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Winton one year on

The early hours of Saturday July 18th will mark the first anniversary of the fire which claimed the Waltzing Matilda Centre in Winton.  It has been a long hard road for the volunteers of the Winton District Historical Society so it is timely to reflect on the enormous amount they have achieved since the devastating impact of the fire. Previous blogs have detailed the remarkable results achieved by conservators on a number of significant objects (Winton Fire response – Waltzing Matilda Centre, Winton Fire Response – the next phase of recovery, Phoenix objects from Winton, The conservation of a fire damaged print), but the work hasn’t stopped there.

Since March 21st the volunteers have opened those areas of the complex unaffected by the fire on a daily basis, and have welcomed over 1800 visitors. Although displays in the main Waltzing Matilda Centre were impacted by the fire, there’s still plenty for visitors to see in the museum complex with a fascinating range of cultural and natural history objects from the region on display.  Visitors can also see objects salvaged from the fire and the ongoing work of volunteers in conserving them.

The Waltzing Matilda Story, which previously formed part of the Billabong Show in the Centre, was saved from the fire and can be viewed in the Sarah Riley Theatre, which has also played host to a variety of community activities since the fire, including Waltzing Matilda Day, a famil tour and smoko for interstate journalists, and a free talk on overshots in Western Queensland by historian Sandi Robb.

In amongst all this activity, the volunteers have continued to work steadily through the objects still requiring attention.  Locals and visitors have also donated their time and expertise in the ongoing cleaning process, and the Winton Creative Arts Group have achieved stunning results with some of the collection, reading room, and storage furniture, with 11 large items and 12 chairs restored.

With all these achievements it’s easy for outsiders to forget the physical and emotional toll a disaster such as this takes on those who face loss and damage of their treasured collections.  But the images below demonstrate just what a huge accomplishment the successes of the past year have been.  The Winton District Historical Society are collaborating with Council, architects and the curatorial team on plans for the new Waltzing Matilda Centre, incorporating the museum precinct, and we can’t wait to see what they’ll do next.

Follow the new Centre’s progress at Waltzing Matilda Centre

 

The conservation of a fire damaged print

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Fire damaged print of ‘Menin Gate before midnight’ before conservation treatment.

This blog will outline the conservation treatment I carried out on a print that was damaged in the fire last June at the Waltzing Matilda Centre in Winton. The print was on loan to the Winton and District Historical Society for their ANZAC exhibition “More than a name” when the fire struck. The print suffered water damage, weakening of the paper support and isolated areas of charring.

The print is a duplicate of the iconic oil painting “Menin Gate at Midnight” painted in 1927 by Australian artist William Longstaff. The painting depicts the shadowy ghosts of fallen soldiers marching past the Menin Gate Memorial in Belgium. The image gained iconic status in Australia as the nation mourned the thousands lost in World War One.

The treatment process took approximately 4 days to complete and involved the following steps:

Step 1: Surface cleaned front of the print

Detail od=f charred ares

Charred areas of print surface before treatment.

  • The surface of the print was cleaned using a soft brush and air compression avoiding the charred areas.

Step 2: Consolidating the charred areas – part 1:

  • The weak charred areas on the front of the print (see right) were consolidated with a thin Japanese Tissue (Bib Tengujo) and wheat starch paste to prevent any loss of the damaged paper. The tissue was then carefully toned using pastel pencils to reduce the visible impact of the charred areas.

Step 3: Removal of the window mats:

Water damaged window mat and strawboard backing board.

Detail of the mat board and swollen strawboard before removal from the print. Water damaged window mat and strawboard backing board.

  • The window mat was mechanically removed.
  • Under the  mat board was a thick layer of adhesive tape residue which had to be removed from the surface of the print (see image below right). As the paper support was very porous, it was necessary to use methyl cellulose poultices to soften the adhesive as direct applications of water would have caused staining of the paper.

Step 4: Backing board removal:

  • Once the window mat was removed the acidic and charred backing boards, which the print had been directly adhered to, were removed.

    Lydia Egunnike removing adhesive residue from the front of the print.

    Lydia Egunnike removing adhesive residue from the front of the print.

