Jo Brocklehurst: Nobodies and Somebodies

Earlier this year we worked on an exciting project for the House of Illustration, conserving and mounting pieces for their incredible retrospective of Jo Brocklehurst’s work: Nobodies and Somebodies.

Some of the pieces discovered and hung in the exhibition hadn’t been seen for many years and had been stored in a loft space. They had a variety of conservation issues, though creasing, edge tears and surface dirt were the main issues tackled.

Kay assessing one of the illustrations

Kay assessing one of the illustrations

Surface cleaning
Most of the works had been stored individually in plastic sleeves, all though these coverings may have protected them from some forms of damage they had, in the case of the pastel works, also rubbed the surface of the artworks and created a lot of loose pigment that was dispersed across the surface of the artworks and the plastic sleeves themselves.

Plastic sleeve and surface dirt on the artwork

Plastic sleeve and surface dirt on the artwork

Once removed from their sleeves we brushed the blank areas of the paper with a soft brush to remove loose dislodged pigment particles. We then softly went over these areas with smoke sponge to lift off any other loose dust and dirt, which was more heavily ingrained on areas not covered by the protective sleeves and at the open edges. On a couple of the pieces there were several dark drag marks, this ingrained dirt was lifted using grated eraser pieces.

Surface cleaning with smoke sponge

Erica surface cleaning with smoke sponge

Adhesive removal
Some of the pieces had yellowed adhesive tape attached to the edges of the works, some presumably left over from when the pieces had been displayed in the past. Although the tape was evidence of the way in which the pieces had been displayed in the past it was decided with the curator that on balance we should remove the already very degraded tape. The tape was removed using a heat iron and the residual yellowed adhesive was then lifted off with crepe rubbers.

Heat iron being used to remove the aged tape

Heat iron being used to remove the aged tape

Before, during and after the removal of residual adhesive using crepe rubber

Before, during and after the removal of residual adhesive using crepe rubber

 

Creases and tears
Most of the pieces had creasing and folds, most heavily around the corners. Some had surface cockling too which may, perhaps, have been caused by damp conditions in the loft they were stored. Due to time and equipment limitations we concentrated our efforts on reducing the folds and creases around the edges of the pieces and away from the pastel markings themselves as we wouldn’t want to disturb the artists marks.

Edge tear

Edge tear

Most of the edge tears were less than 10mm long, but to stop them getting any bigger they were pressed and the fibres secured back together using wheat starch adhesive. Larger tears were also supported on the verso using Japanese tissue. There was a large gouged hole in the centre of one of the largest pieces, luckily after humidification and flattening, the gouged paper refilled the hole and was secured in place with a Japanese tissue backing.

Gouged area before and after humidification and flattening

Gouged area before and after humidification and flattening

Mounting

In order to make some of the artworks appear to float over a metallic backdrop we float mounted the works using several Japanese tissue tabs secured with wheat starch paste to archival boards that were slightly smaller than the artworks themselves. Magnets were then placed between the artworks and the backing board to hold the pieces in place against the metal sheeting with displaying the pieces to great effect.

 

(c) Paul Grover

Magnetically mounted artworks. Image (c) Paul Grover

show-11

(c) Paul Grover

 

 

The exhibition is open for just a couple more weeks, until 14th May, in the Kings Cross regeneration area of London, make sure you get down to the House of Illustration and take a look!

show-30

Some of the artworks we conserved now on display . Image (c) Paul Grover

 

 

No comments
Erica ReadJo Brocklehurst: Nobodies and Somebodies
read more

Exhibition- Memorial. A Tribute to Taxidermy

Last week we were invited in to see Jazmine Miles-Long’s new exhibition Memorial. A Tribute to Taxidermy at the Horniman Museum. Her work exhibited is truly mesmerising. Taking inspiration from seldom seen specimens of taxidermy from within the museum’s collections, her pieces, displayed side by side with their muse, help to highlight the artistry and elegance of the mounted skins while demystifying the work of the taxidermist making it an engaging, informative and beautiful exhibition – Make sure you go and see it! – on till 1st May 2017

img_20161114_145229

A rabbit surrounded by delicate porcelain foliage

 

No comments
Erica ReadExhibition- Memorial. A Tribute to Taxidermy
read more

Colour and Vision

Over five months Nikki, Kay and Erica documented and conserved hundreds of individual specimens for the Natural History Museum’s current exhibition, Colour and Vision. From the world’s smallest fly (that we had to assess under a microscope) to a huge taxidermy giraffe in need of extensive remedial conservation.

candv

Coverage in the Independent, indian hornbill eyelash replication, displays

 

We worked together on a wide range of natural history specimens including fossils, plants, insects, mammals, fish, reptiles, birds, spirit collections and much, much more. A specimen rich exhibition that is a feast for the eyes, now with less than a month left to run, make sure you pop in and take a look!

