As the installation phase of the Bridewell Museum project begins, new challenges face both the Conservation and Display Teams. Throughout the project, the two teams have been working closely to find the best display options for varied and often vulnerable collections. Many conservation issues inform the way in which objects are displayed and thus affect the eventual gallery design. Whether an object can be handled, how it is accessed, or protected from environmental factors such as light, temperature and humidity, and if the object is potential food for hungry pests all need to be considered.
One of the most significant and often unseen aspects of museum display is how an object is mounted. Conservators, Designers and Technicians join forces to find methods of safely supporting often extremely fragile objects for the long term.
One such case involved two sides of a large, early 16th Century door frame with carved spandrels, bearing the merchant’s mark of a Norwich mayor John Rightwise, the keys of St. Peter, the crossed swords of St. Paul, and the triple crowns of the Draper’s Company. These will form the centrepiece of curator Cathy Terry’s Second City gallery.
The door-frame’s journey to re-display began with some time spent in the large freezer at Gressenhall to ensure that all insect pests were eradicated. Previous insect damage had resulted in the door-frame being in a particularly fragile state with, as one viewer commented, the consistency of a flake chocolate bar! What remained of the original brightly painted surface was hardened and flaky. Each side of the door-frame needed considerable conservation treatment involving cleaning, consolidation and repair. The flaking surfaces required careful relaying of each lifting paint flake.
Discussions between Lead Designer Lynne Avery-Johnson and Conservator Jonathan Clark concluded that maximum support would be required for display. Also, Curator Cathy Terry wanted to contextualise the door-frame which will be displayed with other large and complex objects in a huge, bespoke walk-in showcase.
The format of this case involved Designer and Conservator working together to map out the largest objects to satisfy object safety, aesthetics and curatorial context. To further facilitate, designer Harriet Parsons constructed a model of the gallery. This model was then worked up into a digital format with more detail, including measurements, elevations, plinth sizes and label positions.
The theme of the case was based on the idea of a thriving historic urban space. This was helped by the door posts which, when given centre stage, act as a divide between internal and external space.
Once conservation work was completed, the process of designing suitable mounts began. With the added input of Lead Technician Alexander Norcross-Robinson, it was decided that a door shaped mount would satisfy the need to evenly distribute the weight of the frames whilst at the same time provide context. The team also enlisted the help of local engineer Jonathan Rackham to make bespoke metal braces and brackets to fix the door-frames to both the support and the back wall. The posts of the door-frame sit in specially made boxes designed and constructed by technicians Alice Forkes and Holly Bessell.
This is one of many examples where the specialist skills of two departments combine successfully to produce solutions for complex and vulnerable objects on display.
The Conservation and Display team working together to install the door-frames.
Follow us on Twitter @ConserveNMS