  • The first layer of mat board was very thick strawboard which had swollen significantly on exposure to water (see image above right). Most mat boards are a composite of a number of layers of paper glued together which can be carefully removed layer by layer. Straw board is made by compressing straw pulp in one thick layer. If the board gets wet, the pulp forms dense clumps of fibres which make removal very difficult and time consuming. The removal of the board had to be carried out without water and took more than two days.
  • Under the strawboard was another thinner mat board layer that was also removed. The bulk of the mat board layers were removed dry. Fortunately the second backing board was layered in structure making removal much easier than the strawboard layer.

Step 5: Consolidation of charred areas – part 2:

  • The charred areas of the print were consolidated on the back of the print using Lens Tissue and wheat starch paste.
  •  Areas where the paper was weak but not charred were also consolidated.

Step 6: Reduction of water staining:

  • The water solubility of the printing inks was tested and found to be stable so the print was blotter washed in deionised water to reduce the heavy staining. Blotter washing uses capillary action to gently remove any soluble staining and discolouration without the need to apply water directly to the paper surface. The treatment was successful and reduced the staining making it much less visibly intrusive to the image.
Water stained print damaged in Winton fire.

Detail of print before treatment.

Detail of print after treatment showing reduction in staining and repair of charred area.

Detail of print after treatment showing reduction in staining and repair of charred area.

Step 7: Cleaning the brass plaque:

  • The brass plaque was cleaned by firstly brushing off any loose dirt and then very gently cleaned with a jewellers’cleaning cloth. This did not change the appearance of the plaque but further treatment was not carried out to prevent damaging the surface.

Step 6: Rematting and reframing:

  • A new window mat package was created matching the original mat configuration including the brass plaque. Canson 100% cotton cellulose mat board was used for the mat and backing board.
  • The print was then placed in its original cleaned frame. New glazing and an archival quality backing board were used to seal the frame package.
Helen and Bruce Collins of Winton and District Historical Society receiving the conserved print on behalf of the lender.

Helen and Bruce Collins of Winton and District Historical Society receiving the conserved print on behalf of the lender.

Langenbaker House Conservation Clean

Before the serious heat of summer struck, MDO Josh Tarrant and I travelled to Ilfracombe to undertake a conservation clean of the objects and interior of Langenbaker House.    I have previously blogged about the history of this remarkable piece of Western Queensland history – moved to Ilfracombe from Barcaldine in about 1899, it was occupied continuously by the Langenbaker family for over 90 years.  On the death of the last family member, the house and all its contents were acquired by the local council in order to preserve this increasingly vanishing part of Queensland’s heritage.

Situated in dry, dusty, drought-stricken Ilfracombe, keeping the house and contents clean will always be a challenge.  The design of the house – timber frame with corrugated iron walls – would have allowed plenty of breeze to flow through, keeping the Langenbakers cool, but has also let in dust and pests now the house is unoccupied and not receiving the regular housekeeping attention of Mrs Langenbaker.  The dust had built up over some years, so it was time to arm ourselves with vacuum cleaners and set to work.

Not only does dirt and dust detract from the appearance of objects, it also creates food and habitation for pests, which may further damage collection items.  As the aim of our conservation clean was to remove these harmful agents in order to safeguard the items for the future, normal household cleaners were off the agenda, as these are often just as harmful to objects as the dirt and pests themselves.  Our primary cleaning tools were vacuums with adjustable suction and micro-attachments, soft brushes, with the occasional sparing use of distilled water and cotton buds.  But even these simple tools produced dramatic results.  Colours became more vibrant (or even visible!), and the house took on a more lived-in feel.  Mrs Langenbaker had a reputation as a meticulous housekeeper, so the appearance of the house is now more in keeping with how it was maintained during her lifetime.

Annual deep cleans are an excellent way of extending your weekly or monthly collection cleaning schedule, getting in to those hard to reach places, and giving your collection a good health check.  But be prepared to put in some time – our conservation clean of Langenbaker House took five full days!  Click on the images below to see some of the results.

Edmund Jarvis and his amazing cane beetle displays

Beetle Borers of Cane,  June 1924. Meringa Station.

Beetle Borers of Cane, June 1924. Meringa Station.

It’s not often I get called to look at natural history or entomological collections. And, when I was contacted by staff at Meringa Research Station near Gordonvale to come and assess the condition of some old display cases, I must confess to being a little skeptical. Imagine my surprise, then, when a little bit of research into their creator, Dr Edmund Jarvis, revealed that these cases were going to contain more than your average cane beetle displays.

Dr Jarvis was an entomologist from the early 20th century. He ended his career as the Chief Entomologist to Queensland’s Bureau of Sugar Experiment Station, and specialised in cane beetle research. Prior to this, however, he had a museological career. After moving from Devon, England to Australia, his first job was a Acting Assistant Entomologist, National Museum, Melbourne in 1903 (now, Museum Victoria). In addition to his scientific training, he was well known for his skills in line drawings and water colours.

On site, it was immediately clear that the displays had been arranged by someone with a museological eye. Seven timber framed cases, which date between 1922-1932, had been ‘curated’ to ensure that information is conveyed in an educational manner. They contain a mixture of specimens, line drawings, photographs and labels – all laid out to make the subject matter as accessible as possible. The cases illustrate the research undertaken into pests impacting the sugar industry during the 1920s by the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations.

Greyback cane beetle, May 1922.

Greyback cane beetle, May 1922.         Meringa Station

Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations were, established under The Sugar Experiment Stations Act of 1900 and were initially administered by Queensland’s Department of Agriculture. Employees undertook research to assist growers and millers improve the breeding, planting, growing, harvesting and milling of sugar cane. The focus on the cane beetle, and other cane related pests, demonstrates the importance of the research stations, the work they were conducting, and of the value placed upon the cane industry in Queensland in general.

In valuing these cases, I have come to think of them as more than just the work of a scientist, but as the work of a fellow museum worker with a passion for conveying information to different audiences. I am hoping to secure funds to assist with the conservation of the cases, and a way to interpret them further – in consultation with staff at Meringa.

Camouflaged Socks

Museum Development Officer Ewen McPhee and Queensland Museum Conservator Sue Valis recently made an interesting discovery when working on the First World War bound socks held in the Zara Clark Museum in Charters Towers.

Ewen and Sue had prioritised the rehousing of the socks, knitting needles, calico bag and letter when working as part of a Queensland Anzac Centenary grants program exhibition at the Museum.  When they were  approached by National Trust Queensland to assist with upcoming media, showcasing further research into the First World War Soldier who was to receive the socks, it was a good opportunity to remove them from their original frame and condition report them.

Socks, knitting needles, balls of wool, calico bag and letter in original frame

The media and personal interest generated by the socks also means that they will be viewed, photographed, filmed and documented by various media and family members in the coming months. Therefore once the socks were removed it was decided to temporarily rehouse them in archival storage materials, allowing for best practice handling, storage and ease of access.

The initial opening of the frame revealed some evidence of insect activity although this did not appear to be currently active. Dust had also penetrated the display case and removing the items showed presence of black mould at the base of the frame. The socks and the balls of wool were brush vacuumed to remove dust and the underside of the calico bag, which was most affected by the black mould, was carefully brush-vacuumed under a fume hood. Luckily the mould was dry and was successfully removed.

An interesting discovery was made when the socks were removed from the frame. What we first thought were khaki green socks, turned out to be in fact made of brown wool. As seen in the images, all the exposed areas of the wool had faded and turned a khaki green colour, while the unexposed parts of the wool were the original brown colour. This fading was due to the combination of exposure to light levels, in particular the ultra-violet component, as well as the wool being dyed by natural, as opposed to synthetic dyes. This is most evident in the images below, particularly on the ball of wool on the top left hand side.

 

note the colour change from brown to green

Note the colour change from brown to green

 

Detail of the ball of wool showing most fading.

Detail of the ball of wool showing most fading

Even though the socks were framed and housed inside the museum, in a relatively dark area, it is a good example of damage caused by exposure to high light levels.  It also shows how care should be taken when describing objects for research, collection databases and for the media.

Conserving Mareeba’s “Portraits of the North”

Helen Kindt and David Foster with the first box of rehoused glass negatives from the Portraits of the North project.

