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Behind the Scenes

Gathering Dust – Monitoring Dust on the State Floor

With the House opening for a new season, after almost seven months closed, the welcome return of visitors and staff means higher levels of dust.

Collections Care Assistant, Amy, is therefore working on a programme of dust monitoring across the State Floor to highlight how frequently objects need cleaning, so the team can effectively allocate resources, and establish the impact high visitors numbers, the grass being cut, or rock salt in the Winter months has on the levels and types of dust found. On your next visit to the State Floor, well-trained eyes may spot some of the two types of monitoring stations.

 

A Microscope Slide placed on the State Floor

Microscope slides have been placed on flat polished surfaces to establish how many days, on average, before the dust build up obscures the glossy finish and needs gently removing. Whilst dust can attract pests and become fixed to the surface if it is left, frequent cleaning can also cause damage, especially to delicate surfaces or areas of existing damage.

 

A sticky dust monitor that has been placed on the State Floor.

 

Sticky dust monitors have also been placed around the State Floor. These are made from archival grade, acid free board, with double sided sticky tape, and are 2cm by 2cm to make them as small and inconspicuous as possible. After a variable amount of time the sticky dust monitors will be collected in and analysed under a microscope.

 

Over the past few months, Amy has created a reference guide with microscope images of all the textiles and fibres that can be found across the State Floor, as well as the floors, the Collections Care black jumpers, pollen and grass outside, and hair and skin flakes. When the sticky monitors are analysed under the microscope the guide will help establish what is causing the dust and whether any extra measures can be implemented to minimise the dust. Here’s just a few things that have been found under the microscope…

 

Dry Soot and Rainwater.

Underlay Fibres

and even a Booklouse !

 

 

Volunteering for Real World Experience

This #VolunteersWeek, Megan takes us through a day in the life of a Bird Garden Volunteer and how volunteering at Harewood is contributing towards her qualifications. 

My name is Megan and I’m one of the Bird Garden volunteers, I have always had a huge love for animals and I’m currently studying to gain a CMZAAV qualification (Certificate in the Management of Zoo and Aquarium animals) which requires that I volunteer to gain real world experience. I feel incredibly lucky that I’m able to do this at Harewood and work with some of the most amazing animals. My personal favourites are the Humboldt penguins which I’ve learnt to identify, such as Beaky who many of us have a huge soft spot for. Many of my course studies are based on the animals in the collection such as researching their behaviours to further understand them, including how we care, protect and save them. I’m currently working on a project observing Brown Lory behaviours to understand how much they interact with visitors.

A day in the bird garden starts off with preparing the food for all the 50 species of birds – this means a lot of dishes! Once the food is prepped its time to feed and check they are all looking healthy, we do this by just keeping an eye out for any unusual behaviour. Once everyone’s fed, a lot of my time is spent tending to the bird enclosures, often weeding and cleaning. The best part for me is scrubbing down the penguin pools, it’s quite a smelly job but I love it!

Harewood is a fantastic place to volunteer, there is nothing better than being in the great outdoors with nature surrounding you. I am always happy to see visitors enjoying themselves and embracing a passion I hold so closely.

Pictures on the move

“Over the last couple of weeks the team have re-homed 15 pictures across the State Floor, taking 4-5 people approximately 4 full days to undertake.” 

Hanging pictures in a house like Harewood is a little like playing Tetris – move one, and it inevitably means you have to move something else to fill its place, and on it goes. Each replacement has to be appropriate in terms of size, period, medium and content in relation to its new neighbours, so it’s a carefully thought through procedure. It’s something that the House and Collections team do often at this time of year, in preparation for new displays at the start of the season. Over the last couple of weeks the team have re-homed 15 pictures across the State Floor, taking 4-5 people approximately 4 full days to undertake. 

The process is time consuming and sometimes logistically challenging. Most of the pictures moved during this year’s re-hang were located high-up on the walls of several different State Rooms, with carved and gilded frames making them heavy and cumbersome to manoeuvre (particularly those with elaborate decorative corners). The team used a scaffold tower to make the process as safe and secure as possible for both staff and artwork. It also offers the unique opportunity to experience a room from above and see Harewood’s magnificent ceilings up-close – a rare treat. 

After having cleared a room of furniture, the scaffolding was erected and dismantled several times within each room, taking particular care to avoid delicate fixtures and fittings (such as chandeliers and mirrors) and ensuring carpets were protected using drugget. The works to be relocated were first of all removed from the walls across each of the different spaces, creating space to then reinstall each one in their new homes. Between locations, each picture rested for a time on foam blocks or easels, and if necessary picture lights and fixings were adapted to suit their new positions. Depending on the weight of the piece, dolly wheels were sometimes used to transport pictures between rooms. 

