Monday, 15 June 2015

The complexity of making mounts

As part of the course ARCLG139 Skills for Conservation Management (UCL MA Principles of Conservation) last April, I carried out a mounts project with the objective of learning how to create safe mounts while taking into account the space and resources of the collection. Although it was a challenging project, I very much enjoyed the process, especially when thinking that my work might help to expand the lifespan of those unique artefacts.
The project consisted of creating suitable mounts for 22 objects of the Ethnographic collection in the Material Culture Room at the Department of Anthropology (UCL). The objects were stacked one above the other and were protected by acid free tissue. Because of the organic nature of the artefacts and the lack of appropriate mounts, they were rapidly deteriorating. What a shame, right? Especially since these objects are very interesting from  ethnographic and aesthetic perspectives.

Fig. 1. Drawer 4H: Acid free tissue and plastic bags were the only protection the objects had (before project).

The aims of the project were discussed with Delphine Mercier, responsible for the care of the MCR collection. After my discussion with Delphine, the next step was to identify those limitations and needs.
  • Improving the visual and physical access to each one of the object.
  • Provide safe mounts that could easily be handled, inviting handling of the mount rather than the artefact.
  • Reducing mechanical friction between artefacts.
  • Produce support in the most sensitive areas of the object.

  • Space: Only the space in the drawer was available. No extra space could be provided.
  • Materials: the materials already available in the Material Cultural Room.

Fig. 2. Drawer 4H Dimensions
Due to the restrictions of space, the resulting proposal stated that two levels would be needed inside the drawer with the taller artefacts in a first level and the shorter in a second. Also, the objects that weighted the most were placed in the first level to avoid the weight of objects affecting each other.
Additionally, similar materials and other connections - for instance, provenance - were also taken into account, and whenever possible they were placed next each other. For example, artefacts J.0027, J.0028 and J.0111 A&B were placed close to each other because they have the same provenance – Papua New Guinea – and are made of similar materials.
Fig. 3. Organisation plan of the first level in Drawer 4H

Fig. 4. Organisation plan of the second level in Drawer 4H placed over the first level (during project).

Although the original intention was to use plastazote and corex, corrugated board was also available. The space restrictions made the last material more suitable than corex. Moreover, corrugated board resistance made possible to make boxes for individual objects or small groups of objects. 

Fig. 5. Folding the edges before gluing them 
Fig. 6. Checking the space available to place J.0027 inside the box.
Fig. 7. Gluing the edges of the boxes with a hot glue gun.

                                                Fig. 8. Boxes and objects place in the First Level

Two layers of plastazote were placed in each box, a first providing a softer surface were the artefact will rest, and a second with the shape of the object, preventing objects impacting each other. The first and second layers of plastazote were glue together. Ultimately, individual measures were carried out when needed depending on the materials and fragility of each box. Ultimately, individual measures were carried out when needed depending on the materials and fragility of each box.
Fig. 9. Plastazote layers and box with objects J.0058 (on the right) and J.0073 (on the left: A&B).
In order to reduce the weight of the upper level on the lower level, small plastazote pillars were placed. To provide further security among levels, an extra layer of corrugated board was placed between them. The  boxes were cut and glued with a hot glue gun.
Fig. 10. Project result: first level (now with the Plastazote cutouts) in Drawer 4H (after project).

Fig. 11. Project result: second level (now with Plastazote cutouts) in Drawer 4H (after project).
The result fulfilled the objectives of the project, successfully improving their safety, access and visibility. The experience has been unique, and I have realised the creativity and dexterity needed to design mounts that usually need to meet several objectives. Moreover, almost any institutions have space and materials restrictions, which make the task even more challenging.

Now, I find myself looking first to the object and then inevitably to the mount. I deeply admire professionals working on the safe storage of collections. Thanks to their work those objects are still alive when someone finally decides to lay down their curious eyes on them.

By Alicia de la Serna Saenz

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