Museum objects are chosen to help tell the story in an exhibition, but sometimes they aren't ready to be put on public display. During the development of Tāku Tāmaki - Auckland Stories, there was a parade of collection objects being assessed and repaired in the Museum's conservation lab.
Taking a close look
At the beginning of the exhibition planning process, the curators and the exhibition developers have a story they want to tell, and a list of the objects they need to use to tell that story. It is the role of the conservators in the Collection Care department to assess the condition of these collection objects and work out what they require in order to be exhibited.
Collection Care assists with exhibition development by providing expert opinions on object conditions, recommending display conditions, and performing conservation treatments where necessary.
The conservator will make recommendations on how objects should be displayed - the lighting levels, mount and case design, and environmental parameters which are required to enable the object to be on show for a certain period of time. In some cases, objects need conservation treatments before they can be included in the exhibition.
In the months leading up to the opening of the Tāku Tāmaki - Auckland Stories exhibition in May 2015, conservators assessed objects that had been identified for the exhibition.
Getting stuck in
Some objects simply needed a condition assessment, to confirm that the condition of the object had not changed since it was last retrieved from storage. This was the case with Jerry Jaxon the ventriloquist dummy. Jerry was last on exhibition during Secrets Revealed in 2008, so he hadn't been assessed in seven years.
Another object retrieved from storage for assessment was a display diorama of Auckland's Waterfront during the 1850s.
While mostly intact, in a few places the original glue had failed, resulting in what looked like a mini earthquake - a couple of the human figures had fallen out of their waka, and a few of the buildings including the windmill from Karangahape Road had tumbled down the hill. These pieces were recorded, then re-attached in their original positions.
A third object which has spent some time in the conservation lab is a stuffed snapper, which was caught off Flat Rock in January 1963 by Richard McLauchlan (aged 11 years).
The snapper is a recent acquisition to the Marine collection, and it had some pre-existing damage when acquired. It has been the conservator's job to create fake fish scales to in-fill a section of the body where the fish had suffered some sort of a knock. The dorsal spines also required some attention, with the spines out of alignment and the membrane between the spines resembling fractured silk.
The replica scales were created out of acid-free paper, then painted, powdered and glossed so that they visually match the surrounding fish skin, and finally adhered in place. The dorsal spine of the fish was re-aligned, and a fish protein-based substrate was created and used to back the membrane between the spines.
On public display
Jerry Jaxon, the Auckland Waterfront and the snapper will all be on display in Taku Tamaki: Auckland Stories until Sunday 18 October 2015.
Post by: Megan Harvey
Megan is a Collection Manager, Collection Care at Auckland Museum and works in preventive conservation.