Category Archives: Ceramics
As any conservator will tell you prior to movement, your ceramic should be given a quick inspection to determine if there are any cracks, fault-lines or repairs to be wary of. This is to exert as little pressure as possible on any weak areas. Any handles or similar protrusions are to be avoided due to their fragile nature. Complete composure is needed at this time so no ‘pretending to drop’ jokes or shouting out ‘Boo!’ When moved and safely nuzzled in the foam you can begin the clean with another quick inspection. This is to determine if any sections need to be avoided. If a cracked or chipped surface is cleaned, the moisture can creep in under the surface and cause further damage so that gets avoided like the plague.
Painted designs or gilding work are generally avoided too as they would have been added after the ceramic was fired and glazed and therefore not protected by the tough exterior. The cleaning process can differ slightly depending on the finish of your object. With brush in hand the first thing is to remove the visible dust from the surface. Then the fun begins. Dampened cotton wool is a very effective remover of ingrained dirt and can be used to clean those ‘hard to reach’ areas. This can be done to great effect by creating a little swab on the end of a cocktail or Kebab stick. (After the Kebab has been eaten obviously)
The winter clean progress meant we could get round to some more ceramics cleaning. This involved setting up two work stations in our Victorian Kitchen and kitting ourselves out to get to work. With the tables covered in soft dust sheets for protection, we tracked down some foam corners which we use to support the items as they are cleaned.
Vinyl gloves at the ready! Good clean hands might do just as well but the gloves reduce the likely event of ceramic slippage in cold paws. The obvious rules apply when transporting ceramics, check your route, make sure it’s free from obstructions. Thankfully the temporary ceramic store is one of the bakery rooms next to the kitchen, so only a short distance to travel with them. As a good percentage of our ceramics collection is unique and valuable Delft-ware. A personal favourite of William Blathwayt who had the main house built in the 1700’s. When transporting and cleaning, I prefer not to be told of an items price tag. Especially when I’ve just picked it up!
Henry the moon gazing hare has had a busy time recently. He’s been dried out, fired in the kiln, (thankfully not cracking, or exploding!) and finally been decorated. The painting process is tricky to say the least, and I have a new appreciation for ceramics. The first thing to do is to select your colour. This is made all the more tricky as the pre-fired powder that is used to make up the glaze, is different to the colour it will eventually be. Similar to conventional painting you use a measured amount of base powder, and mix with water to get a milky consistency. That is where all painting experience I did have went out of the window. I had a design in mind, (typically for me I’d chosen a difficult one…) and set eagerly to work. Trouble is with painting pre-fired ceramics is, as soon as the brush touches the clay surface it sucks all of the moisture out of the paint and looks like you’ve been painting with sand! The trick is to use a very liquid-like mix so you stand a good chance of it looking remotely how you wanted it too. Some trial and error was naturally involved but buy the time I got on to use a different colour I think I had got the hang of it. Sort of. The final stage in the painting process is the glaze dip. This is a milky/creamy substance that your completed ceramic is dipped in to and seals the surface. This particular one dries clear and will give him a glossy new coat. After one final trip to the kiln he’s finished!
Autumn how I love thee… (Judging by the fairly constant use of leaf -blowers by the garden crew, the feeling may or may-not be universal…) While I still seem to be suffering a little seasonal clock change jet-lag, the house team has embarked on a ‘High-clean’ programme that has been meticulously planned out by Katy. (The ‘Commander Riker’ to House Manager Lin’s ‘Jean-Luc Picard’ for all you Star Trek fans…) This involves first and foremost preparing the house room by room. The plan is to clean as we do on a closed day first. Then we go round and remove all of the ceramics and put them in secure storage, out of harms way.
The next thing is to cover all of the furniture and objects with acid free paper and fabric covers to protect them from dust and damage. The most valuable items get purple triangles and/or florescent stars, so they can be easily identified in the unlikely event they would need to be removed as part of an emergency salvage operation. (Fire, flood, earthquake, zombie infestation, alien invasion, that kind of thing… ) They then get moved to the middle or edges of a room so we can bring the ladders in to start the ‘High Clean’. That should put my vertigo to the test!
After many days cleaning in the house, a recent highlight and temporary reprieve from the schedule came thanks to our very own ceramic specialist Margaret Jones. Her idea was for a little pottery workshop/team building exercise/bit of fun, so we had all took a seat in the staff kitchen, and awaited instructions. Once the clay had been handed out we all set about moulding our creations, that will be glazed and finished when we can get round to it… The designs ranged from plaques to plates to candle stick holders. (Katy’s monkey head design had absolutely nothing to do with the picture of a monkey on the old newspaper she was using, it was a carefully thought out concept too complex to explain…..) My creation was a moon gazing hare and I unfortunately forgot to engage my obsession pacifying filter and was so intent on getting his little legs, tail and ears all the right proportion I sat back realising every one else had pretty much finished and I had yet to add any detail…. This culminated in a design in the style of Henry Moore, (one of my favourite sculptors) so the hare is now called ‘Henry’. Once completed, the next stage is drying. This is to let the clay dry out at a steady rate so that when it’s fired in the kiln, it doesn’t crack. More on Henry, (sorry…) in the coming weeks….