Helen Kindt and David Foster with the first box of rehoused glass negatives from the “Portraits of the North” project.

Last week, volunteers at Mareeba Historical Society worked with Queensland Museum Conservator, Sue Valis, and FNQ MDO, Jo Wills, to conserve their First World War related collections in a project called “Portraits of the North”. Funded through the Queensland Anzac Centenary grants program administered by the Anzac Centenary Coordination Unit, Department of the Premier and Cabinet, the project was designed by the MDO program and the Historical Society to preserve, protect, present and promote the legacy and stories surrounding their significant collection of glass plate soldier portraits and associated First World War artefacts.

And, what a collection it is. The glass negative portraits illustrate the youth and vigour of enlistees before they left to serve their county overseas. Postcards and letters home reveal the personal impact of service, and the ways in which soldiers and nurses communicated with loved ones at home. Other glass negatives document scenes from front, enlistment posters, musical scores and stories from war correspondents. Additional items include a dressing bandage, a soldier’s belt, a Dead Man’s Penny, war medals, silk cigarette cards with military insignia, and photographic albums.

 

Boxes of glass negatives that needed to be rehoused.

Boxes of glass negatives that needed to be rehoused.

Rehousing the glass negatives - acid free card pockets and foam-lined archival boxes.

Rehousing the glass negatives – acid free card pockets and foam-lined archival boxes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After an initial assessment of the conservation needs and priorities, Sue and Jo worked with Helen and David to protect and rehouse the glass negatives. A project that the Society has wanted to tackle for over 15 years, the process of making individual pockets for different sized glass negatives and lining storage boxes with protective foam was time consuming and repetitive. However, now that the work is finished, the collection will be better protected into the future.

Sue also undertook specialist conservation and rehousing of some of the Society’s First World War artefacts. Some of the items, including the silk cigarette cards, the soldier’s belt and the medals have had been conserved in such as way as to make them easy to display in the Society’s four up coming exhibitions in 2015.

Rehoused silk cigarette cards - protected storage and display solutions.

Rehoused silk cigarette cards – protected storage and display solutions.

Conserved artefacts stored in archival box.

Conserved artefacts stored in archival box.

Sue shows Helen an archival album for cards and photographs.

Sue shows Helen an archival album for cards and photographs.

Having two Queensland Museum staff work intensively onsite on specific projects has a lot of benefits for communities and volunteers. It provides them with access and exposure to a range of conservation skills and training, and to discuss future projects with the MDO. But communities are not the only beneficiaries. Through these types of project QM staff can extend their skills and understanding of materials, objects and historical research, thanks to the expertise and generosity of volunteers. Whilst working on the conservation project, Jo also worked with Helen, David and Carol to identify appropriate collections for use in another Anzac project being undertaken on the Atherton Tablelands, as well as discuss a range of other projects and issues that the Society aspires to achieve.

“Portraits of the North” was made possible thanks to a grant by Queensland Anzac Centenary Grants Program, through the Anzac Centenary Coordination Unity, Department of Premier and Cabinet.

A Golden Opportunity for Gold Coast Community Museums

Recently, members of the Gold Coast Heritage Voice network were treated to a behind the Scenes tour of both the John Oxley Library, and the Southbank campus of the Queensland Museum.

Heritage Voice members and Rachel Spano at the SLQ Conservation Lab

Heritage Voice members and Rachel Spano at the SLQ Conservation Lab

Brian Randall , Chrissi Theodosiou and the staff at SLQ were generous enough to retrieve a range of books, posters, maps, photographs, and ephemera all specifically related to the Gold Coast region from their collection stores for the group to view.

Later, Reuben Hillier showed the group through the library repository where the sheer magnitude of the collection and the challenges of providing for an ever-growing collection became apparent. The careful storage and order is undoubtedly a key factor in the JOL being able to respond so quickly to collection viewing requests- largely within the hour!

Rachel Spano greeted us at the SLQ conservation lab, where a number of specialist conservators were at work on fragile paper based objects. The lab has a range of specialist equipment at hand, including some fanciful looking gilding and embossing tools. There was an interesting conversation about the principles behind the appropriate choice of conservation or restoration in a library context, which provided some interesting perspectives compared to a museum standpoint.

