Tag Archive | Conservation

New HLF / Icon Conservation Intern Natasha Hall

Hello everybody, my name is Natasha Hall and I am going to be taking you with me on my travels as the new Institute of Conservation (Icon), Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), Fine Metals Conservation Intern stationed at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery for the next year.

Natasha Hall documenting buttons

Documentation of buttons.

Fine metals are something that most persons on this earth are drawn to. For millennia metalwork has been a solid backbone to human growth and adaptation, allowing our species to create items for various purposes; from heirlooms, to weapons; for vanity or religion. The longevity and stability of this material has in itself enabled us to have the gift of looking back through the ashes of empires, whether it is hundreds or thousands of years. The conservation of these items is the plinth on which future generations’ knowledge on human history stands. I am a truly an honoured individual to have the opportunity to be working in this environment for the next 12 months.

Before I go on I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to Icon and HLF for funding my placement here at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and a HUGE thank you to my mentor Pieta Greaves ACR, Staffordshire Hoard Conservation Coordinator for her continued support. Also Julie Taylor my Job Center advisor who told me about this internship, helped me to secure the placement and has always shown credence in me and my abilities.

This Fine Metals internship will allow me to simultaneously meet people and experience first hand what a career within conservation would be like. As a naturally curious soul I have to admit to being quite wide-ranging with my points of interest. Already 2 weeks in and I am learning to channel my focus into one area, learning that concentrating on one area or item does not exempt all avenues of interest. Rather, like a beehive looks from the outside, though whole on the surface within it, a honey comb of compartments all separate – yet together. This is how I see the complex world of conservation. Inside this one point of interest lays neat yet complex areas of perception which when delved into can keep you spellbound with history, science and art alike for hours on end.

On my first day as Intern, the Conservation team was invited to Portsmouth to visit the legendary and ill-fated Mary Rose. Following a two and a half hour road trip with Pieta, object conservator Alex Cantrill and previous Icon HLF, intern Rose Wachsmuth we arrived at the ship, this was a great day and allowed me to be reacquainted with the staff I will be spending my time with for the next year on an informal but professional level.

The conservation team passing the HMS Victory replica

The conservation team heading towards Mary Rose, passing the HMS Victory replica.

Drying of the Mary Rose timbers

Drying of the Mary Rose timbers.

As the new Intern, part of my body of work will be to continue on Rose Wachsmuth’s work and recommendations (read more about Rose’s internship) in the Silver stores located at the Museums Collections Centre. There is a mystery of how and why some of the objects in the silver stores are tarnishing when others are fine. I shall be testing various silver objects in various ways to see if we can get to the bottom of the mystery and help to preserve objects in the silver stores for longer. I will also have the chance to clean some of the objects of the tarnish layers.

To start building on my knowledge and experience my first project is looking at a group of buttons: 105 buttons of mainly navy descent, spanning from the 18th to the 19th century. These buttons are to be analysed, treated and need to have both pre and post conservation reports, XRF and X-Ray readings. The buttons project will run alongside other projects and will be completed by Christmas for mounting and displaying shortly after.

Some buttons from my first project.

Some buttons from my first project.

I will also work closely in the future on two projects with Applied Art curator Martin Ellis as he is completing a small gallery refit, my part of this will include conserving some fine metal jewellery that has been made in Birmingham’s Jewellery quarter and to help install and condition check some especially fine Vesta Cases.

I shall be updating you with more information and images from this, and all of my projects project during my time here at Birmingham I will be sharing more in-depth information about my various projects, samples of condition reports, information on training gained and conferences I attend.

Natasha Hall,
Icon HLF Fine Metals Intern

How to Protect your Silver

Hello all, I promised a while ago to give you some more details about materials that can be used to protect silver.

There are many products on the market, however not all are suitable for protecting our silver in the store, as we need a long-term solution and therefore a material that will last. One obvious option is to cover each individual object with a tarnish protection layer, such as a surface lacquer; however this is very time consuming and may not be suitable for contemporary pieces, as some have clear instruction by the artist and maker of how they should be kept and cleaned.

