In the Winter of 2019 I was asked to condition report a pottery plate by celebrated artist Grayson Perry which was in private ownership, prior to its loan for an exhibition at The Holburne Museum in Bath in 2020 titled ‘Grayson Perry - The Pre Therapy Years.’
This exhibition focused on his early works dating from between 1982 -1994 and many of these works had been sourced from private collections .
I was pleased for an excuse to have a day out of the workshop to visit a
lovely part of South Devon and willingly agreed.
It turns out that this plate was Grayson’s first experiment with pottery and he had added a coin into the centre to see how if would react in the kiln. He had obviously marked out the area that the molten metal would flow into , as it had contained itself to a shape that made up the dress the figure was wearing.
Although the plate is a departure from Grayson’s later works of art which are more detailed and colourful, inscribed with lots of social comment and very distinctive , this plate’s explicit title which is piped in clay along the border and the pose of the female figure within the centre of the plate is as challenging and playful as his later works.
The plate had been badly damaged in places, with an area on the rim that had chipped and had been poorly re-bonded and there were some losses of glaze in areas.
However , this does not deter from the importance of the piece as an example of Grayson’s early work and it was a privilege to be able to handle the plate and examine it in close detail.
Another bonus was that the owner turned out to be an artist of international acclaim and I examined the plate in her studio which had many examples of her work lying around. I felt that I had experienced two artists for the price of one that day!
I have worked with the TATE at the St Ives gallery for a number of temporary exhibitions. The first exhibition was in April 2017 following an 18 month refurbishment.
The Studio and the Sea. ’That Continuous Thing: Artists and the Ceramics Studio 1920-Today’ included over 80 works from more than 50 artists from Europe , Japan and North America.
Many object were on loan from other museums, such as the Victorian and Albert Museum, The Crafts Study Centre in Farnham, The Bernhard Leech Pottery Museum and The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam as well as objects owned by TATE.
I also needed to repair an item on loan that was damaged in transit before returning to to the host museum and offer advice on changes to the packing case used to return it, in order to avoid further damage.
I was privileged to handle important ceramics from potters such as Bernard Leach and some of his contemporaries (c1930s) such as Shoji Hamada, Michael Cardew, Katherine Pleydell- Bouverie and William Staite Murray
I also handled ceramics from the Californian ‘clay revolution’ of the 1950’s and 60’s by artists such as Peter Voulkos, Ken Price, Rudy Autio an Ron Nagle.
The second exhibition I was involved in was a very exciting time, as the new gallery in the extension at TATE St Ives was opened for the first time with works from Rebecca Warren. This exhibition included large bronze sculptures, works made of unfired clay and other mixed media wall hangings.
The latest exhibition I participated at TATE as a freelance conservator was the Virginia Woolf exhibition in February 2018 . The exhibition consisted of a range of mixed media and I was involved in photographing, completing condition reports, filing data and offering conservation advice about aspects of the display and appropriate lighting, temperature and humidity.
I am happy to consider any freelance work in museums or offer condition reports and preventative conservation advice for any collections in private hands.
I was approached by Dorset County Council to assess the condition of a large circular tiled column which is situated in the centre of the library in Swanage. The tiles had been made by a local potter, Christopher Russell in 1965 and were made of pottery with coloured glass fused onto the surface to create the decoration. Over the years temperature differences and general wear and tear had left the surface of the glass crizzled in places and there were several cracks in the tiles that had been filled with inappropriate filler. A Trend environmental sensor had been insensitively placed on the column and it’s re-siting had left some large holes in the tiles. The surface of all the tiles were very dirty and many had residues of sellotape and blue tack where notices had been applied.
I recommended that all the tiles were cleaned and the poor repairs were removed as far as possible prior to treatment with a more sympathetically coloured resin fill. The Trend monitor could be moved to a more appropriate site and the damage to the tiles caused by it’s fixing repaired. Where grout was missing between the tiles this should be replaced and the cracked glass could be consolidated with a resin to stabilise the cracks , as in some areas there were losses where the surface had become detached.
