The Day the Textile Conservation Studio turned into an archaeology lab

A guest blog by Conservator Jenny Barsby

In April 2015 we were approached by a location finder from ITV about using the Textile Conservation Studio at PHM as a set for the new drama Midwinter of the Spirit, a three-part series for ITV aired in autumn 2015. Although we were initially apprehensive about the disruption this may cause to our work we were also excited about the prospect of our studio being on TV! A team of 22 crew members came to look at the space and proceeded to take photos and measurements to produce plans for filming. Once these plans were confirmed we were better informed of how they wanted the space to look we could plan for moving the objects out of harm’s way and clearing the lower half of the studio in preparation. On the day of filming, a team of people came in early to dress the set, this involved covering the available tables, hiding some of the equipment which didn’t fit with the look they wanted and creating a smaller window aperture to film through from the gallery (fig1).

Fig 1 False window

Fig 1 False window

The set was also dressed with props including fake skeletons laid out on the tables and lots of equipment designed for cleaning and assessing human remains (fig 2).

Fig 2 Props

Fig 2 Props

After the dressing crew had left we had some time to do our own work before the film crew arrived in early evening. The museum was open as normal during the day and although the viewing window from the gallery was partially covered with the set build, visitors could still see into the studio, we thought they might be a bit confused by the scene which confronted them so we made a sign to explain why there were no textiles on view that day (fig 3).

Fig 3 Sign

Fig 3 Sign

In the evening the second crew of about 30 people came in with lots of equipment to set up and start filming. The scenes were shot from inside the studio and through the viewing window from the gallery. The footage probably only equates to a few minutes but the crew were with us for five hours including set up, rehearsals and filming. Each scene was filmed several times from different angles with changes to the lighting, sound or in one case when the microphone boom was in shot! Two monitors were set up, one in the studio for the director and one in the gallery where the rest of the crew could see it (fig 4).Fig 4 The Film crew With each type of shot there seemed to be different types of equipment used from floor tracking with the large camera for smooth moving shots, to a smaller camera attached to a harness worn by one of the cameramen, which seemed to be used in the more confined space in a corridor scene. Our extractor trunking was used to dramatically light the skeleton at one point with all the other studio lights off. The separate lab area was turned into a corridor with some of our equipment hidden behind foam board covers. The actors came walking along the ‘corridor’ and entering the lab through the door, it will be interesting to see how this works on screen as it is normally a dead end (fig 5).

Fig 5 Rehersal for a scene

Fig 5 Rehersal for a scene

The two lead actors Anna Maxwell-Martin, David Threlfall were involved in these scenes we won’t reveal the plot; you have to watch it to find out (although our photos might give some clues).

During the process we were very mindful of protecting the objects on display and in the studio, the crew also had three people who were responsible for keeping an eye on proceedings and were very keen to make sure we were informed throughout the process. We had a little drama of our own at one point when the automatic air conditioning system turned on in the studio, it is quite loud and threatened to interfere with the sound recording, luckily we were able to get it turned off just in time for the next take. By around 10pm the filming was finished and the crew started packing away all their equipment. The next day we spent some time having a tidy up and putting everything back in its place and now the studio is back to normal again. It was a good experience overall, and interesting to see how a TV series like this is filmed but a long, tiring day for us (fig 6).

Fig 6 Skeletons

Fig 6 Skeletons

Museums are often used as locations for historical dramas but I wonder how many conservation studios can say they have had skeletons and exorcists in their midst!

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Textile Conservation at Manchester Cathedral

A guest post by our Textile Conservation Team, Jenny Barsby and Vivian Lochhead

Fig 1 Cross before conservation

Fig 1 Cross before conservation

The Textile Conservation team recently spent two days working on site at Manchester Cathedral, together with a student from Cardiff University who was on placement with us. The Cathedral is currently undergoing a building works to the roof and other structures with particular focus on the Jesus Chapel which is to the right as you enter through the main door. A number of items were moved to enable the work to start, including a large cross with textile elements. We were contacted by the project manager who felt that this was a good opportunity to assess the condition of the cross and have it treated while it is off display. Senior Conservator Vivian Lochhead made an initial site visit to gauge the level of work required and found the cross to be in a reasonably stable condition but extremely dirty with many years build up of dust coating the various components (fig 1).

