Oh Happy Study Day!

Hello, Michael here again.

A day at the British Museum! What more could a Trainee want? Especially as the visit took us behind the scenes and introduced us to the mounting and storage methods used by the Collections Team for their vast trove of works on paper.

I have always been fascinated by drawing, painting and print-making. When I saw the British Museum had organised a Skills Sharing Day devoted to the care and presentation of these works, I was quick to book a place. I’m not usually a morning person, but on this occasion, I was very happy to be on the 6.18am train to London. I even arrived early in the fierce London heat, full of eager anticipation… and I wasn’t disappointed.

The morning was spent studying the different materials and methods used to mount and display works on paper. We learnt about conservation mount boards, their different types and weights and how The British Museum uses a French-made brand. We learnt about hinging and backboards, as well as melinex sheets to protect fragile surfaces. We also got to make two hinges from delicate Japanese paper, a V-hinge and a T-hinge, which hold and support the paper within the mount.

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Box of Italian Renaissance drawings.

I have always been able to spot a British Museum mount for two reasons. The first is their elegant rounded corners and we were given a demonstration of their simple and effective corner cutter. The second is the distinctive stamped name and details that appear below the window aperture. Again, we were given an explanation of the manual typographic stamper, which requires a good eye, a steady hand and a brave heart to use. Following the practical work, we toured the hi-tech mounting room, containing huge computerised mount cutters, as well as traditional manual devices.

After lunch, we moved to The Prints and Drawings Study Room, an historic interior with a special atmosphere. Here we were shown several methods of storage used by the museum including conservation boxes, portfolios and folders. I was impressed by the way they had used a difficult Victorian space to accommodate a vast number of priceless works. Boxes marked Leonardo, Michelangelo, Rubens and Constable filled the old storage-shelved cupboards. Prints by Rembrandt, a drawing by Degas and the original print blocks engraved by Durer were all brought out for us to see. I knew I was in Heaven when I sat down to look through an original, hand-coloured copy of Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake.

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The day was full of fascinating insights into the way The British Museum operates and it was all delivered in a practical and helpful tone. It felt like one group of museum professionals helping others with sensible, down-to-earth advice, which is exactly what the day had been designed to be.

I felt very lucky to be a part of it.

Michael.

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