Installing Julian Opie

19 12 2014

I am now two months in to the internship, and have just about recovered from the various tours of the building and the collections, meeting all the myriad of very friendly and helpful staff that keep the museum running smoothly (I am sorry if I still can’t quite remember everyone’s name), and getting to grips with retouching a painting dubbed ‘Nelly’. Now seems a good time to sit down and share a little of my experience so far, and how we, as conservators, go about helping during the installation process.

My first few weeks coincided with a busy time at the museum, with the installation of Julian Opie: Collected Works; Birds of Paradise: Plumes & Feathers in Fashion and Six Masterpieces of the Spanish Golden Age exhibitions. This afforded me the chance to assist with the logistics of handling and hanging a wide variety of works, as well as specifically offering the chance to condition check the incoming Julian Opie pieces.

Felicia 1 – after uncrating. Copyright Julian Opie

Condition checking in basic terms (as it says on the tin), is where the artwork is examined in order to ascertain its current physical state. In this instance, as an incoming loan, the artwork is examined against a pre-written condition report, supplied by the lending institution. The report consists of both a detailed written description,  which details the structure and condition of the piece, and an accompanying photographic record.

Condition checking Felicia 1

Condition checking Felicia 1

My job was to examine the artwork against the existing record using tools such as magnification (Optivisers) and raking light (a light source directed at an oblique angle across the surface) to determine if any conditional changes had occurred, such as new instances of damage or the furtherance of any pre-existing conditions. Any changes that I observed where then added to the pre-existing condition report, in order to enable an accurate record to be kept tracking the state of the artwork at both specific times and locations.

An example of the condition reports

An example of the format of a condition report (text removed). Copyright Julian Opie

I will be sad to have to repeat the process again towards the end of February, when these fantastic artworks are due to leave the museum, so please make sure to see them while you can.

Julian Opie: Collected Works, showing now until 22nd February 2015.

By, Paul Turner, Painting Conservation Intern





On the workbench this week….

16 12 2014

We are starting some really interesting conservation treatments, so would like to give you a brief introduction to the objects and what we are planning to do.

Front view of EMB 3.8 showing the cracked adhesive and paper border

Front view of EMB 3.8 showing the cracked adhesive and paper border

My first object this week is a small 18th Century raised-work embroidery (EMB 3.8), it is very fragile, in need of conservation and a custom storage mount. The silk and metallic thread embroidery depicts two figures and a lion in a landscape, and measures just 22cm x 17cm. The embroidery was re-framed in the 19th century, explaining the thick adhesive, and gold paper border. The main conservation concerns for this object are the thick border, which is putting a strain on the silk, and the loss of the silk decoration on the lion and the figure’s faces.

Back image of EMB 3.8

Back image of EMB 3.8

After cleaning the surface of the embroidery, I will address the issue of the vulnerable silk decoration, which is loose and lifting from the surface. Rather than attempting to stitch these in place, I will use an adhesive to secure the threads, but first I have to do some testing to determine what is most suitable.

EMB.3.8 Loss to the silk decoration on the lion's face

EMB.3.8 Loss to the silk decoration on the lion’s face, with lifting threads

The paper and cracked adhesive border are the remnants of the 19th century mount, which are unsightly and may cause strain and damage to the silk ground over time. Removing the brown and gold paper border will transform the aesthetics of the object and allow more display options for the future.

EMB.3.8 Close up of cracked adhesive and paper border.

EMB.3.8 Close up of cracked adhesive and paper border

The second object I am working on, is a beautiful Victor Stiebel evening dress c. 1955, which has been chosen for the Fashion & Textile Gallery re-display in 2018. The dress has a short, fitted matching jacket and its original synthetic mesh petticoat, which all need conservation. There are large areas of staining on the skirt and jacket, these are both damaging, and unsightly – they are difficult to conceal when on display.  I will carry out controlled spot cleaning of the skirt and jacket to reduce these stained areas as much as possible.

