Our Senior Conservator, Vivian Lochhead reflects on the process of getting our banners ready for their annual changeover.
It is that time of year again; one of the landmarks that punctuate activities through the conservation calendar. The collections team are busy selecting banners for the next annual change of free-hanging banners in the PHM main galleries. This collaborative process involves exhibition, curatorial and conservation staff to ensure selection of banners appropriate to the displays and that each banner is either already fit to hang or can be made so in time for the actual exhibition change. This is timed for early January each year to minimise disruption to gallery visitors and especially learning groups as, for safety reasons, we have to close each gallery during the change-over.
Now into my 25th year as Senior Conservator at the PHM, the annual process is both exciting and nostalgic. The opportunity to be reacquainted with previously displayed banners can be evocative and enlightening, presenting the chance to re-examine previously conserved banners and to assess how the treatment is bearing up to the demands of display and handling required of the collection. Conservation treatment aims to prevent deterioration and preserve the banner. It can massively slow down but not halt the process of decay. Some materials and construction methods used to make banners cause them to be more susceptible to deterioration. Certain types of degradation are imperceptible to the eye as they happen at microscopic level, but the overall effects can be catastrophic. Painted silk banners, for instance, can fracture without warning or obvious sign of weakness.
Consequently once selected for display each banner must be thoroughly assessed, even if it is a familiar friend. Newly acquired banners deemed suitable for exhibition in the galleries will be checked and any necessary conservation treatment carried out to ensure they are in good condition for the 12 month display period.
Pre-display assessment and conservation activities usually begin in October, allowing visitors a tantalising preview of next year’s banners and the intensive treatment each one receives.