+44 (0)113 218 1010

[javascript protected email address]

Category

Behind the Scenes

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.

 

It’s Snow Laughing Matter – A Bird Garden Winter Update

Our Burrowing Owls in the snow. Picture by Francesca from our Bird Garden Team.

Last week saw West Yorkshire covered in snow, with Harewood forced to close to visitors due to the weather. In this blog, our Bird Garden Manager Nick Dowling explains how our feathered friends deal with the cold temperatures. 

Although most of the species we keep in the Bird Garden are cold hardy and well acclimatised to the Yorkshire weather, the recent low temperatures and snow have meant that some of the tropical birds such as the cockatoos and brown lorys have been making good use of their heated sheds. The flamingos have also been shut into the boat house while the lake has been frozen. Although naturally they are able to live at high altitudes and survive extremely low temperatures, a combination of long legs and slippery surfaces can cause problems for flamingos, so for their safety we keep them inside until the ice has melted.

Two of our Kookaburras enjoying (?) the snow. Photo by Francesca.

Another potential problem caused by the lake freezing are visits from foxes who travel across the ice to snoop around the bird garden at night. Keepers have the tiring task of breaking ice around the chain ferry and Capability boat jetties to ensure there is no easy access route for potential predators. Unfortunately our mother and son red crested turaco did not have the sense to roost indoors so our keepers Abby and Peter have had to use gentle encouragement and shut them in their warm house on an evening!

 

A frosty Penguin Pool ! Photo by Francesca.

Although from the Atacama Desert of Peru and Chile, the Humboldt penguins are quite content in the snow and often the younger members of the colony will chase snowflakes as they fall.  Due to the freezing cold currents in which they swim, as well as the cold desert nights, Humboldt penguins are well adapted to cope with the cold despite their status as a tropical penguin species. They have a layer of blubber under their skin for added insulation, as well as two layers of thick densely packed feathers for waterproofing and further protection against the cold.

 

Our Andean Condor isn’t too sure what to make of this snow…Photo by Abby, a member of our Bird Garden Team.

 

Some more feathered friends were out and about in the snow last week : 

A Greater rhea and Alpaca out for a snowy walk. Photo by Francesca.

Our Satyr tragopan standing out against the snowy backdrop with its bright feathers. Photo by Francesca.

Cleaning The Chippendale Chairs

The House may be closed, but there’s still plenty going on behind closed doors as our Collections Care team undertake their Winter Clean, ensuring all the items in the collection are properly cared for.
 
Because Covid has meant that the East side of the House has been closed for much of this year, the team have been able to spend some time on tasks that need undertaking less frequently, such as wet cleaning some of the sets of Chippendale chairs. Normally the loose dirt on the chairs would be gently swept into one of the vacuums or wiped over with a cloth, however, dirt will still build up on the surface over many years. So this year with a team of helpers they’ve undertaken the wet cleaning. Cotton wool swabs were gently rolled over the surfaces, dampened in either a solution of vulpex (a soap spirit used in conservation cleaning) and water for the painted surfaces, or rabbit skin glue and water for the gilded surfaces.

Before and After the Chippendale Chairs have been painted

Rabbit skin glue is used by the Collections Care team to clean and consolidate any gilded surfaces on objects, because this is the glue that would have originally been used in the gilding process. Water is heated, but not to boiling point, and then shards of dried rabbit skin are dissolved in the water, this mix is then strained and allowed to cool to a jelly consistency. The ‘jelly’ is then mixed with water in different ratios for the different tasks the team want to undertake. For example the stronger solution would be used to secure any loose areas of gilding, and a weak solution to lift any dirt from the surface.