The Conservation Department is responsible for the preservation, conservation, investigation and display of The Bowes Museum and its collections. Objects are prepared for display within the galleries, for loan to other institutions, and as a means of improving their condition while in storage. Conservation is vital for protecting the collections, ensuring that they are available to study and enjoy both today, and in the future.
The Bowes Museum’s conservators are highly-trained, with backgrounds in art history, history and archaeology, providing an understanding of materials and manufacturing processes. Each has a grounding in chemistry; this is important for understanding the nature of deterioration and when selecting materials for conservation.
The department has three conservators, in the following disciplines: Paintings, Objects and Textiles. The department also has a qualified conservation technician, specialising in Preventive Conservation. Objects that cannot be conserved in house are sent to specialists locally or nationally.
The painting conservator is responsible for the care of The Bowes Museum’s excellent collection of oil paintings, from Old Masters to Joséphine Bowes’ own works. Conservation processes can include surface cleaning; removing and re-applying varnish; repairing tears; lining and relining;
filling and retouching. Preparation for display may include glazing and back-boarding, frame repairs and gilding. The painting conservator will also advise on handling, moving and hanging paintings.
The objects conservator cares for a wide range of items, including ceramics, metal, and all types of archaeological material. The Museum is the depository for excavated material from the County of Durham. Conservation processes can include surface cleaning, removing corrosion products from metals and reattaching shards of broken ceramics. Preventive care is also necessary; archaeological objects are carefully packed, ensuring that metal artefacts do not corrode in storage. The objects conservator gives training to museums across the North East, via the Conservation Advisory Network and the Durham Collections Training Network (see below).
The textile conservator is responsible for the care of the textile collection, incorporating costume and accessories, tapestries, hangings, furnishings, and upholstery. Conservation processes may include gentle surface cleaning, wet cleaning, humidification and reshaping, stitched repairs and mounting for display. Other material types are also present within the costume collection, and fall within the textile conservator’s remit, including fur, feathers, leather, straw, wax and plastic.
The preventive conservation technician is responsible for the monitoring of environmental conditions across the Museum, which can be controlled and adjusted with humidifiers and dehumidifiers. The programme of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) monitors insect activity in the stores and galleries. Objects are put on display, their condition monitored, and surface cleaned when necessary. The preventive conservator is responsible for all objects in the Museum stores, ensuring that they are housed safely, and kept free from dust, and regularly updates the Museum’s emergency plan. Items are prepared for loan, including packing for transit, and couriering to other venues and institutions nationally and internationally.
Placements in the Conservation Department
The Bowes Museum’s Conservation Department offers unpaid work placements to students enrolled on recognised conservation training courses. These may take the form of short, or long-term internships. The museum also has a number of places for volunteers. To enquire about volunteering or work placements, contact Human Resources
In 2014 the Museum was awarded Heritage Lottery Funding to run a 5 year ‘Skills for the Future’ project, in conjunction with the Institute of Conservation. Beginning in October 2014, the museum will host three interns per year, two in textiles conservation, and one in paintings conservation.
Through the Conservation Advisory Network (CAN) the Conservation Department works with Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums (TWAM), to help museums with conservation and collections care advice and training across the North East.
The Bowes Museum is partnered with Beamish as part of the ‘Major Partnership Museums’ scheme, which is run by Arts Council England. A result of this partnership is the Durham Conservation Training Network (DCTN), established to help museums in the Durham area with conservation problems and provide conservation training.
For advice on how to care for your own historic objects, look at the Institute of Conservation website at www.icon.org.uk. To find a conservator, use the Conservation Register at www.conservationregister.com, run by ICON; it is a database of accredited conservators in the UK.
To read about some of the work our Conservation team has recently undertaken, see Conservation Projects, or look at the Museum blog.