Intensive care

Sarah Murray (right) and Donna Wilks have a closer look at Reverend Robert Knopwood's lifemask - on loan for our Hobart exhibit. (Photo: Rathicca Chandra)

Weeks of work and you can’t even see it! Perfect.  Conservator Sarah Murray takes us behind the scenes with our Conservation department in the lead up to the opening of Landmarks. 

Gallery installs are always an interesting time for the Conservation team. After years of working with over 1500 objects, we finally get to place them in their showcases, ready to be displayed. 

Tharron Bloomfield and Tara James document an incoming loan from the Public Records Office of Victoria. (Photo: Rathicca Chandra)

Every object in the Landmarks gallery passes through the hands of a conservator to be made ready for display. We document and photograph the objects, record their construction and materials, and the condition they are in. We make note of the object’s sensitivity to light or vibrations and any special handling or packing requirements. We assess and treat the objects to make sure they’re stable and can go on display with minimal risk of damage or degradation. 

Cathy Collins readying a sheep for display. (Photo: Jason McCarthy)

Treatments range from a gentle brush vacuum to remove any surface dust to long and complex multi-step treatments, sometimes taking months and the skills of more than one conservator. 

But our greatest success is if no-one can tell. 

If no-one can see where the flaking paint on the Castlecrag doors has been painstakingly adhered back down, or where damaging polish residue has been carefully removed from around the lenses of the opera glasses, or where crumbling moulding on the frame of a painting has been delicately consolidated, then we’ve done our job well. 

A door from Castlecrag before conservation treatment. (Photo: Sarah Murray)

Left: Andrew Pearce working on structural fill to support a damaged section of the door. (Photo: Sarah Murray) Right: Sarah repairs a pane of glass. (Photo: Jess Wignell)

Install is also a fantastic opportunity to work shoulder to shoulder with the Curatorial and Registration teams and a chance to learn more about the history of the objects and the story they tell in context. 

At the end of a long day of install, when I can close the showcase doors on an object I’ve worked on and see it in its context, knowing I’ve done everything I can to conserve that history, that’s when I remember just how much I love my job.

Sarah consolidating chalk marks on trading boards from the Brisbane Stock Exchange. (Photo: Jason McCarthy)

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