Review of Conservation Activities in Ireland Conference 12th November 2008 at the National Gallery of Ireland
This one day conference was generously hosted by the National Gallery. It was the first event organized by IPCRA as part of Science Week and it is hoped that it will become an annual event. Twelve IPCRA members presented their work. The day was formally opened by Raymond Keaveney, Director of the National Gallery. The first speaker was Rachael Smith, a paper Conservator at the Chester Beatty Library. Her beautifully illustrated talk focused on the conservation of the Library’s important 16th century Indian miniature collection produced for the Mughal Emperors. She gave an overview of her research into the techniques used in their production and the use of gold in the paintings. She then discussed the development of a treatment strategy for the collection, including consolidation of flaking pigment using a nebuliser.
The next talk was presented by David Wilcoxson, who restores antique tile floors as part of his work as a tiler and mosaicist. His talk described the rehabilitation of a badly-worn floor of Victorian geometric and encaustic tiles. He highlighted the technical and aesthetic issues, as well as some of the challenges of managing the project and sourcing supplies. Ele von Monschaw, Easel Paintings Conservator at the National Gallery of Ireland and Chair of IPCRA gave a paper entitled Seeing Red. During the conservation of a number of paintings from the NGI collection Ele had noted that some red tones had proved to be very problematic. Browning, cracking and fading of red pigments span different periods from the 1500’s to the Victorian age. These inherent problems have caused deterioration of the paint layers and the colour that was originally used to highlight and embellish. In her talk Ele explained the reason for some of these problems and how to identify them.
Susan Bioletti’s talk on the Preservation of the Old Library at Trinity College, Dublin. The Long Room Library is one of the most famous interiors in the country and at 65 metres long it is the largest single chamber library of this type in Europe. The shelves in the Long Room and Gallery hold over 250,000 early printed books, which date from the end of the fourteenth century to the nineteenth century. Susan discussed the inherent difficulties of caring for such a large and important collection in the centre of Dublin. She demonstrated a new three dimensional computer model of the library which can be used to locate environmental monitoring equipment, sources for the entrance of pollutants into the library and even individual books.
The next talk was presented by Simon Brown on behalf of his colleague, Sven Habermann, both of whom are Furniture Conservators. The talk concerned the Conservation of the “Cruiskeen”. This important historical four-oar rowing boat was owned and rowed by Maurice Davin, the first president of the GAA, and was discovered in a shed in Carrick-on-Suir. Conservation Letterfrack was commissioned to conserve and prepare the rowing skiff for exhibition. The presentation explained the not inconsiderable logistic challenges of moving an extremely fragile forty foot boat from the eaves of a barn before going on to discuss pest eradication and other conservation treatments.
Pat Mc Bride provided ‘An insight into the practice of an Exhibitions Conservator’. Using his experience working on a Hogarth exhibition loaned from the Irish Museum of Modern Art, to a gallery in Spain. Pat illustrated many aspects of loaning material from a conservation standpoint and showed how Conservators who work with exhibitions on a regular basis develop a unique insight into this aspect of museum practice.
The last session before lunch was an interesting look at the conservation of plaster casts in Irish collections by Jason Ellis, Sculptor and previously sculpture conservator in private practice. Jason spoke about the 19th century trend for many museums to display plaster casts taken from Greek & Roman originals, which allowed the widespread study and appreciation of the work of Classical sculptors. Casts were also frequently used in art schools for life drawing and modelling. However, this fragile material suffered greatly when these collections fell into disuse. Neglect, damp and physical damage have caused the loss of many museum collections, but those that still exist are starting to be cared for and conserved. Jason’s talk focused on six different collections in Ireland, explaining the problems suffered by individual casts and showing the repair techniques used.
The afternoon session was opened by Laura Caradonna, Book Conservator at Trinity College Dublin. She described her work conserving seven volumes of the 1641 Depositions, as part of a joint research project between Trinity College Dublin and the Universities of Aberdeen and Cambridge. The depositions comprise 3,400 statements and associated materials in which mainly Protestant men and women of all classes told of their experiences following the outbreak of the rebellion by the Catholic Irish in October 1641. Laura described her methodology, based on the guidelines on iron gall ink corrosion given by the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage, and the treatment she is carrying out. This included the use of calcium phytate in cases of severe iron gall ink corrosion.
The next speakers were from The Galway Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT), which offers a Bachelor of Science degree programme in Furniture Conservation and an Honours degree programme in Conservation of Wooden Objects at its Letterfrack campus. Angelika Rauch, Lecturer in Furniture Conservation, highlighted some achievements of the course, and explained the reasoning behind its structure, with particular reference to ECCO guidelines on conservation training. A collective on-going project to conserve a large working wooden lathe was explained by student Kataharina Meissner.
Ciara Brennan, a paintings conservator in private practice, provided an insight into the conservation treatment of paintings, particularly for large scale paintings which involve additional project organisation challenges. Ciara explained that when decay and physical impact is threatening the structural support, this becomes the highest priority for intervention in order to safeguard the painted matter. She then described the choice of alternative methods for the structural repair of canvas supports.
Kristine Rose, book Conservator at The Chester Beatty Library focused her talk on the treatment of the Chester Beatty library’s Turkish collection and the associated problems unique to Islamic binding structures. She illustrated the difference between European and Islamic book structures and described how she incorporates techniques from both traditions, to provide ethical and sympathetic conservation solutions. She particularly highlighted the adaptation of an Andalucian sewing technique to repair damaged items from the Turkish collection.
The final talk of the day was delivered by Paul Mullarkey, Archaeological Conservator at the National Museum of Ireland, who explained the circumstances of a find in 1986 of the remains of a medieval book shrine in Lough Kinale, County Longford. He gave a brief description of the shrine, which was fabricated from oak boards onto which were nailed tinned-bronze sheets and highly decorated mounts of gilt-bronze, embellished with amber studs. Paul then explained his on-going conservation of the shrine. Due to the anaerobic conditions on the bed of the lake, most of the components were in an excellent state of preservation. However as the metal and organic components could not be treated separately, new conservation methods and techniques had to be devised.
The conference was well attended by over 90 members and the general public. It was a great opportunity to meet up with colleagues and friends and to hear about recent conservation projects in Ireland. The talks led to very lively discussions during the coffee breaks. Hopefully it will become an annual event.