Collection Conservation Preventive conservation The team

Under the southern sun

So last week the natural history conservators on the moving project had an excursion to Barcelona. Not to get a tan, though it was warm and sunny in Spain, but to attend 1st International Conservation Symposium-Workshop for Natural History Collections (A forum in Conservation, Restoration and Preparation).  The symposium lasted for three days, two days of presentations from different museums and projects all over on their work, and a day of workshops on feathers, microenvironments and plaster jackets among other themes.

Some of us attended the workshop on plaster jackets, a method developed by preparators from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington D. C. To have a closer look at this method you can visit their website: Plaster Jackets

Plaster jackets
“Creating padded cradles to protect fossil specimens”
Steven J. Jabo. Preparator of Paleontology – Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington USA
“Cleaning and repair techniques for feathers” Allyson Rae Specialist in Organic Artifacts Conservation -UK
“Cleaning and repair techniques for feathers”
Allyson Rae Specialist in Organic Artifacts Conservation -UK


There was lots of networking as well as time for a cool drink and we would like to think we made new friends within the conservation community.

1st International Conservation Symposium-Workshop Natural History Collections A forum in Conservation, Restoration and Preparation Barcelona-Spain 18-21 September 2013
1st International Conservation Symposium-Workshop
Natural History Collections
A forum in Conservation, Restoration and Preparation
Barcelona-Spain 18-21 September 2013

To be or not to be…

In the last couple of months the conservation department and the moving project has been slowed down by the common “summer vacation disease”.  Everyone on the project has had at least a week of and most of our external partners and general museum personal have been on vacation as well. This has influenced our capacity and of cause the speed of the moving. On the bright side we have actually managed to start up our new freezing container and begun moving objects into our fancy new storage facility – but more about that in an upcoming blog.

In the end of June and most of July we concentrated on parts of the theater collection of the museum. A big change compared to our on and off documentation and cleaning of primarily zoological objects, which we have been working on most of winter and spring. The theater collection poses quite different challenges, as a pose to the zoological material, since it’s not made to last. This means that it’s often made of more or less sustainable materials like plastic, tape, glue, bad grade paper and cardboard and lots of other materials that are hard to preserve.


BTM07105The theater collection consists of a lot of different objects – props, scenemodels, costumes, memorabilia and other items related to the theater history of Bergen.

One of the more funny objects where a cobblestone from the pavement outside one of the theaters. The cobblestone came from outside Bergens Theater and had gone through the roof of a house far away from the theater during one of the bombings of Bergen in WW2. The couple who owned the house had later given the cobblestone to the museum.BTM07228

Conservation Culture Other

Medal memory

The Iron Cross after conservation

Finally our medals are conserved and analyzed. One cross is the Iron Cross and the other the Spanish Cross.

The Iron Cross originates in 13th century Kingdom of Jerusalem, when the Teutonic Order was granted the right to combine their Black Cross with the silver Cross of Jerusalem. As a military decoration the Iron Cross have existed since the Kingdom of Prussia and the Napoleonic Wars, but have been recommissioned during the Franco-Prussian War, World War I and World War II. When found it was impossible for us to determine which period this medal was from because of the heavy corrosion.

The Iron Cross under X-Ray where swastika and 1939 can be more clearly viewed

After the conservation it’s clear that our Iron Cross is from World War II – because of the swastika and the year 1939. The World War II Iron Cross was instituted by Hitler on September 1st, 1939, and awarded for bravery in battle as well as other military contributions in a battlefield environment.

The other cross took us more effort to recognize, but eventually it was discovered to be the Spanish Cross. The Spanish Cross was instituted on April 14th, 1939, to recognize the German Forces who served in the Spanish Civil War (July 1936 – March 1939). The Spanish Cross was awarded in three classes, Bronze, Silver and Gold (there was also a special grade of Gold with Diamonds).  The bronzed and silver class came in two categories, with swords (combatant) and without swords (non-combatant). The Gold was awarded only with swords.

The Spanish Cross after conservation

We were hoping that the Spanish Cross would turn out to be the silver version, since it is very rare and only rewarded to 327 people during the civil war. Actually, it was rewarded to a couple of military personal who were later was stationed at the command in Bergenhus and killed there during a bombing in 1944. After closer analysis it turned out to be made of a cobber alloy and thereby proven to be the bronzed version. The bronze without swords was given for “3 months of service in Spain” and awarded to 7.869 individuals – the most common of the Spanish Crosses – and ours is even missing the “swastika-button” in the middle.

The Spanish Cross under X-ray where the hole for the missing “swastika-button” can be viewed.
Collection Conservation Moving

Surprising treasure

This week we have been picking up the ends of the stone move. A collection of smaller building stones and pottery were placed in the conservation lab for washing and repacking in plastic boxes as a pose to the old wooden boxes they were kept in before.

Unwashed stones
Unwashed stones

But it wasn’t just stones the boxes contained. It is not the first time we have made an unexpected discovery during our work (Treasure hunt), but we were still astounded when we found two medals among the stones.

Nazi cros
Nazi cross


Corroded cross

They appear to be 2. World War medals, one with Nazi symbols on it, the other quite corroded so distinct symbols aren’t detectable. Closer investigation and conservation is needed to determine the origin of the medals.

Conservation Moving

Easter egg conservation

So it is Easter next week and we are doing some Easter eggs… or well not really. Coincidentally, these eggs came out of a box with taxidermy animals to be cleaned and documented. This seemed like a good opportunity to wish you folks a very Happy Easter! And show a snapshots of the cleaning.

