veils, headdresses, flowers, accessories, pairs/groups (depending on accession numbers), and ‘other’. See below.
Each object was extremely fragile, requiring extreme care as I handled them. Firstly I ensured my hands were clean and dry. I washed my hands at regular intervals throughout the day – I did not wear gloves for these items, as the fibers of the gloves’ material could catch on to the material of delicate objects. I also removed jewelry, namely rings, and ensured I was not wearing clothes that dangled or could get caught in the other objects or cause me to trip. I used a 3 tiered trolley to transport the collection from their drawers to a clear table covered in tissue paper. The trolley consisted of trays that could slide out, which were also lined with tissue paper, folded and taped into pillow shapes to cushion the hard edges of the trays. Pauline instructed me to put the heaviest items in the bottom tray of the trolley, with the lightest and most delicate items on the top. I presume this is in case the heavy items were to fall through and damage the delicate ones. I was careful not to overload the trays, and transported each drawer in roughly 2-3 trolley loads. I then carefully unloaded each object onto a large table (as seen above).
For each item I recorded 3 main pieces of information: accession number, date and a brief description of the object. As the objects had not previously been arranged or stored in any discernible categories, I had to find a way of bringing together items with the same accession number. As I recorded the accession numbers, date and descriptions, I also allocated each item a number in the order by which I put them on the table. This told me exactly how many items I had- but also, when searching for an objects accession number ‘pair’, I could tell whether it was likely to be at the bottom of a pile.
As you can see above, numbers 3 & 4 have the same accession numbers: 1970.140 – I was able to pair these together easily. Objects 8 and 16, share the accession number: 2002.2, but were not previously stored that closely together – object 8 is a headdress, and as it was the 8th object I recorded, I knew it would be towards the bottom of the headdress pile. By creating a spreadsheet such a this, I had multiple points to reference, and could search the document very easily.
I also created an additional column to record how many items listed share an accession number. This will be useful if Pauline requires me to keep them together when putting them into new storage boxes. I will know how many objects I need to include. This was helpful for other reasons also – some objects that are part of a group did not have a date written on their labels – by referencing the objects with the same accession number in my spreadsheet, I could determine the date of the dateless items. I have colour coded this column, as I personally find visual indicators useful.
The result of this restorage project is for ease of access for the decorative arts team – this is a task that has needed to be done for a number of years. They will know exactly where to go if they need to access ‘veil’ for example, as it will be clearly listed and organised into storage with other veils, or it may be 1 object in a group of 7 that share the same accession number. It is also to improve the conditions for each object, to be conducive to up to date conservation standards – by removing the plastic wrappings, providing extra tissue paper for the more delicate items, removing paper or harmful materials that are mixing with other materials and ensuring heavy items are not placed on top of fragile ones.
Next week I will be transferring each object into new storage boxes. I will detail how the objects are supposed to be protected in layers of tissue paper, how the boxes are lined, the specific materials of the box (such as the staples) which are conservation standard, and in what order and groupings the objects will be upgraded to. I will be producing a list for each box.