One of the highlights of my placement has been working with the team and collections in the Lapworth Museum of Geology. I have wanted to learn more about the conservation of geological collections ever since I took a short course on the subject at the Melbourne Museum in April 2016 run by Caroline Butler from the National Museum of Wales. On the course we got to learn about geological collection surveys, conservation issues relating to geological collections and practical and preventive treatment options.
It has been so incredible to be able to put some of these things I learnt into practice during my time at the Lapworth Geology Museum, but also to learn so much from the highly experienced professionals who work with the collection. I have mainly been working with Jonathan Clatworthy, who is the Director of the museum. I have also had an opportunity to work briefly with a volunteer, Margaret Kingsbury, who cleans the mineral specimens and to have some discussions with Anna Chrystal, the Learning and Community Development officer, about activities they organise at the museum and how they use their collections in teaching.
The Lapworth Museum has recently been renovated – and it is truly magnificent! The renovation project has taken several years of planning, grant applications and approval, design and building to produce what is one of the best small museums I have ever visited. As you can see in my images below, there has been a balance between keeping historical aspects of the building and collection displays, and creating new innovative and engaging displays in the new space. I love the display of minerals in the upstairs gallery, which instead of being displayed in the traditional format of arranging by chemical composition, they have been displayed by colour – which makes for a truly beautiful exhibit. I also really enjoyed the rock wall, which towers to the ceiling in the main gallery which displays sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rocks. In the historical display cabinets, spar boxes and curiosity cabinets have been created to hark back to the history of early geological and natural science collecting.
As part of the renovation a room designed specifically for teaching and engagement was built just off the main gallery. This has meant that the museum is now able to run workshops and educational tours for children and adults alike! It was so great to see a space dedicated to teaching and engaging a new generation of people interested in natural science and geology collections.
The main project I worked on whilst at the Lapworth Museum of Geology was to undertake a Benchmarks Assessment in Collection Care. If you are not familiar with this here is a link to the website:
The document, created and supported by the Collections Trust, provides museums in the UK (though it could easily be applied to other countries) with the documents and processes to conduct a self assessment of where they currently stand in terms of best practice in collections care. There are questions asked relating to basic, good and best practice, and check boxes to answer if they are met, partially met or not met. It covers wide ranging aspects of collections care, including: policy, buildings, storage, housekeeping, handling and use, environmental monitoring and control, conservation and emergency preparation. For the majority of the survey I discussed these questions with Jon Clatworthy, and it was great to be able to gain insight into not only the planning, and management processes currently in place to care for the collections, but also to discuss some areas for improvement. I assessed the collection stores by myself and was able to come up with some suggestions for improvements to housing and labelling the collection. As the renovation of both the gallery and storage space has only recently been completed, the collections stores are still being arranged, and this provides an opportunity to improve current housings and labelling. I am very grateful for the opportunity to have participated in the benchmark survey, as it covers a lot of topics that I had learnt about in a preventive conservation class at university. It is great to have been able to put this theoretical knowledge into practice.
Another project I worked on relating to preventive conservation was to assess the new gallery spaces and determine locations to put new environmental monitoring equipment. Some of the new equipment could monitor for light as well as temperature and humidity, and others just monitored for temperature and humidity. This was a great learning process again, as I needed to assess which of the collection items may be most susceptible to changes in conditions, such as paper and mammoth bone and tusks, and which areas of the gallery may be subject to fluctuations in temperature and humidity. Once again this was a great learning experience for me, as I did not previously have practical experience in making these decisions, and only had theoretical knowledge from my classes in preventive conservation.
On the last day of my placement I also got to undertake some practical treatment on geological specimens. Under the guidance of Margaret Kingsbury, who has many years experience in cleaning mineral specimens. I got to clean two specimens from the collection, a fluorite and a calcite. I used soft brushes to dry clean the surface, cotton buds and finely rolled swabs to lightly wet clean the dirt and toothpicks to remove ingrained dirt from crevices and cracks. I am so grateful for the opportunity to do some practical treatment, and would like to thank Margaret for her time, patience and wonderfully engaging conversation while we worked!
On my last day Jon also organised for me to visit the Biosciences collections of the University of Birmingham. As I have worked with the specimens at the Tiegs Museum of Zoology at the University of Melbourne, and I am currently writing my thesis on fluid preservation, it was so wonderful for me to be able to see these collections. They have a significant collection of fluid specimens, skeletal specimens, insects, herbarium and slides. It was great for me to see the fluid specimens and compare the preservation techniques used in this collection, which is of a similar age to that at the University of Melbourne. I would like to thank Amy Stewart from the Biosciences department for taking the time to show me the collections and tell me a little about their history and use.
I have really enjoyed my time at the Lapworth Museum of Geology and I would like to thank Jon Clatworthym Anna Chrystal and Margaret Kingsbury for sharing their time, knowledge and skills with me and for making me feel so welcome! All images in this post are used courtesy of the Lapworth Museum of Geology and the Biosciences Department. If you would like to learn more about their collections and gallery, please visit their website: