Conservation gets dirty

These are paper conservators.

Senior Paper Conservator Caroline Whitley and Head of Conservation Jonathan London line a fragile watercolour with Japanese repair tissue.

Senior Paper Conservator Caroline Whitley and Head of Conservation Jonathan London line a fragile watercolour with Japanese repair tissue.

This is a textiles conservator.

Two women inspecting muslin dress

Senior Textiles Conservator Sue Frost (right) undertaking a condition assessment of a gown with Jane Donnelly, Property and Facilities Co-ordinator, The National Trust of Australia (NSW)

And this is me.

Preparing to drill a small exploratory hole into the Sirius anchor, as part of the conservation assessment process.

Preparing to drill a small exploratory hole into the Sirius anchor, as part of the conservation assessment process.

I’m the only objects conservator at the Australian National Maritime Museum at the moment.  I’m responsible for the care of the huge HMS Sirius anchor, which is currently on display in the upper level of the museum.  Unfortunately, the coatings which protect vulnerable iron maritime archaeological materials like this don’t last forever.  Its now time to renew the anchor’s coating, and we’ll be doing this while its on display in the museum.  I can’t clean and recoat such a big anchor by myself.  So, I’ve enlisted the help of my conservation colleagues.

One of the anchors from the wreck of HMS Sirius, kindly lent to us by Norfolk Island Museum.  HMS Sirius was the flagship of the First Fleet, wrecked off the coast of Norfolk island in 1790.

One of the anchors from the wreck of HMS Sirius, kindly lent to us by Norfolk Island Museum. HMS Sirius was the flagship of the First Fleet, wrecked off the coast of Norfolk Island in 1790.

While the principles behind the work done by conservation professionals are shared, the practicalities are quite different.

You can catch me most days of the week with my wellington boots and lab coat on pouring hundreds of litres of solution into maritime archaeology treatment baths.  Or removing old grease and corrosion from technology objects.  Or putting metal objects covered in microcrystalline wax into the oven.  And often making a terrible mess in the process, while not too far away my friends in paper and textiles conservation are working with beautifully clean hands on delicate dresses and watercolours.

The treatment of the anchor is going to be a bit mucky.  We need to strip off the old coating, as well as any underlying corrosion to create a surface that will accept the fresh coating.  If you’ve ever done any furniture restoration at home, or stripped and recoated an old wall, you’ll know just how messy it can get.

If you’re visiting the museum from Monday 17 to Friday 28 June on a weekday, you might just catch us working on the anchor and see conservation get dirty.

5 thoughts on “Conservation gets dirty

      • There is currently a very thick black coating on the anchor that disguises the texture and colour of the object surface. So, yes, it will look quite different! We’ll apply an anticorrosive clear coat at the end of the treatment, so that anchor surfaces will be visible but protected.

  1. Pingback: Hidden in plain sight: revealing the Sirius anchor | Australian National Maritime Museum

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