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House in Greenwich, the location of the conservation science laboratory
(source: Londionist.com). Right: Eltham
Palace & Gardens in London. An example of the breadth of properties managed
by English Heritage (source: English Heritage).
As part of my third-year as a graduate
student at WUDPAC, I had the great fortune of spending three months at English
Heritage in London. I was working specifically in conservation science with Dr.
David Thickett and Dr. Naomi Luxford. My major, preventive conservation, is a new
major at WUDPAC. While there are many people specializing in preventive
conservation in the USA, it is far more established as a major course of study
in the U.K. The scientists at English Heritage are well-known for their
research in preventive conservation, and I was eager to work closely with them.
English Heritage is a charitable trust
that is responsible for the care of over 400 historic monuments, buildings, and
places. These locations range from the world-famous Stonehenge to Eltham
Palace, a 1930’s Art Deco-revived 14th century palace. I worked
specifically at Ranger’s House within conservation science, which supports the
collections conservation team by offering analysis and research into preventive
conservation research questions.
I was tasked with a
specific research project that would offer the scientists a resource for better
developing showcase designs. In order to understand the need for this research,
I visited many different sites around the country to see different stages of showcase
design, installation, and the methods for monitoring the environment within
showcases. The locations were spread across the country from as far north as
Yorkshire to the southern points of Dover, Kent and Falmouth, Cornwall. The
purpose of this travel was to also introduce me more generally to the work
completed by the scientists, the management of environmental sensors, participation
in organization-wide collections meetings, to assist in integrated pest
management tasks, to witness an exhibition planning meeting for a property, and
to join a symposium with conservation staff from both English Heritage and the
National Trust. For my time at English Heritage I travelled around England to
the following places:
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Left: WUDPAC Class of 2020 Fellow Melissa King learning
about the challenges of preserving outdoor metal cannons in salt air conditions
at Pendennis Castle in Cornwal. Right: Learning
about passive sorbents for showcases and environmental monitoring devices at
Ranger’s House (photo: Rebecca Bennett).
The specific research project I was assigned related to the use of passive humidity control within cases. Controlling relative humidity is an important preservation technique that can prevent the growth of mold, corrosion of metal objects, splitting of wooden objects, and flaking of paint on composite objects amongst others. Many of English Heritage's collections are housed in ruinous castles and abbeys, and historic homes not designed to maintain a climate through mechanical control such as HVAC.
about showcase design and installation at Richmond Castle. Right: Testing
the air exchange rate of showcases with Dr. David Thickett (photo: Rebecca
The way that English Heritage, and many other cultural heritage institutions manage this is through the use of passive sorbents such as silica gel (the little sachets that say, "DO NOT EAT," you find in a box of brand new shoes!). It has been known that the relative humidity within a showcase is dependent on the relative humidity outside the case, the amount of sorbents within the case, and the air exchange rate for that specific case. For cases that require low relative humidity (below 30% RH) such as actively corroding metals, the scientists have been able to utilize a model to predict the relative humidity within a case with this information. This is a helpful tool when determining the amount of silica gel to put within the case and for determining certain specifications for designing cases. I was tasked with determining if there was a model that could be used for a similar purpose on mid-range RH (~40-60%) cases. I did this by comparing different models' predicted relative humidity to the actual recorded relative humidity within cases using sorbents at mid-range RH. Data science is a new skill for me, but one that is crucial for those wishing to pursue preventive conservation as we are often tasked with interpreting many forms of data.
This internship was made possible
through the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, and for that I am extremely grateful.
It was certainly an experience I will never forget. I met many preventive
professionals and learned about cutting-edge scientific research in my field. I
traveled throughout England and expanded my network of conservation
professionals outside of the US. Being in Europe, I had
the opportunity to visit many museums and cultural institutions, and developed
my understanding of art and cultural history for the region while also learning
about the variety of approaches taken to preserve these works. I found myself
looking for insect traps in the galleries, observing light levels on sensitive
materials, and closely examining display mounts—a symptom of caring deeply for
my chosen specialty of preventive conservation. I am extremely grateful for
this enriching experience, and for the opportunity to publish my research and
share what I have learned with my colleagues at home.
— Melissa King, WUDPAC Class of 2020