The Conservation and Preservation team researches the techniques and materials used to make objects.

We get the chance to have a really close look at individual objects so that we can discover how they were made and how they have been used. In metals conservation, it is important to distinguish an original arsenic coating on a scientific instrument from a corrosion product, as mistakenly trying to remove it would be bad for the object - and the conservator!

We might even look under a microscope to discover tiny areas of flaking paint or mould damage to a work on paper. Looking at even higher magnification, we can examine paper fibres to understand more about their origin and the method of paper manufacture.

Revealing hidden features

Using light from different directions and sources can tell us about surface texture or can help to reveal hidden features, such as watermarks in paper or faded inscriptions. Compiling images taken as a light moves over an object (RTI imaging) can identify changes in surface gloss, indentations or damage. 

Methods for medical imaging can be used to examine our collections: x-radiography of paintings is a well known example. We also make use of endoscopy (a miniature video camera on a flexible arm) to look at the inside of our ship models. The unseen interiors of the models are often decorated and fitted out in the same way as their life-sized counterparts. Our conservators use an endoscope to search for tiny misplaced cannons in the bilge of the ship model, and rescue them using dental tools.

Some artists and makers are particularly well represented in our collections, and by studying a number of their works we can investigate how they might have changed how they worked over their lifetime. We also collaborate with other institutions to share knowledge to build up a wider picture of materials technology and art and craft practice.