Tag Archive | Internship

New HLF / Icon Conservation Intern Natasha Hall

Hello everybody, my name is Natasha Hall and I am going to be taking you with me on my travels as the new Institute of Conservation (Icon), Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), Fine Metals Conservation Intern stationed at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery for the next year.

Natasha Hall documenting buttons

Documentation of buttons.

Fine metals are something that most persons on this earth are drawn to. For millennia metalwork has been a solid backbone to human growth and adaptation, allowing our species to create items for various purposes; from heirlooms, to weapons; for vanity or religion. The longevity and stability of this material has in itself enabled us to have the gift of looking back through the ashes of empires, whether it is hundreds or thousands of years. The conservation of these items is the plinth on which future generations’ knowledge on human history stands. I am a truly an honoured individual to have the opportunity to be working in this environment for the next 12 months.

Before I go on I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to Icon and HLF for funding my placement here at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and a HUGE thank you to my mentor Pieta Greaves ACR, Staffordshire Hoard Conservation Coordinator for her continued support. Also Julie Taylor my Job Center advisor who told me about this internship, helped me to secure the placement and has always shown credence in me and my abilities.

This Fine Metals internship will allow me to simultaneously meet people and experience first hand what a career within conservation would be like. As a naturally curious soul I have to admit to being quite wide-ranging with my points of interest. Already 2 weeks in and I am learning to channel my focus into one area, learning that concentrating on one area or item does not exempt all avenues of interest. Rather, like a beehive looks from the outside, though whole on the surface within it, a honey comb of compartments all separate – yet together. This is how I see the complex world of conservation. Inside this one point of interest lays neat yet complex areas of perception which when delved into can keep you spellbound with history, science and art alike for hours on end.

On my first day as Intern, the Conservation team was invited to Portsmouth to visit the legendary and ill-fated Mary Rose. Following a two and a half hour road trip with Pieta, object conservator Alex Cantrill and previous Icon HLF, intern Rose Wachsmuth we arrived at the ship, this was a great day and allowed me to be reacquainted with the staff I will be spending my time with for the next year on an informal but professional level.

The conservation team passing the HMS Victory replica

The conservation team heading towards Mary Rose, passing the HMS Victory replica.

Drying of the Mary Rose timbers

Drying of the Mary Rose timbers.

As the new Intern, part of my body of work will be to continue on Rose Wachsmuth’s work and recommendations (read more about Rose’s internship) in the Silver stores located at the Museums Collections Centre. There is a mystery of how and why some of the objects in the silver stores are tarnishing when others are fine. I shall be testing various silver objects in various ways to see if we can get to the bottom of the mystery and help to preserve objects in the silver stores for longer. I will also have the chance to clean some of the objects of the tarnish layers.

To start building on my knowledge and experience my first project is looking at a group of buttons: 105 buttons of mainly navy descent, spanning from the 18th to the 19th century. These buttons are to be analysed, treated and need to have both pre and post conservation reports, XRF and X-Ray readings. The buttons project will run alongside other projects and will be completed by Christmas for mounting and displaying shortly after.

Some buttons from my first project.

Some buttons from my first project.

I will also work closely in the future on two projects with Applied Art curator Martin Ellis as he is completing a small gallery refit, my part of this will include conserving some fine metal jewellery that has been made in Birmingham’s Jewellery quarter and to help install and condition check some especially fine Vesta Cases.

I shall be updating you with more information and images from this, and all of my projects project during my time here at Birmingham I will be sharing more in-depth information about my various projects, samples of condition reports, information on training gained and conferences I attend.

Natasha Hall,
Icon HLF Fine Metals Intern

Re-displaying the 14th-16th century galleries

The University of Birmingham has pioneered a fantastic scheme with local cultural partners, where Birmingham graduates can apply for paid internships at partner institutions.  Last summer I was absolutely thrilled to find out that I had been offered the place at Birmingham Museums Trust in the curatorial department of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG). I worked closely with Fine Art Curator, Victoria Osborne, who was my mentor. As part of the scheme, the nine other interns and I were in regular contact with the University; this included two training sessions held at Winterbourne House where we heard inspiring presentations delivered by representatives from a variety of cultural institutions and received invaluable career advice, media training and the opportunity to star in a radio play on our visit to the BBC!

