Conservation: Out in the Open - The Challenges of Displaying & Conserving Textiles on Open Display - DAY 2

The Icon Textiles & Historic Interiors Group are pleased to present their joint online Spring Forum 2021

Day 2 - Developing Practice: Furnishings & Wall Hangings


‘Burghley’s Textiles: The Development of Conservation Practices Within the Textile Collection’ by Melinda Hey & Kelly Grimshaw

The Landi Company is responsible for the care and conservation of the focal textiles in the state rooms of Burghley House. The house is open from March until early November and is funded by The Burghley House Preservation Trust (BHPT). The public visit the state rooms on a designated route, recent annual visitor numbers for 2017 being 121,500. During this open season the textile collection is exposed to daylight, dust, pollutants and differing RH and temperatures.

Sheila Landi started work with the collection in 1984, developing an ongoing close working relationship with the collection. A team from The Landi Company performs housekeeping tasks every autumn and put the beds ‘to bed’ using a tailored system of hanging covers first developed in 1994. A report is submitted which includes environmental data and IPM observations, alongside a record of work undertaken and recommendations for future care. The team returns each spring to prepare the rooms for the season and writes a further report. At other times of the year conservation work or maintenance is undertaken according to needs and financial availability.

This paper will discuss how the Landi Company undertake the work and consider changes in the conservation practises over the years. Various concerns will be examined such as balancing funding and the conservation needs of the textiles. It will include additional issues such as liaising with teams in the house, e.g. curatorial and maintenance, on matters such as timings and the organisation of scaffolding. Additionally, the BHPT offers the house as a film set, most recently for The Crown in 2019. This event led to the dismantling and subsequent storage of a bed at very short notice further challenging the conservation team. The paper will provide insight into how this type of disruption impacts on the conservation of the textiles.

‘Caring for Caroline: Planning the Conservation of a State Bed on Open Display’ by Rebecca Bissonnet

This paper focuses on the planning and undertaking of the conservation of Queen Caroline’s State Bed circa 1715, known simply in the studio as ‘Caroline’. It is usually on open display at Hampton Court Palace (HCP). The planning of the project posed many complexities throughout, such as; yearly team rotations, previous conservation treatments and visitor expectations. A programme was developed for dismantling the bed in stages to accommodate all these needs. A method statement was created identifying the project parameters to ensure overall consistency of treatment and that the work carried out would have the longevity to last at least 50 years on open display. Interpretation and social media outputs were also undertaken addressing both the needs of individual elements of the bed and the visitor expectations by offering on site work. Dismantling the bed section by section and reinstating it gradually was a new approach for Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) and had both benefits and drawbacks.

(Poster) 'Dust Protections for a State Bed on Open Display' by Viola Nicastro

Dust represents a big challenge for conservators caring for collections on open display. At Historic Royal Palaces, the amount of dust deposition is controlled by regular surface cleaning  and by preventive conservation measures. An example of this are barriers, which are located to prevent visitors getting too close to the objects, as well as the way that the visitors route is designed. 

The headboard, the subject of this poster, is part of Queen Caroline’s State Bed, circa 1715. It is made of pine wood and covered in crimson silk damask. Despite the measures described, the assessment of the headboard highlighted extensive areas of dust deposition and cementation. The silk underneath the dust was also particularly fragile and powdery and, even minimal surface cleaning with a low powered suction, resulted in fibre loss. Therefore, it was decided to remove the dust only where necessary, by surface cleaning and localised sponge cleaning. After the treatment was completed, it was clear that the risk of further fibres loss during future cleaning cycles was high. To address this problem, I created moulded protective dust covers. Designed to rest on the most vulnerable and sculptured areas of the object, the covers are completely removable. The use of this technique was inspired by the work of a fellow textile conservator, which I re-adapted to fit this particular purpose. This live poster will describe how the trials were undertaken before developing the dust covers, how they were made and adapted to different shapes, the strengths and limitations of this method. It will also address how other solutions were carried out to protect other vulnerable parts of the bed, such as the valance arms. 

The effectiveness of the dust protections will be monitored over 3 years, with the help of the preventive conservation team.

‘Pink for All Seasons: On-site Treatment of Silk Wall Coverings at Castletown House, Celbridge, Ireland (2015-2018) & Arlington Court, Barnstaple, Devon (2019)’ by Ksynia Marko & May Berkouwer

Two countries, two houses, two very different settings. Two extremely friable, sets of pink silk wall coverings, highly valued by their owners but causing endless headaches and up for replacement. Unless.... two intrepid, somewhat daunted, slightly mad textile conservators could be persuaded by their trusting clients to take the challenge on....!

This presentation discusses the years of deliberations which began in 2006, the considerations of context, historic importance, aesthetic value, financial implications and the various technical options and problems encountered along the way.

On site treatment started tentatively in 2015 when familiar textile conservation methods were tried, tested and adapted at Castletown in Ireland, before going on to conserve all four walls through 2016 – 2018, pushing our boundaries beyond expectations.

The success of this project opened up the possibility of treating the exquisite wallcoverings of the early 19thc scheme in the Boudoir at Arlington Court in Devon, which was then undertaken in 2019.

This presentation will discuss and illustrate the technical problems and the techniques developed, showing how, with determination and careful deliberation, even silk walls which are close to be written off, can be brought back into safety and harmony for all of us to enjoy and admire a little longer and how conservation can reveal important information.

‘Historical Wall Hangings in Castle d’Ursel: How to Care for Historical Textiles in an Event Space’ by Jefta Lammens

The castle d’Ursel in Hingene, Belgium, is home to a large collection of printed cotton wall panels, dating from the middle of the 16th century up to the beginning of the 20th century. These were collected through the ages by the family d’Ursel, who used the castle as a summer residence. 

During the last 6 years these panels have been conserved and restored. The goal of the conservation project was to restore the original appearance of the rooms with the wall panels back in place. 

Several of the panels had missing parts due to years of neglect. The textiles were completed to their original state with the aid of printed infills on fabric.

Conserving the complete original construction of the panels was also an objective. This caused some challenges for the treatment of the textiles. 

The castle is now owned by the province of Antwerp and has multiple functions. It hosts cultural activities such as concerts, events and exhibitions. Every other year there is a big exhibition that relates the history of the castle with contemporary arts. 

The biggest challenge is now to combine this historical collection with the daily activities. The castle has no designated museological areas and there is no conservation staff on site. Some historical rooms are being used as office space. 

For daily maintenance some general guidelines will be installed for the pest and climate management. 

For the big exhibitions we will have to set up general guidelines. This will have to include elements as showing mounted artworks on the walls or the flow of visitors in the small rooms. 

A permanent LED light system is already installed to prevent having to change the lights for every installation. A budget for UV filters on the windows is the next thing on the agenda.