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24 August 2012

The Travelling Hoard: A Collection in Motion

From the moment the Staffordshire Hoard came into the public eye, it has captivated the attention of both researchers and the public.  This interest has brought the hoard to far off places such as Paris and Washington, D.C.  During my three month placement as a Staffordshire Hoard Conservation intern at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG), the 1776 individually accessioned objects of the Hoard have been displayed, researched and stored at numerous locations.

Selected objects from the hoard are currently on display at the Lichfield cathedral, at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery (PMAG) at Stoke-on-Trent and at the BMAG Staffordshire Hoard gallery.  At the same time, sword fittings are currently being x-rayed in Lincolnshire Archives, Lincoln.  The highly fragmented, fragile fluted strips and pressed foils are being analyzed and grouped at the British Museum in London.  The remainder of the objects of the hoard objects are stored by its co-owners: BMAG and PMAG.

Pam Magrill examining garnets

Pam Magrill examining garnets

Within the conservation lab here at the BMAG, the hoard objects are studied and handled on a regular basis by a number of people. Archaeologist Pam Magrill is working with the conservation team to identify the geological species of garnets found in the hoard by examining the garnets’ inclusions. Conservation interns such as Arianna Carini, Brian Castriota and I gain conservation experience under the supervision of Hoard conservation team; Deborah Cane, Deborah Magnoler and Cymbeline Storey.  Additionally, we are regularly visited by Hoard Curator Dave Symons, interested specialists, and conduct public tours on a monthly basis.

With all this movement from location to location, the small scale and fragmentary nature of the objects, and such a dynamic work environment, conservators must address the risk of disassociation of objects within this collection.  This is accomplished through careful record-keeping, photo-documentation and regular audit checks.

When an object is conserved, conservators must prepare three reports: a written condition report detailing the condition of the object, an image-based loan out report which gives a visual guide for handling and condition checks, and a general condition statement.

Loan-out condition report, Condition report, and Condition Statement.

Loan-out condition report, Condition report, and Condition Statement.

Each object, once conserved, is labelled with its accession number.

The inner surface of K1010 is labelled

The inner surface of K1010 is labelled

Objects are all packed so that they are supported in transit, packaging labelled clearly with accession number and any warnings for their handling due to fragile components.  Additionally, the entire hoard is recorded in photographs in an easy-to-reference picture book and a condition check spreadsheet.

The location and movement of every object within and outside the museum is recorded.  Handwritten object movement log books record the date when an object arrives and departs from a given location along with those responsible for its movement.  This record is reinforced by a computer database where the current location as well as the history of movement of a given object is recorded.  Loans Registrar Helen Oliver tracks loans of all BMAG objects, including the Staffordshire hoard. Periodic audits are performed by conservators to double-check that all records are accurate and all objects are accountable.  You can get a glimpse of this process in action on Hoard Conservation Blog July 5 2012: Thorny Issues

Evelyn Ayre auditing silver fluted strips

Evelyn Ayre auditing silver fluted strips before being their journey to the British Museum.

All the information gathered by conservators is shared with the research teams to enrich their work.

I am highlighting here what may be perceived as a less glamorous side of conservation work.  I will admit that I am most content in quiet moments in the midst of an object’s treatment; but it is my sense of responsibility to care for these objects, along with the conservator’s code of ethics, that motivates and ensures that I thoughtfully complete this type of work.  It can seem repetitive, but its importance is clearly reflected in the large number of hours spent in this type of activity.  Documentation and auditing are crucial to the holistic preservation and understanding of this special collection.

By Evelyn Ayre, Staffordshire Hoard Conservation Intern

Master of Art Conservation candidate, Artifacts, Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada.

Please visit the Queen’s Art Conservation student blog