Within the curatorial department my role involved researching the collection by responding to enquiries, facilitating print room visits, assisting with the care of objects by updating the collection management system and helping with exhibition planning. I was lucky to see the opening of the new Birmingham History Galleries as well as the contemporary art exhibition, Metropolis: reflections on the modern city. I was excited to be offered the opportunity to work with Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Lisa Beauchamp and Exhibitions Officer (and previous Cultural Intern), Katie Hall, on some of the interpretation for ‘Metropolis’. I wrote a Gallery Trail that guides visitors round the museum, comparing works in the exhibition with some of the more familiar images from the museum’s collection that relate to the theme of the metropolis.  I’m really proud to have compiled the guide and, importantly, to see visitors reading it!

The main assignment that I was very fortunate to have been entrusted with was the wonderful opportunity to curate the re-display of 14th-16th century art in the permanent exhibition galleries (Galleries 26 & 27). Gallery 26 was due to be re-furbished with new lighting and decor and my role was to plan the re-hang of the works in this space, as well as to rotate some of the objects on display with those from the picture store or collections centre, as well as updating the interpretation. There are some important acquisitions in this part of the collection and I wanted to highlight them in a new light. I gave careful consideration to which images would work best next to each other and thought about the stylistic comparisons that could be made in relation to the Renaissance and the Reformation. For example, I decided to bring from the picture store, The Agony in the Garden, by Garofalo into Gallery 26 to be shown next to Bonifazio de Pitati’s Adoration of the Shepherds. While these works exemplify Italian Catholic imagery, Cranach’s Lamentation of Christ, which is shown in the same section, demonstrates the ideals of the Protestant Reformation.

The Agony in the Garden by Garofalo

The Agony in the Garden by Garofalo

The Adoration of the Shepherds by Bonifazio

The Adoration of the Shepherds by Bonifazio

I also wanted to bring some objects from Gallery 27, which included lots of small, precious objects, into a display case in Gallery 26 so that chalices and reliquaries could be seen with the altar paintings, therefore creating a better sense of their original display and function in a church. I also chose to display some metalwork by a contemporary artist within the display case – Adrian Hope’s Reliquary for a Traveller. This beautiful work was inspired by medieval reliquaries, therefore, I showed it alongside a 14th-century reliquary (see photo below).

Adrian Hope’s Reliquary for a Traveller in the display case

In Gallery 26’s new display case Adrian Hope’s metalwork from 2001 can be seen with a reliquary and holy water bucket from the Middle Ages.

The triptych by Jan van Scorel

The triptych by Jan van Scorel is shown closed while the technicians were hanging it – the inscription identifies family members of the donor who commissioned the work and they are also depicted in the wings of the painting.

Gallery 26 during the refurbishment

The paintings above below were all once displayed in churches or private chapels.

In Gallery 27 I focused my display on two themes: women and craftsmanship. The objects in this gallery all relate to Christian worship and devotion, however, by grouping them into these two themes I aimed to show how they could be better understood and appreciated by today’s museum visitor. Thanks to Curator of Applied Art, Sylvia Crawley’s expertise relating to the Pinto collection (around 6,000 wooden objects collected by Edward Pinto), she brought to my attention a marvellous example of craftsmanship in the form of a 16th-century intarsia panel – an image created using a variety of pieces of wood. The panel depicts The Annunciation and therefore fitted perfectly into the display of religious imagery, especially being shown alongside a painting of the Nativity. I was also really excited to be able to show two prints by Albrecht Dürer, whose technical skill for making woodcut prints fitted into the theme of craftsmanship and the images that I selected included depictions of the Virgin and Child and St Anthony outside a City.

Two prints by Albrecht Dürer

Dürer’s engravings are displayed in Gallery 27 above a carved wooden chrism spoon, a chalice that belonged to an aristocratic family and a plaque depicting the Nativity – all are examples of fine craftsmanship during the 14th-16th centuries through a range of materials.