At the Museum, Nicholas Hadnutt treated the group to an in-depth examination of the Social History collection stores and the treasures that it holds. While some elements of the collection elicited nostalgic reactions and others confirmed a long history of collecting, all asserted the important role of Queensland Museum as responsible custodians of significant Queensland histories.

Sue from the Kirra Hill Heritage Group get the all clear!

Sue from the Kirra Hill Heritage Group gets the all clear from conservation!

A visit to the conservation lab provided an eye-opening experience, with the opportunity to see the painstakingly precise nature and results of conservation work. Textiles Conservator Dr Michael Marendy shared some simple, yet effective techniques for preserving costumes, while Jenny Blakely and Caroline O’Rorke showcased some current ANZAC related objects being treated.

The visit was facilitated by the Museum Development Office of South East Queensland, Dr Kevin Rains and Jane Austen at Gold Coast City Council, Nick Hadnutt and Jenny Blakely at Queensland Museum Southbank, and Anne Scheu at the State Library of Queensland. A big Thank you to all!

Flood relief effort wins award

The MDO program recently received a Gallery and Museum Achievement Award (gamaa), presented by Museum and Gallery Services Queensland, for their flood relief work.  The award was given in the category of Organisations: staff of 4 or more.  Please see below  for the project summary and the judges citation.

PROJECT SUMMARY:

In early 2013, floods devastated regions of Queensland, in particular around the Wide Bay/Burnett area. The MDOs converged to provide a professional, first-response disaster service to museum communities in Gayndah and Bundaberg. The MDOs worked with volunteers and staff at each location to ensure that any major decisions regarding the damaged collections were made jointly. Conscious not to use emergency resources or facilities needed for those who had endured significant loss, the MDOs brought mobile accommodation to deliver conservation and museum disaster procedures on-site, which allowed for limited but practical training to be undertaken. Being on-site also provided professional and emotional support through reassurance that community collections could be rebuilt, and that response efforts were supported. The MDO Blog played an important role in the dispersal of information and informed peers and the general public of the work being undertaken. The MDOs developed a professional relationship with these organisations based on mutual respect and understanding. They returned to Gayndah in October where they assisted in the conservation of the paper and photographic material that had been frozen immediately after the flood event. The MDOs were able to train the volunteers, thus allowing them to complete the process of first response action right through to reinstating the collection and its ongoing management.

mdo gamaa award
MDO gamaa award

MDO gamaa award

Image: Helen Pithie, Deborah Bailey, Josh Tarrant, Lydia Egunnike, Ewen McPhee and Dr Joanna Wills with Hon Ian Walker, Minister for Science, Information Technology, Innovation and the Arts. Photographer: Chelsea Sipthorp

JUDGES’ CITATION:

In choosing the 2013 Queensland Museum MDO Flood Response as the Winner in this category, the judges acknowledged the Museum Development Officer Program’s outstanding leadership in harnessing their training and knowledge to provide front-line support to communities in recovery. Their demonstration of best practice, and the creation of a learning environment for all involved (including themselves), resulted in a streamlined approach to the care and safeguard of collections at risk. The judges also recognised not only the professional support provided to these organisations by the MDOs, but also the personal commitment – living in campervans and working side by side with affected volunteers and staff in the midst of mud, water, mould and debris.

For a full list of other gamaa winners please see the Museum and Gallery Services Queensland website here.

Gayndah Flood Recovery Phase Two

In February 2013 communities in the Bundaberg, Burnett and Frazer Coast region were inundated by flood waters in the wake of ex tropical cyclone Oswald. In an initial disaster response, Queensland Museum’s MDO team worked with museums at Gayndah, Bundaberg and Maryborough to salvage collection material, and provided assistance to museums faced with the massive clean up task.

Eight months later, five MDOs, and Queensland Museum’s Director of Regional Services, Deborah Bailey, returned to Gayndah to help volunteers deal with the next phase of disaster recovery. The three day trip was also a chance for the MDOs and volunteers to get some invaluable applied onsite training.