Fig 2 Detail of linen threads at anchor points

Fig 2 Detail of linen threads at anchor points

The cross is dated 1969-1970 and was a collaboration between two designers. Bryant Fedden made the cross structure which is formed from cast aluminium. It is a modern style, with two main vertical sections bridged with spacers across the back and horizontal arms which slant upwards; each metal section is tapered towards the ends. The textile elements were created by Theo Moorman, they are tapestry woven with various three dimensional sections and textural surfaces. The tapestry inserts are attached to the cross by means of four anchor points per strip secured by linen threads tied to wires which are screwed into the cross (fig 2).

Fig 3 During cleaning of metal cross

Fig 3 During cleaning of metal cross

After discussing the options as a team we decided on appropriate methods to clean both the metal and textile components which would be safe to do in a public space without our normal studio facilities. The metal could be safely swabbed with de-ionised water and a little detergent ensuring that each section was thoroughly rinsed and dried (fig 3). The textile parts would be cleaned with a low suction vacuum and the raised tufts swabbed with de-ionised water and detergent before rinsing and gently drying with a hair drier.

Fig 4 Work space

Fig 4 Work space

The work was planned to take place over two days and we set up on tables in a cordoned off area of the cathedral building (fig 4). This meant that visitors could see what we were doing and we were on hand to answer questions. The people we spoke to seemed very interested in what we were doing with the most frequent question being: How long will the work take you? The work was quite intensive because we had to stand up to do most of the cleaning, bending over for the difficult to reach sections inside the cross

Fig 5 Vivian & Julie cleaning

Fig 5 Vivian & Julie cleaning

(fig 5). Although we are used to being watched by our visitors at PHM, this was a different experience because there was a lot more interaction. We did enjoy explaining our work but this also meant that we probably worked a little slower than usual (fig 6).

Fig 6 Jenny Vacuuming

Fig 6 Jenny Vacuuming

Overall the conservation was very successful, the metal part of the cross came up very well once the layers of dust had been removed and the tapestry inserts were much improved, in addition to cleaning, Vivian strengthened each anchor point with an extra line of linen thread (fig 7).

Fig 7 left arm before and after conservation

Fig 7 left arm before and after conservation

The inserts are fixed under slight tension so adding extra threads should take the strain and prevent further damage occurring to the original threads. Once complete the textile parts of the cross were wrapped temporarily in a loose layer of plastic to prevent further dust from settling on it before it is installed back in the Jesus chapel after the completion of the building works (fig 8). We were also able to surface clean the tapestry hanging which is normally displayed behind the cross; this was done using a low powered vacuum working through a mesh screen to protect the textile. It was nice to have a change of scenery for a couple of days and work in such a beautiful building, don’t forget to look out for the cross the next time you visit Manchester Cathedral.

Fig 8 The cross after conservation

Fig 8 The cross after conservation

Volunteering at People’s History Museum

A guest post by volunteer Jason Neal 

Jason NealThis summer I volunteered at the People’s History Museum in Manchester. I didn’t know what to expect and was full of nerves as, aside from the volunteer-training course I’d taken beforehand, I had never volunteered; I was a fresh, naïve volunteer. But my worries were in vain as I was made to feel incredibly welcome and valued by my colleagues from the start.

