Young Reporters: smoke sponges and suitcases

The Young Reporters learn the tools of the conservation trade

After being interviewed by the Young Reporters for their radio broadcasts, it was great to have them return to visit me in the Conservation Laboratory and spend some time learning more about what I do as an Object Conservator at IWM.

After seeing my own workspace and some of the equipment we use, the Young Reporters worked through the process of object conservation in their own conservation studio.  Using damaged suitcases from the handling collection we first inspected the objects and completed a condition report.  This is the process the conservators go through for every object in preparation for the displays in the new galleries opening in 2014.

Practicing some conservation skills

In the first part of this process the Young Reporters completed a brief description of the object, took detailed measurements and listed the different materials the suitcases were made from. Then they wrote a description of the overall condition of the object, highlighting the different types of damage and where it had occurred.  They identified areas where the leather had been torn, worn or was disintegrating.  They also recorded the surface and ingrained dirt on the objects.

We then tested out different cleaning techniques I would use to conserve this type of object.  The Young Reporters used micro-fibre cloths, a rubber sponge called smoke sponge and a special conservation grade detergent in water to clean the dirt and dust that had built up through handling and storage.  Then they repaired tears to the leather using a water-based conservation adhesive and consolidated the disintegrating leather surfaces with a thin water-based acrylic solution.

Finally the Young Reporters recorded the work they had done.  This is a very important part of the conservation process as we need to keep a record of all the work we do to an object for future reference.

Young Reporters in the lab

I really enjoyed the workshops with the Young Reporters.  It reminded me how interesting and varied my job is.  I was not aware of conservation as a profession until my early twenties so it was great to be able to explain to children of that age what conservation is and the types of jobs there are in museums behind the scenes.  They were very fast learners, picking up on the observation skills needed to identify damage.  The Young Reporters did a great job conserving these items so they can continue being used in the handling collection for years to come.

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