There are also M3 anti tarnish strips, they are special absorbent paper strips that absorbs sulphides and other pollutants that cause silver to tarnish. They are placed in a sealed container with an object and last for about six months, so again not really a suitable long term option. So at the moment the following three materials seem to be the most suitable for this project: Tranprufe, Charcoal Cloth and Intercept.


Tarnprufe (fig 1) is a textile that has been impregnated with a zinc salt and sodium carbonate that reacts with the hydrogen sulphide (the gas that affects silver, leading to a tarnished surface) in the air and neutralises it. Once all of the reacting molecules have been exhausted, the bag looses its protective purpose. The objects need to be fully covered by the material and some conservators have experienced a 13 year life expectancy. The only down side being there is no obvious indicator as to when the fabric is exhausted, so there is no way of telling if the bag still protects the silver, unless you sent the bags off to be tested in a laboratory but that can be quite expensive.

Tarnprufe bag

Figure 1 shopwing a Tarnprufe bag

Charcoal Cloth

Charcoal cloth (fig 2) works on a similar basis as the Tranpruf bags, but it uses activated charcoal as a mechanism, as it has a large surface area to absorb pollutants. It can be ordered in large sheets with various thicknesses and then cut into the shape that is needed.

It is not recommended to use this material in direct contact with the silver objects, so it is advisable to use a barrier layer such as acid free tissue or melinex.

Charcoal cloth and corrosion intercept

Figure 2 showing charcoal cloth at the bottom and corrosion intercept at the top

Corrosion intercept

This has highly reactive copper particles, bound into a polymer matrix (fig 2). When the copper turns black all the reactive molecules have been exhausted and it needs to be replaced. This is very useful as it enables us to see if the bag needs changing. The manufacture suggests that 1mm thickness will give about 10 years protection.

So far we have put some of the objects into already existing Tarnprufe bags and we are still in the process of deciding how to protect the remaining objects in the store, it probably will be a combination of materials stated above.

I am afraid this will be my last blog as my time at Birmingham Museums Trust has come to an end. I hope you found this blog useful and interesting.

Rosemarie Wachsmuth,
ICON HLF Intern in Preventative Conservation

X-raying an Nkisi Figure

The Collections Care and Conservation Department recently x-rayed an Nkisi figure donated to the Museum in 1935.

Nkisi figure

Nkisi figure (accession number 1935A71.1)

Often human or animal in form, these figures were used by people such as the Songye of southeastern Congo to protect villages, families or individuals from illness and witchcraft and to resolve disputes. Each figure acted as a vessel for ancestral or natural spiritual forces and their use was closely associated with the belief that the dead could influence the fortunes of the living.

Magical substances called ‘medicines’ were stored within the figures. These included clay, charcoal, seeds, animal matter, human hair and nails. Figures could also be adorned with beads, feathers, animal skins or metal nails which further enhanced their powers. The use of nails, often of European manufacture, has been linked to Christian concepts of sacrifice and martyrdom introduced by Portuguese missionaries who arrived in central Africa from the late fifteenth century onwards.

Nkisi figure being place in the x-ray machine

The use of x-ray techniques are important for conservators and curators as they can reveal features beneath the surface of an object that would otherwise remain concealed.

The x-ray of the Nkisi figure clearly shows the internal structure and reveals that in addition to a main stomach cavity, the figure has a secondary cavity (highlighted in the x-ray below) in the lower abdomen which is not externally visible. Both contain bundles of loose organic material. Further analysis is necessary to determine what this material is, but importantly the scan confirms that the figure was produced for ritual use rather than for sale / export – as became the case with many Nkisi figures produced in the 20th century.

X-ray of Nkisi figure with highlighted second cavity

X-ray of Nkisi figure

Side x-ray of Nkisi figure

For more information on x-raying objects, the Collections Care and Conservation Department are running behind the scenes tours on Saturday 28 September. Further details can be found here: http://www.bmag.org.uk/events?id=2878

Adam Jaffer,
Curator of World Cultures

ICON HLF Intern in Preventive Conservation

Hi my name is Rose I am the new, ICON intern in preventive conservation at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and I will be here for 12 months. ICON (Institute of Conservation) gives people the great opportunity to gain valuable work experience through their internship scheme by closely working together with institutions such as Birmingham Museums Trust. These internships are funded by the National Lottery Fund.