The eggs are being cleaned with water.
The eggs are being cleaned with water.

After Easter we are taking on a project within the project, moving large building stones from their current location in a protected building to a different storage facility. The protected building has been classified worthy of preservation and is soon to be restored. As always, we will photograph, clean  and document the objects during the process.

Big moving job after Easter. These are some of the stones.
Big moving job after Easter. These are some of the stones.


Happy Easter!!
Happy Easter!!
Conservation Other

How to dress your conservator

In museum collections some objects may have been treated with toxic or poisonous materials like arsenic and mercury. These elements were used as a conservation method and as pest treatment. Generally, we don’t have records of prior treatments, nor do we know exactly witch objects could be a health risk to the conservators. Therefore, we must be properly equipped beforehand.

So, here comes a step-by-step photo series on how to dress your conservator:

This is our sanitation box. Complete with wall size filters to absorb dust and toxic particles.
Firstly, ad your conservator to the designated area.











Second, equip with Tyvek suit covering almost the entire body.





Thirdly, put on gloves….











….and protective socks.




















The last thing to be added is a mask and matching belt with fresh air filters. The powered respirator fits round the face for optimal protection and has a flow of air over the face.













Now the conservator is ready to take on potentially toxic or mold infested or very dusty objects. Now, that’s good health and safety!

Conservation Moving Preventive conservation Storage

Packing the delicates

Before the Christmas holidays we wrote a little about the packing station and in this post we’ll elaborate on that.


When the objects are registered they move on to the packing station. The goal of this station is to prepare the objects for being moved and frozen on site at the new central storage facility.


Many museum artifacts are very fragile and they have to be packed with care for the journey. Lose parts are packed in silk tissue and attached to the object. We also use polyethylene foam, boxes and bubble wrap to secure very fragile objects either because they are damaged by wear or for example broken down by pests.


When the objects are secured they are wrapped tight in plastic and stretch film. This is crucial because all the objects containing organic material (e.g. wood, textile, plant materials) have to be frozen before entering the new storage, as described in the post about pests. Freezing causes a rise in relative humidity and the cooled air reaches the dew point when freezing and defrosting. To avoid the objects coming into contact with too much moisture, it’s important that they are tightly packed preferably without too much air present.



As earlier mentioned we have set up different “stations” around the conservation lab to organize the workflow. After photographing the objects the next step is cleaning of dust, spider webs or other things accumulations during years of storage.

The cleaning we do at the “cleaning station” is purely dry cleaning with vacuumcleaner, brushes and compressed air. A more thorough cleaning of the object is only performed if the remaining filth is a direct danger to the preservation of the object during the move. Damages and conservations issues will be registered for later treatments.

For health and safety we wear masks with filters while cleaning the objects, as the process of cleaning sends particles into the air. The particles might not be harmful, but we have to clean thousands of objects during the next couple of years and we can’t neglect the fact that we don’t know exactly what the objects have been treated with or exposed to in their lifetime!




Wow – we did it! We matched one of the mystery keys we mentioned in an earlier post to one of the chests. Last week we started moving the chests from the museum collections. Some of them already had keys and could be opened – others had keys but had broken or corroded locks. This meant that it was impossible to open them. As predicted some of the chests had no keys at all.

The chest we were handling yesterday was particularly heavy and felt like it contained something. We had a suspicion that it might be glass bottles as we last week had a similar but smaller chest containing fine old glass bottles. Unfortunately it was locked and there was no key. Luckily we were able to match one of the mystery keys to the chest and open it! The chest did contain glass bottles! On top of that it had a very pretty interior as can be seen in the picture. The chest had obliviously not been opened in many years as it was full of spider web, dust and dead insects.


Conservation Preventive conservation

So you’re moving your collection too?

The moving team attended the IIC Nordic Group – NKF’s XIX International Conference in Oslo last week. Three days packed with case stories on moving projects in all shapes and sizes, dos and don’ts in pest management and packing, and in general the challenges for museums relocating or rehousing everything from single objects to extensive collections.

 Lots of issues and challenges were brought up in the presentations given by museum staff from 9 different countries. Both ethical and logistic problems were discussed and experiences were shared. For example, where the conservators fit in when an institution plans to move museum objects, as was the case when The Museum of Cultural History in Oslo debated whether or not to move their Viking ships. The long process costing millions of kroner and resulting in no move got Susan Braovac thinking about the role of the conservator and how we can contribute in these debates. Not being a part of the decision making process from the beginning, can sometimes leave the conservators with an impossible timeframe to move a collection. For instance Joana Amaral from Portugal, who presented a case story on relocating the Museu de Arte Popular in Lisbon, showing that politicians can have an unrealistic idea of how long it takes to move a collection safely.

The significance of knowing your materials and proper packing of fragile or sensitive objects was emphasized in Marion F. Mecklenburg’s talk on transporting art and the objects potential inability to withstand temperatures below freezing point. Furthermore, Merle Strätling from the National Museum, Norway, shared experiences on the use of Thermo Lignum, which is the heating of objects as a part of managing pests, and the importance of e.g. knowing Tg (glass transition temperature) in lacquer, when heating an object to more than 50 degrees centigrade. While relocating furniture at the moving team encountered packing materials sticking to objects and deforming the surface, because the heating made the surface treatment soften.

Not only conservators attended the conference, but collection managers and other museum staff along with private moving companies, which gave a good dynamic to the conference. Among other things, this conservation team learned the paramount importance of having and maintaining good communication with everyone involved in the move of a collection, including in house dialogs about the job at hand.