Whilst off the wall, it’s a great time to inspect pictures up-close and undertake a quick visual check of their condition, as well as appreciate their detail at close range. It’s also an opportunity to look at the reverse of a picture, which tells an alternative story about a work through the scars of framing alterations and old exhibition labels. 

When re-hanging the pictures, a hydraulic scissor lift was used (where possible) to lift them to the first level of the scaffolding where they could then be manually lifted up the scaffolding and into position by the team. The pictures were then carefully attached to the walls using picture chains and hooks. Finally, a team member on the ground made visual checks to ensure the pictures were level – often it’s helpful to use the pattern of the wall hangings to make sure they are sitting at the same height as their neighbours. 

Although re-hangs take time and planning, they are a rewarding task. It is always interesting to see familiar pictures in new places – literally seeing them in new light, and allowing new comparisons and new stories to be told. 

 

Beckie Burton, Assistant Curator 

 

The doors may be closed, but the work continues in the House…

Have you ever wondered what happens behind the scenes whilst the house is closed?

Winter is one of the busiest times of the year for the collections team. Every year when the house is closed to the public we undertake much of our annual deep clean. This year is no exception, as despite only being able to open the house for a short period in 2020, the collections and the house itself still require essential checking and cleaning. As an Accredited Museum with a designated collection we need to constantly monitor for any signs of damage or deterioration.

Each room is cleaned from top to bottom using conservation brushes and special vacuum cleaners; we even have our own scaffold tower so we can reach the ceilings. The collections care team are specially trained to use these and while they are cleaning they check for any signs of deterioration or pest activity. Some areas such as ceilings and curtain pelmets are done on a rolling programme as they don’t get as dusty as the areas lower down and we don’t want to cause damage by over-cleaning. We begin with the East Side of the house before Christmas and once the decorations come down it’s time to start in the rooms on the West Side.

 

The before and after… a half-cleaned mirror !

Each object in the room is also checked and cleaned using specialist equipment. Usually we would undertake this work with the help of a team of skilled volunteers but in order to ensure we are working within Covid guidelines we have had to stand them down this year and the staff are keeping socially distant.

This year we’ve also been undertaking an inventory audit and making sure that all the objects are marked with their own unique number. Each mark is made in a specific way so it doesn’t damage the object. It’s best to do this type of work at the same time as the cleaning so we only handle the object once, reducing the risk of accidental damage.

Here we have been cleaning a pelmet so have taken the opportunity to sew on a label at the same time.

During the lockdown we also need to be on site to keep an eye out for any leaks, monitor the environment and to regularly check for pests throughout the house including the attics.

There are a number insects which would enjoy munching their way through the collections if we let them, woodworm and carpet beetle are the most widespread across museums and historic houses. They like organic materials, particularly wood and textiles which make up most of the collections.

Igor The Palm Cockatoo

Meet Igor, the Palm Cockatoo.

Igor’s beak was slightly off-centre. Since parrots’ beaks continue to grow throughout their lifetime, they usually wear them down either by chewing on branches or hard items such as nut shells, or by rubbing the lower mandible against the upper mandible which makes a rasping noise (which makes Nick, our Bird Garden Manager, cringe)! Because Igor’s beak was not straight, it ran the risk of not wearing down evenly: sadly an overgrown or mis-aligned beak can cause problems for parrots as it hinders their ability to feed themselves or their chicks properly. They may also have issues climbing and moving about naturally.

 

In order to give Igor the best chance in life, the vet was recently called out and fortunately (for Igor !), his beak was not severe enough to need a brace. Instead, the vet carried out a beak trimming procedure; an operation requiring anaesthetic. We are very much hoping that since he is a young bird who is still growing, this minor beak trim will allow the beak to correct itself and straighten out. If these problems are caught early enough they can usually be relatively easy to solve. In the picture above he is showing off his newly trimmed beak.

 

Operations such as these go hand-in-hand with caring for living collections such as those found at Harewood. Our annual vets bills are in excess of £15,000, that’s around 400 Individual memberships every year.

 

Igor is the first palm cockatoo to be hand raised at Harewood. We removed him from the nest at seven days old, as chicks have not recently been surviving with their parents during the last couple of breeding seasons. After four months of hand feeding the chick, he is now fledged (able to fly)  and almost fully weaned onto his adult diet. He will go on to play an important role in European breeding programme for this increasingly threatened species.