Earlier posts on the blog outline the process for freezing paper-based materials.  Frozen material can be dealt with later, at a more convenient time for people whose lives have been disrupted by a disaster.

Packages of frozen documents defrosting from Gayndah and District Historical Society. (Photo: Lydia Egunnike).

Packages of frozen documents defrosting from Gayndah and District Historical Society. (Photo: Lydia Egunnike).

To prepare for the unfreezing process, Gayndah and District Historical Society volunteers removed the wrapped packages from the freezer two days before the MDOs arrived. They wrapped them in towels and placed them in an undercover, shaded area to slowly defrost.

Lydia Egunnike, MDO for the southern inland region, organised all materials needed for the workshop, including vast quantities of paper towels, plastic spatulas and clean water. John Wein, the Secretary of the Historical Society, ensured there were plenty of fly screens on hand that could be used for drying racks, bricks to make tables higher and prevent sore backs, and food for a hungry work crew!

Activities on the first morning involved setting up works stations and drying stations both inside and on the museum verandah.

Deborah Bailey and Helen Pithe ensure fly screens used for drying stations are free of dirt. (Photo: Ewen McPhee).

Deborah Bailey and Helen Pithie ensure fly screens used for drying stations are free of dirt. (Photo: Ewen McPhee).

Jo Wills and Ewen McPhee cover fly screens with absorbent material to make a drying station. (Photo: Helen Pithe).

Jo Wills and Ewen McPhee cover fly screens with absorbent material to make a drying station. (Photo: Helen Pithie).

Lydia then provided preliminary training on how to carefully separate documents, what to do if they were stuck together, how to clean away residual dirt and mud, and how to start drying them properly.

Lydia Egunnike demonstrates how to separate and clean defrosted items rescued from the floods. (Photos: Helen Pithe).

Lydia Egunnike demonstrates how to separate and clean defrosted items rescued from the floods. (Photos: Helen Pithie).

Each MDO and the six volunteers (John Wein, Mary McIntyre, Brian and Sue Hutchinson, Jamie Wilson and Judith Woodman-Heuth) then set about working through the bundle of frozen documents. With John providing advice about which documents or materials they could discard, much time was saved. John also started the process of scanning dried documents that contained important information but which were not going to be kept due to damage, mould and/or general condition.

Drying booklets, folders and archives was a primary goal. Items were interleaved with paper toweling, often two or three times over the course of the site visit. Some material was stuck together so tightly it needed to be re-submerged in clean water or re-wet and gently prised apart using finer, more professional conservation tools.

Josh Tarrant separating the pages of a manual. (Photo: Helen Pithe).

Josh Tarrant separating the pages of a manual. (Photo: Helen Pithie).

Helen Pithe at work table. (Photo: Ewen McPhee).

Helen Pithe at work table. (Photo: Ewen McPhee).

Interleaving a ledger with paper towels to help the drying process. (Photo: Helen Pithe).

Interleaving a ledger with paper towels to help the drying process. (Photo: Helen Pithie).

At the end of the three days, all frozen items had been assessed with the drying process underway. This was possible because of the large number of volunteers and MDOs available, but also due to the organisation and planning that had gone into preparing for the activity.

Many thanks again to the Historical Society at Gayndah volunteers for making the MDO team feel welcome and keeping us well fed.

Clothes Tell Stories: An online costume workbook

Do you have a question about clothing and costumes in your collection? Should they be hung, rolled or laid flat? How should they be displayed in exhibitions? And how can we best use them to tell stories and explore the myriad of different cultural and social expressions that they represent?  If you’ve ever asked any of these questions about clothing and costumes, then the new “Clothes Tell Stories Online Costume Workbook” is a perfect resource for you and your collection.

Costume Workbook1

The workbook was launched recently at the International Council of Museum’s Triennial General Conference in Rio de Janeiro, August 11-18 by the ICOM Costume Committee (which operates a separate web page with useful resources). By celebrating the genre of clothing and costume within the museum sector, the workbook has made information about costume and clothing care, display and interpretation more accessible. In it you will find advice from international organisations and specialists about storage and conservation, collection policies and procedures, mannequins and reconstructions, and interpretative techniques.