The Infill: 3 June 2016

The Infill: let us turn your frown upside-down


It’s June. And in the northern hemisphere that usually means summer. Blue skies and warmth. Flip-flops and shorts. BBQs. But for those of us in the UK, the sun seems to have gone missing. And so we’re a bit sad. And we’re going to wallow in that sadness by sharing some sad, sad stories about cultural heritage treasures that are sadly no more, or at least not in their original form. We begin with crying in Camelot and Cornwall, where some mean person has hacked off Merlin’s nose. How’s he meant to whip up magic potions without a sense of smell? Meanwhile in China, one doting mother was heard to boast, ‘My little Johnny – everything he does is so adorable!’ To which we respond: yes, especially when your little angel destroys artwork as you record it for posterity on your smartphone… and then develop his moral character even further by running away. There’s also sad news from the Ukraine, where the first book ever printed there has gone missing from the country’s national library. Sadly, entire buildings can go missing too, whether by intention or – as with New Delhi’s National Museum of History – inferno. Finally, there’s more potential sad news in the UK, where the historic Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I will be sold to the highest bidder, in all likelihood sailing off to its new owner on foreign shores.


We don’t like to stay sad for long, though. So let’s try to lift our spirits with some happy news. We’ve got a whole slew of objects, artefacts and traditions that have been recovered, rediscovered or repatriated: from Native American Indian languages and Middle Ages songs not sung for 1,000 years to Captain Cook’s ship and a Napoleonic war diary (‘Dear Diary, today we looted half ze art in Italy’); from a stolen letter from Christopher Columbus to Ferdinand and Isabella and Maori remains returned to New Zealand to a mid-nineteenth-century can of turtle soup (contents sadly – or thankfully, depending on how you look at it – missing) and (hooray!) those paintings stolen from the Castelvecchio in Verona last year: so much good news! And, hey… is that a little bit of yellow we see poking out from behind the clouds? No, of course it’s not, but the powers of cultural heritage have once again worked their magic and we’ve cheered up.

What has science done for us lately?

Quite a lot, friends, and we’re not just talking about ‘The Big Bang Theory’. Not only has science helped conservators identify the source of pockmarks in paintings as metal soaps (proving there’s a downside to good hygiene if you’re an artist), worked with its aged pal limestone mortar to help prevent damp in historic buildings and harnessed the power of the gecko foot to fight dust, it’s even discovered – just when you thought we’d found them all – a new form of light. Want more? Check out this free download of the papers from the 2013 ICCROM FORUM on Conservation Science or the AIC ‘Pathways into Conservation Science’ webinar.

News you can use

If you’re looking for some tips on packing, moving and storage, a (rather enlightening) tutorial on the effects of water on inkjet prints or a brief treatment report on kraft paper tape-adhered photographs, you’ve come to the right place. But if you couldn’t care less about a new conservation-grade photographic paper, the latest pigments added to the Pigments Checker database or ‘the new generation of smart data loggers’, you haven’t.

Your video treat:

should not be watched – as it was when we did it – before lunch, lest you think you’ve entered the magical world of the cupcake frosting factory and start drooling on your keyboard. We’re not sure what they mean by ‘the world’s biggest oil paint’, but it sure looks delicious. Pretty, we mean, pretty!

The final word…

… goes to the British Library’s Medieval manuscripts blog: ‘The association of glove-wearing with handling old books… has little scientific basis.’ So there.

Never let it be said that conservators aren’t solution-minded. We’ve cranked up the thermostat, donned our swimming costumes and put some burgers on the Le Creuset griddle pan. Who needs the sun for fun? Kiss kiss, The Gathering

Have comments on any of the items above? Leave your feedback below, and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for your daily Infill.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.