Tag Archive | ICON

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

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