As we near the end of our traineeship we are busy completing projects, thinking about all we have learnt on our placements, and applying for new jobs. My last few projects at Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service are a hand over pack for my absent voter project, photographs for the Explore the Past leaflet I have designed and a project to catalogue and care for the Kinver archaeology Collection.
Absent Voters Hand-over Pack
The Absent voters from 1918 are being transcribed by a loyal band of volunteers I recruited and trained. I have supported them as they completed the work and congratulated them as they finished one book and moved to the next. But they in turn have supported me as I wrote up the project for my PG cert assignment. Now the volunteers know what they are doing I just need to leave a pack for my colleagues who will take over supervising the project.
A photograph of Sarah with volunteer David Bonnick taken by David Tyrell – for the Explore the Past leaflet
Meanwhile I have been running around trying to rope in photographers and models for some photographs to advertise the service. The staff and volunteers at WAAS, their children, and some students from the university as well as Tom from the Cathedral library, all kindly helped by posing for photographs, and I was lucky to find two very talented photographers to take the pictures. I have been researching and writing the leaflet for months, so it’s been lovely to get the last bit completed, and now it’s on the way to the printers.
The finished boxes made by Sarah for the Kinver Archive held by Worcestershire Archaeology
And the archaeology project has given me a chance to learn more about the Heritage Environment Record, and to input items into it, while learning some more about archaeology. At the same time I have reinforced some of the skills I have previously learned in archival care and conservation, finally getting my head around how to make boxes to fit the archives.
It’s a little sad as each individual trainee departs on their new journey, but great for the project to revel in our success and I am really looking forward to my own new roles as I continue to apply all that I have learned here. I feel really lucky to have had this opportunity to work with so many experts at WAAS, and to be leaving the role to continue working within heritage.
We have turned into fledgling botanists-cum-poachers tracking down and hunting wild beasts – and museum pests are our prey.
We had no idea there were so many different kinds, all with their personal favourite hiding places, and diets. Some like the dark corners, under cases, where they munch on the carpet. Some venture into boxes and cases for a tasty morsel of skin, fur or textile. Others with a sharper tooth spend their lifetime wriggling through wood. They come in all shapes, sizes and colours, and can nibble at most things you might find in a museum or archive, if you don’t keep tabs on them.
Luckily at the Archives there are very few live pests to worry about. A shiny new building with climate controlled strong rooms and carefully followed procedures mean only the most agile spider or fly can make it inside. But the conservator does deal with the evidence of insect attacks, after freezing everything to remove lodgers. Those books and documents scratched and gnawed by silverfish or left with delicate holes by the tiny Common Booklouse can be carefully put back together in such skilful hands, but it was interesting to learn more about the culprits.
At the Worcestershire Museums though the insect detecting now begins. The collection contains many stuffed animals, insect collections, textiles, carpets and wooden artefacts. These provide a veritable feast for biscuit beetles, furniture beetles, vodka beetles, and clothes moths, and require constant surveillance and control.
The National Brewery Centre in Burton-on-Trent provided the perfect setting for this training course with Jayne Thompson-Webb with great (if repulsive) actual examples and a chance to look around the museum itself to assess any possible pest control issues. This was also an opportunity to network with professionals and volunteers from other midland museums and historic houses, including Coventry Transport Museum, Middleport Pottery and Wightwick Manor. If you are tempted to learn more about museum tests, you can follow this link to the English Heritage pest poster.
I have a love-hate relationship with Regina Spektor’s 2012 song All the Rowboats. On the one hand, it is a cool song about museums and art galleries; on the other, it deals with a concept that cuts close to the bone for museum professionals. The song title refers to The Gulf Stream by Winslow Homer that hangs the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the lyrics describe artefacts as imprisoned in museums:
First there’s lights out, then there’s lock up
Masterpieces serving maximum sentences
It’s their own fault for being timeless
There’s a price you pay and a consequence
All the galleries, the museums
Here’s your ticket, welcome to the tombs
And, one of the most galling images:
But the most special are the most lonely
God, I pity the violins
In glass coffins they keep coughing
They’ve forgotten, forgotten how to sing, how to sing
A recent event at at Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum made me think of this song and pointed out that while Spektor can write a great tune, she has little idea of inventiveness and care of museum professionals. Thanks to the efforts of Senior Curator Philippa Tinsley, Marketing and Events Manager, Helen Large, and cellist Julia Palmer-Price, on 20th February, the incredible trench art oil can cello in Museums Worcestershire’s collection broke a silence that may have lasted for just under 100 years.
