Cleaning and consolidation of a 19th century mask from Vanuatu, Melanesia
This post takes you behind the scenes to discover the conservation of a complex multimaterial object. Object Conservator, Karen Jensen and Textile Conservator, Nora Meller brought two different skill sets to solve the conservation challenges. During the treatment we understood more about the construction of the mask and ensured its long term preservation.
Caring for the whole collection
One of the primary aims of the National Maritime Museum is to care for its collections. During a recent rehousing project of a large number of ethnographic objects, this mask was identified as being so fragile that it needed an interventive conservation treatment. Its surface was crumbling which was worsened by its flexing along the central line (the ‘nose’). Therefore, we had to come up with creative solutions for its stabilization and protective storage.
Construction and condition
Consolidation of the surface
We decided to do the consolidation process in two stages: first, adhere the larger, loose or detached fragments by brushing or injecting a thicker consolidant underneath them, and then to use a more dilute consolidant in a mist form in order to secure the powdery pigments to the surface.
Japanese tissue support
To enable the re-shaping of the ‘chin’ we used an ultrasonic humidifier filled with deionised water. The cold mist softened the fibres enough so that the bent piece could be re-aligned.
Mounting and packing
Mounting was the last step of the treatment as we needed something to support and protect the mask in storage. We made a soft padded mount which moulds to the mask’s shape and protects it from flexing and moving about in the storage box.
The conservation and rehousing of the mask did not only provide it with physical stability but also enhanced its accessibility. Curators, researchers will be able to study it safely and we hope that one day more will be revealed about its history.
As conservators we have learnt much from this complex project and hope that you have enjoyed looking behind the scenes. For those readers interested in Pacific ethnographic objects, keep your eyes open for our new Sackler Gallery: Pacific Encounters opening in 2018!