No comments
Erica ReadColour and Vision
read more

What is Inside Taxidermy?

We are often asked this question and the answer is that historically, there are many, many methods for treating the skins and for building the sculpted forms inside them. More often than not however, we find, the core structure and pose to be held with the use of metal wires (e.g. threaded though next to the bones on a birds leg and wings) and thicker metal structures and wood for larger specimens. The body of the specimen is often packed using fibres such as wood-wool, straw or cotton wool. Occasionally we find old newspapers (which often makes for interesting reading and can of course help to date specimens). Clay and fillers are also used for sculpting finer details, these areas can sometimes crumble and powder over time due to damage caused by environmental conditions and poor handling. More modern pieces may be set over pre-made forms of foam.
The mixtures used to preserve the skins have in the past contained harmful chemicals, such as arsenic and mercury, which is why when working on specimens (unless we can prove otherwise) we would always assume that those harmful substances are present and wear appropriate PPE.
So, with mask, gloves and overalls on, I dissected this very badly damaged mounted sparrow hawk to show you what happened to be inside it to give you an idea of what taxidermy can often look like on the inside.

The badly damaged mounted sparrow hawk

The badly damaged mounted sparrow hawk

The stitching had burst and the stuffing for the body of the bird, fine coir fibres, were visible as soon as the breast feathers were parted.

stuffing

No comments
Erica ReadWhat is Inside Taxidermy?
read more

Taxidermy Birds Update

Taxidermy bird specimens from Luton update….All cleaned, preened and looking for new homes.

It was clear that some of the birds had been the victims of historic pest infestations so as a precaution we wrapped and froze all the birds to ensure that any possible pests were neutralised. After removing any casings using tweezers, we then cleaned them using soft brushes and a museum vac. Following this, we preened and cleaned the feathers with torn cosmetic sponges (the sort you can buy in any chemists) They are an excellent tool for gently removing dirt and the pointed edges of them are perfect for softly realigning the feather barbs. A few needed a little more work, removing paint and adhesives from feathers as well as a little infilling with Japanese tissue, toned using acrylics, where pests had done their worst.

Left - Removal of carpet beetle casings. Right - Making mounts

Left – Removal of carpet beetle casings. Right – Making mounts

As the old mounts were fairly tired looking and had been kept in damp conditions we decided to remount them all on matching book cloth covered wooden boards. Using the old foot wires we secured the specimens through holes drilled into the boards and set them in place using milliput.

Our birds being used as part of the drawing classes

Our birds being used as part of the drawing classes

No comments
Erica ReadTaxidermy Birds Update
read more

Grey … Not a Black and White Issue

We like to think we are pretty good at colour matching and we usually are… but recently we all had a frustrating time trying to conserve a ‘rock’ mount that a large taxidermy specimen was perched on. The mount, made from wood covered with paper and plaster had been painted grey. We made up many, many greys, adding a little green, red, blue, yellow to try and match the grey but nothing seemed to match! We also tried using different matting agents in with the paint including marble dust and gasil but it still looked wrong. Eventually we worked out that the matching issue was more to do with surface texture, and by stippling in marble dust to the surface of the wet paint we were able to achieve a good match.

 

No comments
Erica ReadGrey … Not a Black and White Issue
read more

The Birds!

Earlier this year Luton museum was looking for new homes for its taxidermy specimens, many were taken in by other museums but we were lucky enough to acquire a small flock of birds and a couple of mammals ourselves!
We have documented all the specimens now and will begin work conserving them. They present some interesting conservation issues including pest damage and fur fading, and the plan is to carry out some experiments and work on new techniques to bring these specimens back, ready to go on display again.  We will be posting up some blogs and maybe even a video or two of the processes and their outcomes over the following months.
We’d love to find new homes for these specimens, so if anyone has any ideas for community projects or collections that may be interested in a loaned or donated specimen please do get in touch.
razor
No comments
Erica ReadThe Birds!
read more

Practical Leather Conservation

Erica and I recently attended a 5 day leather conservation course given by Theo Sturge, of the Sturge Conservation Studio. As well as presenting case studies of his work, from gilt leather conservation to car upholstery restoration, Theo taught us about the processing and deterioration mechanisms of leather, and he also introduced us to some leather working skills such as skiving and basic saddle stitching.

No comments
Cheryl LynnPractical Leather Conservation
read more