Selecting objects for the display focused on representations of women was fairly straightforward given that they had already been on show in Gallery 27, but they had not been grouped together in this way. I also brought a painting from Gallery 26 into the case that shows the Virgin and Child. The new display emphasises the fact that representations of women in the 14th-16th centuries highlighted Christian virtue through the example of female saints. Two statuettes representing Susannah and the Elders and Eve exemplify the way in which the artist could depict the female nude without causing scandal. Given that BMAG has a famous collection of Pre-Raphaelite works, of which, many represent virtue or sin through the female muse, by focusing on women in earlier works in the collection, visitors can consider how representations of femininity have changed (or in many cases not changed) throughout the history of art.

Display case in Gallery 27

This photo shows part of the display in Gallery 27 that focuses on representations of women. Here the painting and the terracotta relief depict the Virgin and Child; the bronze statuette represents St Anne, the Virgin Mary and Christ, while the statuette next to it is modelled on the allegorical figure, Charity, who is trying to control her unruly children. Lastly the alabaster statuette is based on the biblical story of Susannah and the elders.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at BMAG – I’ve learnt so much and will never forget the fantastic experience I had there. I would recommend to any Birmingham graduates interested in working in the cultural sector to apply for this fantastic scheme.

Lauren Dudley,

University of Birmingham Cultural Intern
at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

ICON HLF Intern in Preventive Conservation

Hi my name is Rose I am the new, ICON intern in preventive conservation at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and I will be here for 12 months. ICON (Institute of Conservation) gives people the great opportunity to gain valuable work experience through their internship scheme by closely working together with institutions such as Birmingham Museums Trust. These internships are funded by the National Lottery Fund.

My background, I have recently been awarded with the Masters in Conservation of Historical Objects from Lincoln University and with a degree in History of Art with Museum Studies. My practical work experience within conservation and the heritage sector is as a volunteer. I feel very lucky to have been given the opportunity by ICON and Birmingham Museums Trust to work as part of a professional team to gain some much needed work experience in the field of conservation. I am particularly interested in preventive conservation and collections care, because I believe preventing objects from damage should always be the first approach when dealing with heritage objects.

Being a preventive conservation intern I am involved in a large number of projects related to collections care. This means I am dealing with objects that are on display in the galleries but also objects that are in storage. For example one of my key roles is looking after the Hanwell environmental monitoring system that records relative humidity (amount of moisture held in the air) temperature and light, as any of these factors can have long term damaging affects if not controlled. My role in relation to this is to check the incoming environmental data for any abnormalities.

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Rose checking the Hanwell environmental monitoring system at BMAG.

One of the most important aspects in preventive conservation is managing the environment that surrounds the objects. The environment can be broken down into relative humidity, temperature, light and gaseous pollution. Objects can be permanently damaged when exposed to an unsuitable environment; therefore it is crucial for us to understand the environment in our galleries and storage space. In order to do this we monitor and record the environment with electronic loggers that you may have seen in the galleries. These record the environment in 15 minutes intervals and send the information down to our main computer where I check them. If the environmental data shows anything unusual we need and go and check the galleries to see what could have caused this.
Video of the Rose monitoring the relative humidity and UV light levels in the history galleries:

When objects are not on display in the gallery they need to be stored in a stable environment for their long term preservation, so a big chuck of preventive conservation deals with creating suitable storage solutions. As an intern I have been given a project to assess the silver collections storage environment. Silver is quite vulnerable to gaseous pollution as it easily tarnishes, which can be quite disfiguring. Unsuitable gaseous pollution can be given off by various things such as other objects, made of other kinds of materials, in close proximity.

To see if there are any particular areas of concern in the silver store I have started to set up an environmental monitoring system that records relative humidity and temperature, as high relative humidity in collaboration with gaseous pollution can support tarnishing.  

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The button loggers that record the temperature and relative humidity in the silver stores.

In January I will also place little samples of silver, copper and lead throughout the store to see if they react to the surrounding environment, which could indicate if there is a problem of gaseous pollution.  

Video of Rose explaining the environmental monitoring of the silver collection stores:

This kind of assessment can take up to a year and will be my main, ongoing project. Please check my blogs for updates on my progress.

Rosemarie Wachsmuth,
ICON HLF Intern in Preventative Conservation