Young curators’ club – week 2: Preserving time

Written by Shosha Adie and James O’Donoghue, photos by James O’Donoghue

IMG_1765The second week of the Young Curator’s programme saw our students learn about the importance and methods of conserving museum collections. Joining Delphine Mercier this week was Susi Pancaldo-Senior Conservator of UCL’s three public museums. With expert knowledge on how to “prolong the life of objects in a museum”, Susi guided the students through methods of preventative care. The aim of preventative care is to avoid any damage that may occur to an object in a collection; think of it like a vaccine, it is not a treatment of damage, but to stop it happening in the first place.

What was revealed to the students was how the things that they interact with everyday such as light, temperature and humidity—which they considered innocent—can have destructive effects on an object. Susi and Delphine showed the students lots of tools that are used to monitor the conditions in an ethnography lab, but the piece-de-resistance for the students was a small sticky sheet covered in dead insects, which lies near the entrance to the collection. Delphine explained that this sheet isn’t used to catch incoming insects (or an unfortunate mouse in one instance), but to monitor the insects which are present. If there is an indication of certain insects, such as some moths which love to snack on natural fibres, measures can be put into place to protect the vulnerable objects.
Everyone was then moved to the central workstation, upon which lied an assortment of objects—ranging in colour, age and materials. The students were encouraged to identify the materials of the objects, which led to some intuitive speculations, including the identification of an alligator-leather shield, and a vibrant figure made of soda-cans.

Last week the students were asked to bring in an object from home which they cared about. This week they would be creating a box for these objects to be housed in, much like Delphine would do for any new object in the collection. So, the students took pen and Stanley-knife *carefully* to plastic and crafted out their own boxes to protect their sentimental items from the dangers of the outside world, allowing them to conserve their object for years to come.