I spent part of my time volunteering at the museum on the front desk, welcoming the many visitors to the museum who had journeyed there for varying reasons – whether it was to gain knowledge, for a school trip, or a family day out. Another part of my role involved working behind the scenes, where I realised and appreciated the amount of work and effort that is essential to keep a museum afloat. I particularly enjoyed working in the archives with original, fascinating records. From my very first day, I was struck with how passionate the people who work at the museum are about the stories which are told there; this stayed with me for the duration of my placement and made me feel incredibly lucky that my first experience of volunteering was with the People’s History Museum.

Creative Currency Casino!

Artist Pui Lee’s final blog about her fantastic programme of Summer Family Friendly events.

Well, there was definitely a lot of money floating about as my summer project came to an end at the People’s History Museum 😀

Creative Currency Casino @ People's History Museum 26.08.15  (7)The final event was, of course, my much anticipated Creative Currency Casino event, where museum visitors were invited to try their luck on various games of chance to win some truly fabulous prizes to take home with them! Admission was free and all the participants enthusiastically drew their own banknotes to spend at the casino. There were a lot of brilliant designs created and I even noticed some very speedy mass-production methods being used during the afternoon. After all, the more banknotes you had, the more plays you had and so, your chances of winning increased – potentially!

There was something for everyone: whether it was the Fast ‘n’ Furious Card Games, “Stuck in the Mud!” Dice Games, the “Show Me the Money BINGO!” and the ever popular “Human Fruit-Machine” (which, from looking at the takings at the end of the day, was the most played game of the afternoon!). It was fantastic to see people of all ages taking part – showing that art is not only for the young ones to enjoy but for grown-ups too!  Participants commented that the workshop was very “interactive” and “fun to play”! There were certainly lots of smiling faces and it was wonderful to see all the excitement over the games! All players also received a special 28PUI currency banknote to take home with them as a memento of the day!

It is also worth mentioning that all the hand-drawn banknotes from the workshop, giant printed and collaged banknotes, as well as my example pieces from the previous summer workshops are display at the museum for all to see, so do come down to have look!

Creative Currency Casino @ People's History Museum 26.08.15  (42)Overall, it has been a wonderful 5 weeks and I have enjoyed every minute of it! 🙂 It has been great to deliver this art project to coincide with the Show Me the Money exhibition. After all, money plays such huge part in our everyday lives and yet it is often regarded as being a bit of a forbidden subject. We are often reluctant to talk about it and although it is often perceived as being a grown-ups’ subject, I think it is worth engaging children and young people with it too. This has been a really fun and educational project, which explores the theme of money and finance in terms of how we use it, the exchanges that we make and its perceived value. …Thank you to everyone who has taken part in it and/or supported it in some way!

The Creative Currency Casino! project is now finished but there is still a legacy of participation opportunities still available. For example, my All the Money in the World (2015) installation will still remain in the Show Me the Money exhibition space for visitors to add their responses to. Likewise, I will be returning to the museum during the next half term on Wed 28 October 2015 to deliver my Break the Vault drop-in family friendly art workshop, so I hope to see you all there for that! But until then, it’s good bye for now and remember …”everyone’s a winner!!!” 😀

Show Me the Money Political Economy from 1700 to present

A guest blog by WEA tutor Mark Krantz

 

Hogarth South Sea Bubble- Courtesy the Trustees of the British MuseumShow Me the Money: The Image of Finance, 1700 to the Present is the People’s History Museum latest changing exhibition. It shows how the financial world has been imagined in art, illustration, photography and other visual media. From Hogarth’s 1721 painting of the South Sea Bubble, which depicts the ‘market’ as an evil wheel of fortune – to the Credit Crunch Lexicon by Simon Roberts which lists the vocabulary of the post 2008 economic crash; art has shaped the way we ‘imagine’ finance. The economics, history and politics that underpin the exhibition will be examined in a five week course from the Workers’ Educational Association in association with the People’s History Museum.

Course runs Friday 25 September – Friday 23 October, 1:00pm – 3:30pm. WEA tutor Mark Krantz will lead the course. For more details and to book a place,  please contact WEA on 0151 243 5340 or book online via WEA’s website.