Due to the library being a public space and quite small, consideration had to be given on how to treat the tiles in-situ without causing disruption to it’s use. Fortunately the library was closed on a Tuesday and Thursday, so work could be carried out then, but I needed to choose products that would cure quickly before the room was available to the public the day after.
After some research I opted for Akemi polyester resin, used by stone conservators, for it’s light fast, non yellowing properties and it’s ability to take pigment. It is fast curing, liquid enough to consolidate the cracks and can be abraded and polished.
Initially the surface of the tiles were cleaned with acetone to remove sellotape residues and other grease marks.
The cracked tiles and crizzled glass were consolidated with lAkemi premium liquid clear polyester adhesive, applied with a pipette and any surplus removed with xylene before the resin cured.
Missing areas and drilled holes were filled with Akemi clear knife grade epoxyacrylate adhesive coloured to match with polyester dyes or dry ground pigments.
Once cured all filled areas were abraded with sandpaper and polished with micro-mesh abrasive cloths.
Finally all the tiles were polished with a commercially available tile polish to seal and protect them from further surface damage.
Advice on cleaning, handling, packing, displaying, damaged objects, conserved and restored objects...
Professional Conservators in Practice,
Preventative Conservation Course,
10-13 November 2014
Course tutors: Linda Bullock and Helen Lloyd
As a freelance ceramics and glass conservator, operating from my own conservation studio in Devon, my practice mainly deals with interactive conservation treatments and I wanted to expand my knowledge of preventative conservation methods in order to be able to offer a wider service to my clients and have a better understanding of procedures that are employed by museums and heritage institutions which have been tried and tested.
I really enjoyed the course and meeting colleagues from a wide range of different backgrounds. The challenges faced by others in their various institutions made me more aware of issues such as storage , coping with large visitor numbers and working in front of the public.
As well as benefitting from the wealth of experience from our two tutors , Linda Bullock and Helen Lloyd , we also had expert advice and lectures from consultants such as Bob Child, Dr Jane Nicklin, Frances Halahan and Helen Moody.
The course is an intense three days which comprehensively covers all aspects of the agents of deterioration and strategies to prevent further damage or decay. We were introduced to various instruments to monitor temperature, humidity, light and shown ways to change these conditions when necessary.
The balance between displaying objects in the best environment for their preservation against the optimum temperature and lighting conditions for human comfort was a factor that I had not fully appreciated before the course.
The skills I have learnt in risk assessment, environmental monitoring, protecting objects during construction work, employing correct handling and storage techniques and calculating costs are skills that will be useful not only in my professional life as a conservator, but also in general while planning any event or exhibition. I now feel more confident in offering advice to my clients about displaying and cleaning their collections.
West Dean College is a lovely setting and I can recommend the facilities and excellent canteen. The only downside was the fire alarm which went off at 4.15 am one morning. Thankfully it turned out to be a false alarm and it did raise some learning issues about handling a potential disaster.
I would like to thank Icon and Tru Vue for the funding. Receiving a grant towards the cost of the course was a huge benefit, as I have already funded one course and a conference myself this year, at a considerable cost to my small business. I would recommend applying for a training grant to my colleagues in a similar position, as the CPD benefits are worthwhile.
There are various types of damage that are encountered with fine porcelain, china & pottery, and a wide range of different repair treatments depending on the potbody and other factors, such as the fragility of the piece.
The first priority with any repair is for the restorer is to establish what type of body is being dealt with, as this will enable the correct choices to be made in the materials and restoration processes.
Porcelain can be hard paste or soft paste. With hard paste porcelain, the glaze is smooth and slightly fused into the body, and has a uniformly white, fine grained structure. Soft paste porcelain also has a high fired glassy glaze but the structure of the body has a more grainy texture than hard paste.
Bone China and glazed white earthenware are fired at a lower temperature than porcelain and are more porous. This increases their water retention, which is a factor to consider when repair and restoration is involved. Stoneware, such as Mason’s Ironstone and some Doulton can be identified by their partly vitrified body which is course and granular in structure. Different methods of cleaning and drying time may also be appropriate depending on how porous the ceramic body is.
The type of ceramic body will determine which choice of adhesives and filling materials a restorer uses.