My life is focused on my thesis right now. I basically want to get it done as soon as humanly possible so I can get started on my adult life! How exciting is the prospect of not being a student! I’m never spent a significant amount of time not a student. I worked my university summers of course but it’s just not the same. I’ve whined and complained about living a temporary life for years. And now I’m so close to settling in and committing to all the things I want to do…. as soon as I get this thing written!!!!
I also picked up some of this basil the other day. Who knew basil was so British!
"My" exhibit opened yesterday and myself, some of the staff and other stagiaires went to see the finished result. I’m pretty proud of this exhibit (despite the fact that I had very little to do with the exhibit design or mounting) because I did most of the conservation work.
Check out the rest of my pictures of the exhibit on my flickr account here.
On the afternoon of the 16th we all loaded into a minibus and headed off to Stirling to check out the tapestry project there. I had a really great time! I think I might have gotten a bit annoying with my exclamations about how castle-y the whole place was! It was foggy and damp and romantically Scottish, plus there were tapestries being woven right in front of us!
We talked with one of the weavers about the incredible 12-year project that aimed to recreate 6 tapestries. It was especially fascinating for me to learn about the project because one of my pet topics of study is the recreation of textiles. Some of the issue brought up were the provenience of the originals that the recreations were based off of. They are recreating the famous Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries now being held in the cloisters in New York. The series of 5 complete and 1 fragmented tapestries were most likely not originally woven as a set despite the stylistic and temporal similarities. However, they are similar enough and woven at nearly the same time and so from a modern perspective they can easily be grouped together. The originals date from the turn of the 16th century and over the years have accumulated the various repairs and re-weavings that so often seem to clutter the "truth" of the object. This is to say that as parts of the object are changed the object is no longer simply and object from the turn of the 16th century. It also contains alterations that date to the 18th, 19th or 20th centuries as well. It can be argued that the visual impact of the object is only as recent as the most recent repair since that is when it’s appearance was last altered.
So what does this mean when a complex object like these tapestries is recreated? At this point it is truly impossible to recreate the object as it was in the 16th century simply due to the loss of information. Additionally, there are modern concerns that must be dealt with. Despite the incredible scale of the project, practical concerns still take precedence. The tapestries are being woven one tenth less than the originals for some reason I can’t recall, and this has an affect on the weavers ability to reproduce the image. For example, imagine a pixelated image. When that image is decreased in size there is a loss of information because the individual pixel has a set size that cannot be altered. As the image is decreased in size, the individual pixel then represents a greater area of the image but is still only able to indicate a single colour. This is the same for the tapestries except replace "pixel" with one weave of an individual coloured weft thread.
The weavers are thus unable to count the weft threads and base the recreation on any sort of categorizing of the specific weaving of the originals. Nor, really, is this a feasible way to go about this project. The weavers are trained to weave at a normal pace and to create the tapestry as they do, and they are experts at it! So this is how the project will be accomplished. The weavers create the cartoon in the desired scale with notations about the colours originally used and away they go!
There is this odd contradiction in the balance between the lofty goals of recreation and the practical how-exactly-are-we-going-to-do-it problem solving of those who bring the project about. I saw the incredibly detailed notation describing the colours used, where and how but that complex document was based on the subjective examination of the individual. I know from experience that a long highly detailed project based upon a subjective questions like "what colour is this thread" is most definitely subject to the vagaries of the human brain. One day a colour might appear to be one thing and the next another. Only the barest cartoon is actually placed behind the tapestry as this is the best way for the multiple person team to weave comfortably with whatever additional reference materials they feel that they need.
Clearly I find the process fascinating since I have gone on and on about it but I find so many similarities in my attempts at costume recreations. A basic adjustment that I must always make is for the fit of the clothing which brings similar issues of scale and silhouette that the weavers experience on such a different project. So cool! Pictures!
A week and a half ago, Princess Anne, Queen Elizabeth’s daughter, came and officially opened the new Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Art History here at the University of Glasgow. It was pretty cool to get to meet royalty! She came to see the labs and spoke to each one of us students and the staff. Following this there was a reception at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery where speeches were made and the official plaque was revealed. Once the reception was over, all the guests were invited to have a tour of the lab. We students were positioned strategically around the lab where we talked about the sorts of projects we have been doing.
It was… interesting experiencing the whole thing. Having had little to do with modern royalty, I wasn’t exactly sure how to feel about this whole thing. Should I object to an outdated tradition of hereditary power? Should I embrace an ancient royal line and an important part of modern British identity? I’m still not sure, and I Definitely don’t feel strongly about this issue, but I was still nervous to meet her! It was ridiculous how palpably uptight everyone was getting as she approached. She chatted a little with each of us, asking a few questions. She asked me where I was from and about my previous education. She had a very straightforward manner that I could definitely appreciate.
The reception was actually fun. I hadn’t realized until then exactly how many people in conservation we had met over the past five months. Between guest lecturers and visits to conservation labs, I could spot quite a few faces among the crowd. The canapés were ridiculously awkward to eat. There was this one with wasabi and salmon that was on a slice of cucumber. Not only was this thing about four bites, there were no serviettes! Cucumbers are wet people, serviettes are a necessity! The canapés were really tasty though, and so was the champagne!
We’ve been getting photography instruction from the photography unit in the University (which has been awesome btw!), and we subsequently cajoled the photographer into taking some group shots of us. All the pictures were taken by the university photographers and are copyrighted by the University of Glasgow.
So something exciting is happening tomorrow. The Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Art History is having it’s official opening presided over by Princess Anne, Queen Elizabeth II’s daughter. She’s going to visit the labs and then there will be a reception with canapes and speeches at the Kelvingrove art gallery. Later in the afternoon there will be tours of the labs for all the guests and I’ll be leading one. I bet it will be a lot of standing around in a lab coat looking studious. Still, it isn’t everyday that you meet royalty! I still can’t believe that I (I !!!) have not made a new dress to wear for the occasion! True, I will still be wearing a dress I made a while ago but it just isn’t the same…
So what do you think, should I curtsy? (apparently it’s optional these days)
Last week was a loooong week. We had extra hours in the lab and they certainly were full! Last week was mostly our wet cleaning practical. To get us all started we were given various plain white textiles (coloured textiles are a whole ‘nother ballgame). My piece was a lace collar, looked early 20th century to me, that was a combination of machine and needle lace.
There were a few rust-coloured stains at the neck that I tested for washfastness before cleaning. Additionally, because of the fragility of the textile, I sandwiched it in net to keep it stable during cleaning. The actual cleaning itself was quite time consuming. I used two wash baths, the second at half-strength, and five rinses. The anionic detergent we used has the tradename Orvus and is particularly suited to cellulose-based textiles which all of our objects were. During the washbaths and the rinses I sponged the textile with both natural and artificial sponges.
It did come out with a noticeably lighter colour, general overall soiling had obviously been cleaned away. I also blocked it out while wet, basing the general size off of a tracing I had made in mylar previous to cleaning. So in addition to cleaning, my object also reaped the benefits of a humidification treatment. The edges were straightened out and some of the creases removed. It was much improved.
When I reflect back on the whole experience I feel that some of the handling procedures were a bit overkill in the case of my object. If I had to do it again I would definitely keep the netting as that was hugely advantageous to manipulating the piece. I would however use only the artificial sponge which has a slightly higher "suction" than the natural sponge. In this case the object was hardy enough to easily withstand this. The removal of the natural sponge step would have cut down some of my working time. It’s important to consider that you really don’t know how a textile is going to react to a full immersion bath until you actually do the treatment. My textile looked quite fragile and it was easy to imagine it weakening when wet. The actual experience was quite different. I found the textile to maintain quite a bit of strength, even brittleness, while wet.
All the students had quite different objects and this was a really interesting learning experience. Working in close quarters allowed for us all to benefit from each others’ experiences. Others’ objects I would definitely not apply the previous paragraph to, as they were quite fragile and even more so when wet. As well, the large objects had their own unique needs that required that we all pitch in to help. Even the drying process had different needs for different objects.
My instructor had truly remarkable stamina. She worked the hardest and the longest helping everyone essentially all at once. I can’t imagine how tired she must have been at the end of the day. I know I was exhausted after one session and she worked straight through two! Her dedication and unflagging energy is definitely something to aspire to!
It was a really interesting and exhausting day and I hope to repeat it soon with something completely different!