Saturday, 13 June 2015

A big box for a fragile basket

As a student of the Skills for Conservation Management course (UCL MA Principles of Conservation), I was encouraged to choose between different conservation projects. One of them was building a mount for an object from the UCL Anthropology’s Material Culture Room, which houses part of the Ethnography collection. I considered other options, but creating a mount from scratch, for an object that needed it, seemed like a great conservation challenge. 

The basket (object H.0051) and its storage space (images by Elina Rodríguez-Millán) (before project).
I was assigned a Fijian loosely woven basket, object H.0051, which was in a very fragile condition, with its bottom damaged in several areas. It was also quite disfigured, and its weight laid mainly on the bottom, which was problematic given its condition. The basket was about 47.5 cm wide, 44 cm long, and 41.5 cm high.

Given the state of the object, I decided that the mount should meet the following requirements:
  • Providing stability to the object. 
  • Making the object accessible while minimizing the need to handle it.
  • Fitting in the space where the object was stored. 
  • Using materials available at the Material Culture Room, and minimizing the cost as much as possible. 
After talking with Delphine Mercier, Collection Manager of the Ethnography Collections, I decided that, due to the need for protection, the object should be housed in a box covered by a lid. The main material I used to build it was coroplast (polypropylene), which is appropriate, readily available and inexpensive. I joined it using cable ties. The cable ties were also useful to join two different coroplast sheets, as one seemed not to be big enough for such a big box. For the safety of the object, it would be placed on a tray, which would fit inside of the box. One of the walls of the box would come down, allowing the object to be taken from the box without being lifted or taken from the tray. The wall would be kept in place thanks to two ribbons. 

Coroplast box in its initial state, and detail of coroplast sheets joined using cable ties, since one sheet wasn’t big enough (images by Elina Rodríguez-Millán)

The tray was made using coroplast, plastazote sheets and tyvek sausage-shaped cushions filled with polyester wadding. Three layers of plastazote were used as a base for the object, and to keep the cushions in place. They were glued together and to a coroplast base with hot glue. Two loops of cotton twill tape were added between the coroplast and the first plastazote layer, so the tray could be pulled out of the box. The other two layers were cut leaving a big hole in the middle, where the object and tyvek cushions would be placed.

Tyvek cushions placed on the plastazote and coroplast tray, and tray, with ribbon loops to pull it out of the box (images by Elina Rodríguez-Millán) (during project).
The tyvek cushions were sewn with help of Renata Peters, and filled with polyester wadding. They were adapted to the shape of the basket, and placed between it and the plastazote.

Box with ribbons, containing the basket, and tyvek cushions filled with polyester wadding (images by Elina Rodríguez-Millán) (during project).

Overall, the box seems like a good option to store the object, as it meets most of the previously stated requirements: 
  • The plastazote and tyvek cushions give stability to the basket.
  • The mount protects the object from unnecessary handling and allows the object to be taken out of the box along with the tray. 
  • The box suits the storage space for the basket. 
  • The materials used were reasonably priced and available at the Material Culture Room.

Basket inside the finished box and box on the shelve (images by Elina Rodríguez-Millán) (after project). 

On the other hand, the tyvek doesn’t seem like the best option for this kind of material, as it sometimes gets caught in the basket fibres. However, as the intention was for the object not to be taken out of its mount in most cases, it was considered a valid choice for the time being. 

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