My background, I have recently been awarded with the Masters in Conservation of Historical Objects from Lincoln University and with a degree in History of Art with Museum Studies. My practical work experience within conservation and the heritage sector is as a volunteer. I feel very lucky to have been given the opportunity by ICON and Birmingham Museums Trust to work as part of a professional team to gain some much needed work experience in the field of conservation. I am particularly interested in preventive conservation and collections care, because I believe preventing objects from damage should always be the first approach when dealing with heritage objects.

Being a preventive conservation intern I am involved in a large number of projects related to collections care. This means I am dealing with objects that are on display in the galleries but also objects that are in storage. For example one of my key roles is looking after the Hanwell environmental monitoring system that records relative humidity (amount of moisture held in the air) temperature and light, as any of these factors can have long term damaging affects if not controlled. My role in relation to this is to check the incoming environmental data for any abnormalities.


Rose checking the Hanwell environmental monitoring system at BMAG.

One of the most important aspects in preventive conservation is managing the environment that surrounds the objects. The environment can be broken down into relative humidity, temperature, light and gaseous pollution. Objects can be permanently damaged when exposed to an unsuitable environment; therefore it is crucial for us to understand the environment in our galleries and storage space. In order to do this we monitor and record the environment with electronic loggers that you may have seen in the galleries. These record the environment in 15 minutes intervals and send the information down to our main computer where I check them. If the environmental data shows anything unusual we need and go and check the galleries to see what could have caused this.
Video of the Rose monitoring the relative humidity and UV light levels in the history galleries:

When objects are not on display in the gallery they need to be stored in a stable environment for their long term preservation, so a big chuck of preventive conservation deals with creating suitable storage solutions. As an intern I have been given a project to assess the silver collections storage environment. Silver is quite vulnerable to gaseous pollution as it easily tarnishes, which can be quite disfiguring. Unsuitable gaseous pollution can be given off by various things such as other objects, made of other kinds of materials, in close proximity.

To see if there are any particular areas of concern in the silver store I have started to set up an environmental monitoring system that records relative humidity and temperature, as high relative humidity in collaboration with gaseous pollution can support tarnishing.  


The button loggers that record the temperature and relative humidity in the silver stores.

In January I will also place little samples of silver, copper and lead throughout the store to see if they react to the surrounding environment, which could indicate if there is a problem of gaseous pollution.  

Video of Rose explaining the environmental monitoring of the silver collection stores:

This kind of assessment can take up to a year and will be my main, ongoing project. Please check my blogs for updates on my progress.

Rosemarie Wachsmuth,
ICON HLF Intern in Preventative Conservation

The Staffordshire Hoard Open Day, 17 November 2012

On Saturday, 17 November 2012 The Staffordshire Hoard conservation team will host a special Open Day In the Conservation Department at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

This is your chance to get behind the scenes and spend 1½ hours with hoard conservators looking at hoard objects under microscopes.

There will be a brief talk illustrating the find and contemporary and medieval metalworker Jamie Hall will demonstrate the ancient wire-making techniques used in the construction of the Hoard objects.

Hoard open day tickets are still available and you can choose to book on one of the three sessions starting at: 10:30am, 12:30pm and 2:30pm.

The price is £30 per person and you can book your tickets at BMAG’s online Box Office or ring 0121 303 1966.

Video of the Staffordshire Hoard Open Day that took place on December 3rd 2011.


You can read blogs by the conservators on their Hoard work and by Jamie Hall on Wire Making in the Hoard on the Staffordshire Hoard website

Conservation Tours

The Open Day events are very popular and if you miss the chance to attend the open day, you can book a place on one of the guided tours of the Hoard Gallery and Conservation Studio, taking place on:

Wednesday 7 November and Wednesday 5 December.
Price: £20 per person
Buy tickets online or ring 0121 303 1966.

Funds raised from these events go directly toward conservation of the Staffordshire Hoard. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to discuss and observe objects up close and learn about ancient wire making techniques, while supporting the hoard conservation programme.

We hope to see you there!

The Hoard Conservation Team
Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery