Monthly Archives: November 2011

‘Before & After…’

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‘Moore’ on Henry…

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!


Conservation construction…

The Vac-pac is a back-pack size vacuum cleaner, and weighs about the same as a medium size baby. Once you’re up there the trick is to (along with stay up there) manipulate the hose and brush nozzle thingy to clean efficiently. As I was new to this it took me some time not to feel like I had sausage fingers and get tangled in the power cable or get the hose too near the paintings! After the initial wobble of confidence, and with the help of a brand new state of the art ladder, I can now get up to ceiling height in no time….

When ladders just aren’t enough it’s time to breakout the scaffolding! Unfortunately, I was not allowed to help with the construction, due to health and safety regulations. You have to be qualified in scaffolding construction, and my home made certificate in Grade 1 Lego didn’t count. This was quite a display to behold, as Lin and Margaret built it from the ground up with the agility of  a monkey looking for coconuts, while I looked on in amazement. The platform at the top of the scaffolding also lets you store an array of conservation equipment to make the most of the rare ‘up close and personal’ aspect of the high clean. As I can use but not build, I was keen to see if the scaffolding held the same ‘height issues’ as ladders, but to my amazement not so! I was up and down it like a rat up a drainpipe…


High time for cleaning…


Don’t look down…

‘High clean’ time at Dyrham towers means the chance to use more from the conservator’s toy box, the ‘Conser-vac’. This is an easy to carry vacuum cleaner with a hose and brush attached. (We also use the Conser-vac’s big brother, the ‘Vac-pac’, which is basically the same design but larger.) The principle of a high clean programme is to get to the parts of the rooms not normally accessible during a daily clean, and to inspect for any warning signs. The process of cleaning is the same, so we start at the highest area, (ceilings, wood panelling) with the Vac-pacs and work down, paying attention to the tops of painting frames, mirrors and fittings, as they are normally difficult to get to.

My first foray into the world of high cleaning was interesting to say the least. Having got accustomed to conservation cleaning methods during my time on the team, I was a little un-prepared for what was in store. Not only do you have the correct way of cleaning to adhere to, but trying not to fall off the ladder is pretty important too! The general rule is, if it takes two people to carry it, it will take two people to safely use it. One person goes up, and the other ‘foots’, (stands on or holds) the bottom of the legs, which makes the ladder more stable. The time came for my turn to go up, so I put on a brave face. On this occasion, this looked the same as my ‘slightly concerned but won’t let on’ face.



Now the real work begins….

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!