Week 3 – 26th to 30th September – Let’s skip the science

Once again this week started as a busy one in the lab. A 2 day seminar on Raman spectroscopy was held in the museum, and attendees were able to see the Renishaw Raman microscope in action in the PCU.

As I was helping ferry groups to and fro, I also decided to attend the seminars. The first day started off with the applications of Raman spectroscopy in conservation. I am a bit wary of conservation science (requires rather too much brain activity) – but the speakers were excellent and really highlighted the advantages of this knowledge to me. Raman analysis is non-destructive and many objects can be left in situ if analysed with a remote fibre probe. It can be used in the identification of pigments, which has huge advantages in conservation – one of the areas I found most interesting was its use in authenticating an item.  I won’t say too much but there was a little example from the V&A where they analysed a pigment sample from a rather special group of acquisitions – the synthetic pigment was found to have been first developed later than the “artists” dates – thus they found they had a rather special group of near perfect forgeries. Microscopic analysis can also be used to identify materials in archaeological burials. It aids in the differentiation between human tissue and other materials. By analysing the protein content we can better understand degradation, and the processes of preservation.

So I was pretty fascinated for about ¾ of that first day, but then it all descended into pharmaceutical and bio-medical applications, very important stuff but I definitely had enough of that at uni.

This week I also learnt to make boxes – a step on from last week though. The skulls that are being re-packaged are very wide and don’t fit in the pre-made box “cut-outs”. So by making a template to the same design in conservation grade card I was able to re-create one to the desired size for each specimen. It’s harder than it sounds – no tape or glue if you go wrong, so it all has to go right because it takes hours to make the 3 pieces (top, tray and box). Its only after spending 3 months at NHM that I know respect how important box making is. Storage is the main cause of damage to objects, and a good box can even help the clumsiest of people better handle an object (unless they throw it on the floor – it’s only a box after all!)

Box in the making

Box Made!

So this week was mainly consumed with continuing on my repackaging of human remains. But on the Friday I had a little afternoon visit to Marion Kite (Head of furniture, textile and fashion conservation) at the V&A. I looked around the conservation studio and some on-going projects – the difference between their conservation facilities and NHM was the mirror image of the museums themselves – natural, scientific, working vs. stylish, clean, fashionable. I was most fascinated with the mannequins that are designed and made by specialist conservation staff – they are absolutely beautiful in themselves and complete innovation – made to shape, support and protect the outfit! And watching two women pin out a piece of wet cleaned Tudor lace to dry – I couldn’t imagine a more lady-like activity, maybe I ought to be taking notes. I finished my week in the Post-Modernism exhibition – I can’t lie and say I enjoyed it because I only liked Annie Lennox and Talking Heads in the middle, but as I had seen the FREE exhibition the Power of Making only the week before I will strongly advise that it is a much better idea to save your money in this case (it is a real 20 minute treat!)

However I did manage to make this comment on “post-modernism” by Charles Jencks speak to my specialism a bit

“After all, since it is fairly dead, we might as well enjoy picking over its corpse”

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