CST.3.330 Victor Stiebel jacket and dress c.1955

CST.3.330 Victor Stiebel jacket and dress c.1955

CST.3.330 Staining along the hem of the dress

CST.3.330 Staining along the hem of the dress

It is hoped that the petticoat will go on display alongside the dress and jacket, and therefore it also requires conservation. The mesh has areas of loss (holes), and pulled seams, which will need support patches to stabilise them, preventing the damage from getting any worse. As this is quite an unusual material to work with I will need to research and develop a technique for supporting this damage. A replica petticoat will need to be made, to be used beneath the dress while on display, recreating the effect of the original.

CST.3.330 Mesh petticoat c.1955

CST.3.330 Mesh petticoat c.1955

CST.3.330 Close-up showing pulled seam at hem of mesh petticoat

CST.3.330 Close-up showing pulled seam at hem of mesh petticoat

By Emily Austin, Textile Conservation Intern

I also want to show you a couple of objects that I am starting to work on.  The first is a late 17th/early 18th century silk embroidered panel (EMB.162).

EMB.162 Before Conservation

EMB.162 Before Conservation

It has been created using a couching technique, in silk threads on a linen ground.  The landscape scene shows two men sitting in the foreground, playing the clarinet and the guitar under an apple tree. The shape of the linen, with two small areas left unworked indicates that it was made to be used as upholstery for the back of a chair. It has later been lined with red linen, with metal rings attached in the top corners, to be used as a wall hanging.

Detail of disordered embroidery threads, with hole in canvas

Detail of disordered embroidery threads, with hole in canvas

As you can see the panel is in very poor condition. It is generally soiled, with several stains on the front, and on the lining. It is creased due to poor storage. The front has large areas of loss to the couching threads, and many of the embroidery threads are disordered.

Detail of brown stain, with disordered threads

Detail of brown stain, with disordered threads

The conservation treatment proposal for this object consists of surface and localised spot cleaning –  to remove the dust and try to reduce the staining. The panel will be humidified using cold steam to realign the weave, remove the creases and distortions, and organizing the threads. The panel will be stabilized with a complete fabric support, inserted between the embroidery and the lining, secured with laid-couching stitches, in colour-matched threads.

CST.527 Before conservation

CST.527 Before conservation

The second object I want to share with you, is one of the costume objects selected for the re-display of Fashion & Textile Gallery. This Poiret-style dress is of purple silk satin (CST.527). It has a high waistline, typical of the early 20th century, a deep plunging neckline, and an inner bodice fastened with hooks and eyes.

CST.527 Before conservation

CST.527 Before conservation

The collar and cuffs are finished in a colourful printed fabric. The skirt of the dress has a straight centre panel and gathers which extend to the train at the back. This dress has been altered at some stage of its history, so I will investigate the changes to its form.

Detail of loose hem, with brown watermark, and tear

Detail of loose hem, with brown watermark, and tear

Unlike the embroidery, the dress is in a fair condition. There are some stains on the purple silk and inner bodice, it is creased due to storage, with some loose seams at the front, and a large tear near the hem. The treatment proposal involves surface and localised spot cleaning, then humidification to remove the creases. The stitched treatment will include the re-stitching of the loose seams, and stabilising the tear, dyeing support fabric to match the colour of the dress. To make the dress ready for display, it will be mounted onto an acrylic mannequin.

Loose stitching on seams

Loose stitching on seams

This is just a brief introduction to some of our current conservation projects. We will keep you, dear readers, informed about the result of the treatments!

By Maria Pardos, Textile Conservation Intern





Art Happens ‘Behind the Scenes Conservation’ Reward

11 12 2014

Today donors received their reward for donating to our successful Art Happens campaign this summer which raised funds for the conservation of our 15th century Flemish Altarpiece. They were treated to an afternoon in our conservation studio with The Bowes Museum’s Conservation Manager, Jon Old and Painting Conservation Intern, Paul Turner. The afternoon began in the early picture gallery to discuss the central sculpted panels which are still on display but have been temporarily divorced from the painted panels. Jon and Paul have moved the panels to our conservation studio to begin documenting them, whilst furniture restorer Rupert McBain will move the central sculpted section to his studio next week to begin work on the new casing. We discussed the history of the altarpiece and the conservation work that has been done to it since it joined the Museum’s collection in March 1860.

Carvings by the Brussels Sculptors' Guild

Carvings by the Brussels Sculptors’ Guild

We then moved upstairs to our conservation studio to examine the painted panels. Jon and Paul have not started conserving these yet as they are currently assessing the extent of disrepair and damage that has occurred over time so as to plan the programme of conservation. The panels have not warped because it has painted decoration on either side so the panel has only expanded across its width. This has caused some splitting of the oak support which has been exacerbated by the effects of modern central heating. There is also some bubbling and cracking of paint which our visitors were able to examine closely under an ultra violet light.

In the conservation studioIn the conservation studio

In the conservation studio

Close examination under ultra-violet light

Close examination under ultra-violet light

In the scene of the Agony in the Garden a heavy varnish has obscured the bright blue sky and as a result appears very stormy and dark. Jon described how they intend to clean this up so that it matches the lighter skies in the other panels. Donors were also able to see St Jerome on the back of one of the panels, a painting which has not been seen for many years. We then examined another panel flat on the table under a very bright light so as to see in detail the flaking paint.

One of the four fathers of the church

One of the four fathers of the church

Examining St Jerome

Examining another panel 

Art Happens 'behind the scenes' conservation reward

Art Happens ‘behind the scenes’ conservation reward

Jon and Paul then presented a number of other items from the Museum’s collection to demonstrate the extent and variety of their work in the studio. Paul demonstrated how he is currently cleaning away an old and discoloured varnish from a painting using a solution with cotton wool which will eventually return the painting to its original state. We then went down to the Music Room to enjoy tea and cake.

Other conservation work

Other conservation work

Paul demonstrating cleaningPaul demonstrating cleaning

Paul demonstrating cleaning

By Becky Knott, MA Student, University of York





Conservation in the Stores

9 12 2014

Recently we found two objects in the stores in a poor condition, both needed urgent conservation attention. The first is a small canopy bed, catalogued as part of the toy collection. It may have been used as a toy for a doll or as a proper bed (crib) for a small child. The piece consists of a wooden structure (47 x 63 x 86 cm high, width and deep) with carved front legs with floral motifs; the visible structure is made from a fine-grained wood, whereas the slatted bed base is made from pine. The bed has wooden curtain rails, with metal curtain rings to hang the curtains, which have long since disappeared. The bed has been upholstered with a floral woven fabric, which appears to be cotton. The pelmets have a festooned shape, edged with braid. The headboard is upholstered on both sides. The bed does not have a canopy, but has five reinforcement bands across the top that continue down onto the headboard.

Photograph before treatment, front (TOY.322)

Photograph before treatment, front (TOY.322)

Photograph after treatment, front (TOY.322)

Photograph after treatment, front (TOY.322)

I did full documentation and photography, and created a condition report for the object. I surface cleaned using a micro-vacuum and chemical sponge, and re-secured the loose edging of the pelmets. I created a Tyvek cover to protect the bed from dust, and put it back into the toy store. The bed is now stable, although needs further conservation work in the future.

Photograph before treatment, back (TOY.322)

Photograph before treatment, back (TOY.322)

Photograph after treatment, back (TOY.322)Photograph after treatment, back (TOY.322)

Photograph after treatment, back (TOY.322)

The second object is a helmet which is thought to have belonged to Napoleon III’s bodyguard. It was found a few weeks ago in the stores, badly packed into a box, and surrounded by dead insects (they had been feasting on the fur). This discovery hides a surprise… it is a not catalogued object. I had to fully document the piece and do the photographic report, while we wait for the museum to assign a catalogue number. The metal helmet has a visor, covered in leather, and a horsehair plume. The metal plume structure is decorated with geometric, vegetal designs and centre motif of Medusa. The lower perimeter is covered with a band of unidentified animal fur, the inner perimeter has also a leather band to hold the helmet to the head and make it more comfortable to wear. I surface cleaned the helmet with a micro-vacuum, and checked the piece has no active insect infestation (fortunately it didn’t). I created a custom support to store the helmet on, until now it was lying on its side, crushing the horsehair in the helmet’s plume.

