The work of conservators is often carried out behind closed doors, so the public rarely see an object’s full transformation. This is gradually being altered as conservation is presented to museum audiences.
On Saturday the 23rd of April the conservation department of the National Museum of Wales presented their work in the museum’s foyer. The exhibits included preventative, archaeological, textile and painting conservation. Some were interactive, such as identifying objects from their x-ray images and looking at fibres and pigments through the microscope. These kinds of activities relate directly to the work we do. A few objects were also on display, such as the fantastic arm chair cover. However, the displays were largely dominated by microscope and SEM photos which often needed explaining
The enthusiasm, welcoming and knowledgeable nature of the staff really carried the open day. With them I discussed identifying pigments, ethics, and mineralised organics. I also saw them interact with the visitors; helping to explore the sometimes confusing analysis and manufacturing techniques on display.
The National Museum of Wales is not the only institution exploring these avenues. As part of the Death on the Nile: Discovering the Afterlife of Ancient Egypt exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, a live conservator was always present. Although, they got little done, it gave the audience a wonderful opportunity to the conservator about what they were doing and why.
Saturday was a success, highlighting the public’s interest in the work we do. The blend of science and history that captured our imaginations also rings true with them. Incorporating the work we do on a small scale in exhibitions and permanent collections could help demonstrate what we do and what we find.
It is important that conservators get to stand on the museum’s stage; with the curators, experts, and artists. I hope to attend many events like this in the future!