As the summer season draws to a close we had a trial run of a behind the scenes taster tour for our volunteers. ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ involved us taking a trip to see the highs and lows of Dyrham. Literally. The first port of call is up the Cedar stairs to our 8a storage room. Then up to the roof, (awesome view…) back down the Cedar stairs (taking in a quick peek behind the panelling, to see part of a servant’s route) to the ladder store. Then the Church passage, (no points for guessing where that goes) and the Boiler passage (wonder what’s in there…) and finally the Lamp room (which doesn’t have any actual lamps in) and finally the mysterious and spooky Cellar where it’s Halloween all year round. The few we have conducted so far have gone down a treat, but due to the amount of stairs – not for the faint hearted!
With many visitors comes much cleaning so although it will be sad to see the summer season (what summer?) pass, we are looking forward to having two closed days so we can steam ahead with our cleaning programme. A surprise hit this season has been an eye-spy trail in the house. Along with a house eye-spy trail and an Arts Council Collection eye-spy trail we have also had a mouse trail for the younger visitors. This clever little idea has participants looking for toy mice hidden in the house show rooms. 17 in all. (If 18 or more are spotted we do try to catch them….) It has been very interesting watching how competitive family’s can be! All in the name of fun.
One of the most threatening ‘agents of deterioration’ for a painting is incorrect Room Humidity. If the RH is too high, it can cause a dramatic effect to the canvas, and can cause it to deform or sag at the bottom. (No-one wants a saggy bottom…) This can also contribute to the corrosion of metalwork such as hanging chains, nails and hooks.
If the RH is too low, the canvas can shrink and cause the painting surface to crack, so you can imagine how a painting can be easily damaged by being kept at different RH levels as the organic elements try to cope with the changes. This was evident on closer inspection of the Jesuit Church painting, but nothing to be too concerned with. Phew. The frame had an extra inspection when put back together, as a piece of the frame moulding had detached and is getting a cunning repair. This is done by taking a cast of the intact design in clay, and making a replacement using a secret recipe. All in all a fascinating inspection, trying to guess the ‘what when & why’ of every blemish – if only paintings could talk!
The textile session was an in-depth look at different fabrics that can be found in a collection. As there are so many types and compositions, it helps to have a basic understanding of the different composits that can make up a fabric. For example, Velvet can have different grades due to the quality of the material that has been used to create it. On close inspection the weave looks different and a higher quality will feel softer. We also had a great practical task for this session which was to cover the nozzle of a vacuum cleaner with a gauze and clean a piece of fabric. What you are left with when the gauze is removed is a lovely circle of fibres that have been sucked up from the surface of the cloth. This was a perfect example of what can easily happen if a textile is cleaned too harshly which is why some never get cleaned. (it’s better for it to be dusty than to slowly disappear into a vacuum!)