General helmet’s photograph,  front

General helmet’s photograph, front

General helmet’s photograph, left

General helmet’s photograph, left

Storage helmet’s support

Storage helmet’s support

Helmet in its new storage supportHelmet in its new storage support

Helmet in its new storage support

Maybe these activities seems less glamorous than working on a display but the maintenance of the objects documented, and ensuring that they are stored in the correct way, is essential for the correct health of the entire collection.

By Maria Pardos, Textile Conservation Intern





Meet the Cultural Apprentices

2 12 2014
Catherine & Charlotte

Catherine & Charlotte

Hello, I am Charlotte Thresher, one of two new Cultural Apprentices here at The Bowes Museum.

Previously I studied music, music technology and theatre studies at College for two years then started a project setting up a local record label with a few similar minded people which is still ongoing.

We will be working with several departments, over our 18 months stay here.

We can usually be found in the Exhibitions office working on upcoming and ongoing exhibitions under the supervision of Exhibitions Manager; George Harris.

Recently we set up ‘Conservation Wednesdays’ where every Wednesday we train with the conservators and learn new skills and understanding about the artefacts housed here. Last Wednesday we were carefully dusting furniture currently in store at the moment and also cleaning hats from the textiles collection to go back into storage.

Vacuuming Footman’s Bicorn Hats, date 1850, English

Vacuuming a footman’s bicorn hat, date 1850, English

We have also occasionally been helping out with Education, working with visiting schools and toddler groups. One day stands out in particular: Spooky Magic; Family Fun Day, where there were several activities going on throughout the day such as: a magician putting on regular shows which were increasingly popular, along with craft activities – wand making, pencil toppers and magic hats.

By Charlotte Thresher, Cultural Apprentice

Hi, my name is Catherine and I am also a Cultural Apprentice here at The Bowes Museum.

After originally studying Design Crafts and Textiles at Cleveland College of Art and Design, I almost decided against the idea of working in the Creative Industry after not knowing what career path to take. However, this year I decided to go back to what I know best, and when I saw the opportunity to work at The Bowes Museum, I knew it was something I couldn’t miss.

So far, in our time here, Charlotte and I have had the opportunity to work in various areas of the Museum: from Front of House and Education, to Conservation and Marketing. Only two weeks ago we assisted in an activity day involving 90 school children, where we helped them to make their own version of an amphora pot from clay – both a messy and enjoyable experience!

However, our main role will be within the Exhibitions Team, where we will help to support the up-and-coming exhibitions taking place over the next year.

From all of the collections and exhibitions we currently have at the Museum, I really like the ‘Julian Opie: Collected Works’ exhibition because of the stark contrast between his own work and the pieces from his private collection. His assortment of historic portraits reminds us just how much work and intricate detail went into the paintings of the 17th and 18th century. While his use of various types of media in his own work – including mosaic, video and LEDs – helps to create a unique and engaging display, with features that are bound to catch your eye.

Overall, this has been a great first few weeks for us both, and I can’t wait to see what we get involved with next!

By Catherine Dickinson, Cultural Apprentice





Art Happens – Conservation of our 15th century Flemish Altarpiece

19 11 2014

We have had some fantastic news regarding the start of our redisplay and conservation of the 15th century Flemish altarpiece by the Master of the View of St Gudule. This summer we successfully crowdfunded £21,163 on Art Happens and last week the first stage of this exciting process began. The Museum Conservation Manager, Jon Old and Paintings Conservation Intern, Paul Turner removed the first two painted panels from the frames in order to start the delicate process of documenting the panels before the conservation of the paintwork will begin in early December. This full technical examination will hopefully shed light on the artist’s technique and choice of materials.  Despite the age of the panels they are in a remarkable state of preservation; however, changes in humidity have caused the oak panel support to contract and expand resulting in some flaking of paint. Over the next few months Art Happens donors will be invited to visit our Conversation studio to find out more about this process and get the opportunity to inspect these beautiful panels in closer proximity.

Altarpiece dismantle in the early picture gallery

Altarpiece dismantle in the early picture gallery

The conservation and restoration of the main carved section of the altarpiece will be undertaken by furniture conservator Rupert McBain and the altarpiece will be transferred from the gallery to his studio in December. The carving and panels are currently housed in oak frames and casing dating from the 1970s and part of the redisplay will include the construction of a new historically accurate oak frame. Rupert will also reassemble original carvings currently in store and introduce a new mechanism to allow the regular opening and closing of the panels.

Panels being moved to Conservation Studio

Panels being moved to Conservation Studio

John Bowes purchased this altarpiece in March 1860 from the Parisian antique dealer Monbro of 19, Rue du Helder, costing him 1500 francs. The exact provenance of the altarpiece is unknown. However, Kim Woods has suggested that it may have been removed from a Belgian religious institution during the French Revolution and subsequently taken to France for sale.[1] The altarpiece was shipped to England in 1872 and first housed at Streatlam Castle, the Bowes ancestral home, and was later moved to the Museum upon its opening in 1892. The altarpiece narrative describes the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ and was likely produced between 1460 and 1480. It has been reassembled more than once and thus this project is a fantastic opportunity to redisplay the altarpiece as close as possible to its original form, finally revealing the six paintings on the back of the altarpiece shutters.

I will be documenting this exciting programme of conservation over the next few months and the conserved altarpiece will be ready to be raised and displayed for visitors to view in our 15th-century gallery in April 2015.

By Becky Knott, MA Student, University of York

[1] Kim Woods, Imported Images: Netherlandish Late Gothic Sculpture In England c.1400- c.1500 (Donington: Shaun Tyas, 2007), p.294.





Meet the New Conservation Interns

30 10 2014

Hello everybody! I am writing this to introduce myself. I am Maria Pardos, one of the new ICON textile conservation interns. Previously I have studied painting and textile conservation & restoration in Spain, where I come from, and most recently a Masters Degree in Heritage State of Conservation Diagnosis. I have worked with many materials, although in last few years I have focused on textile conservation, where I feel more comfortable working.

This has been an amazing first two weeks for me and Emily. We’ve been mounting costumes for an exhibition entitled ‘Women Fashion Power’ at The Design Museum in London, and installing the next exhibition ‘Birds of Paradise: Plumes & Feathers in Fashion’ at The Bowes Museum. It looks great, you shouldn’t miss it!

Maria Pardos, Textiles Conservation Intern

Maria Pardos, Textiles Conservation Intern


Hi, my name is Emily and I am also an ICON textile conservation intern. I originally studied costume design at Edinburgh College of Art, but then went on to study Textile Conservation at postgraduate level at the University of Glasgow, graduating this summer.

I have a particular interest in costume so working at The Bowes Museum is a fantastic opportunity to work with objects from the fashion collection. In fact during my first week here, I was lucky enough to help install the current ‘Birds of Paradise’ contemporary and historical fashion exhibition.

Last week, I did my first courier trip, accompanying Katy, the Museum Textile Conservator, to the Design Museum in London to help install ten pieces of costume for an upcoming exhibition, which there will be a blog post about soon! So far it has been a great introduction to the Museum and I’m very much looking forward to working on many more interesting objects over the next year!

Emily Austin, Textiles Conservation Intern

Emily Austin, Textiles Conservation Intern


Hello my name is Paul Turner and I am the new Icon Paintings Conservation intern. The internship will last for 1 year and will encompass working on paintings from The Bowes Museum’s collection alongside the Senior Painting Conservator, Jon Old. To give you a bit about my background, I have recently completed an MA at Northumbria University in the Conservation of Fine Art [Easel paintings], in addition to a number of short painting conservation placements. I also previously studied Fine Art (BA) at Newcastle University, and worked as an Art Handler for two years for the auction house Christies in London.

Paul Turner, Paintings Conservation Intern

Paul Turner, Paintings Conservation Intern








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