The beautifully and inventively crafted cello was created during the war by Reginald Quelch who served as a sapper with the Royal Engineers. He lived in Pershore and died at the age of 94 and his cello was subsequently donated to the museum. Last Friday, visitors to World War I in the Words of Worcestershire People and members of the press had the privilege of hearing an evocative rendition of It’s a Long Way to Tipperary on this poignant instrument.
To continue to preserve this singular artefact it will certainly be some time before it is played again, but this event is a fabulous example of how as museum professionals we can balance care and calculated risk to both preserve objects and allow them life.
You can still see the cello on display at Worcester City Museum and Art Gallery in World War I in the Words of Worcestershire People until march 14th.
Dudley Archives leaflets
No, I didn’t get lost on the way to work. I had a day out at Dudley to see their new Archives and Local History Service.
Dudley Archives sent me some leaflets for another project I am working on, so more on that in a later post. The people and the place looked so inviting from the leaflet that I decided to visit.
It was lovely to see how a different archive is run and to meet the team. Rob Bennett the archivist met me and gave me a tour around the building, showing me the lovely new building. We saw the strong rooms and he pointed out the lift with teething problems as we took the stairs. The meeting rooms are beautifully decorated with local archive photographs, and the large room that holds the cooling system for the strong room is completely space aged. Rob even made time to explain to me the theory of cataloguing archive collections, which was really useful.
Sarah at Dudley Archives
Sarah hard at work at Dudley Archives
The building is shared with the home libraries team and the meeting rooms are used by local council departments, so there is a busy atmosphere to the place. The day I visited, there was a job centre plus meeting upstairs, and the Friends of the archives trained people to use the computers. Meanwhile, staff were putting together a World War One exhibition and preparing hand-outs for the next day’s visit of 100 school children. Yet Jane, Sophie, Luke and Phil still had time to welcome new users to the service – and to welcome me. Under their supervision I helped with locating and putting away boxes of archives for customers, and repackaging council archives.
I learnt lots while I was in Dudley, and I took away some new ideas and an appreciation of how different archives operate. I especially liked the friendly atmosphere and the welcoming feel of the building: it really was as welcoming as it looked from the leaflets.
I you are interested in archives from Dudley you can search their collections online or pop along and visit.
Historic magazines being conserved
…it sounds like a family craft event, but this blog post is all about working with the highly skilled conservator at the Hive, helping to care for old books and documents.
I had worked with Rhonda as a volunteer before starting here as a trainee. I had been cleaning quarter session paperwork with a smoke sponge. So my first visit to Rhonda as a trainee involved similar tasks, but on each visit I am learning something new.
Sarah as a trainee conservator
In keeping with the current theme of World War One Rhonda taught me how to replace the staples in a collection of magazines that contained photographs of battlefields during the war, and 20 years later. The paper of the magazines was in good condition but each one was held together by two rusty staples. So I carefully removed the staples using variously sized microspatulas and using pliers to pull out any bits of the staples that disintegrated on the way out. I gently brushed away any crumbs of rust, then on a bookbinder’s needle I threaded linen thread through the holes the staples left behind. A little knot tying, and snipping off the ends and they look as good as new, and ready to be stored away in the archive for posterity.
Japanese wheat paste
Having got to grips with cleaning and sewing, the next job was much more technical. The A E Barnard collection of scrapbooks needed their Evesham-themed newspaper cuttings pasted back in. This was a lovely chance to me to read a little about my home town as I worked.
Rhonda mixed Japanese wheat paste, then carefully showed me the techniques involved with this task. I had to apply the paste to Japanese tissue paper then fix it to the piece of newspaper like a stamp hinge. This turned out to be a completely reversible process when we accidentally stuck something in the wrong place, and simply removed the paste with some water. I spent an afternoon sticking the cuttings into several scrap books then going back through to remove bits of scrap paper from within the pages when the paste had had time to dry.
I am really enjoying the opportunity to work with Rhonda as she is highly skilled and luckily a patient teacher. It is an opportunity to do something completely different and to learn what could turn out to be some useful skills.
I can’t wait to see what I might be learning next time.