Session 2: Scottish Projects

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The first day of the IIC Edinburgh Congress fittingly opened with discussions about current Scottish projects. With an excellent line-up of presentations and Q&A focused on both external and internal preventive conservation concerns as well as visitor access and engagement, this second session was not to be missed!

Opening, with The Burrell Renaissance: Unpicking a Collection and its Building, panelists Helen Hughes and Stephanie de Roemer introduced us to Sir William Burrell’s collection – an assortment of artifacts and artwork gifted to the city of Glasgow under certain housing stipulations. Addressing the conditions of the gift and creating a building dedicated to the collection became a collaborative design effort. Due to the needs of the collection – specifically the collection of Islamic carpets hung in the south-facing gallery – the original installation layout was modified resulting in less than ideal spaces for interaction. Consequently, the collection is being reimagined with a central focus on people and visitor engagement, with new display and interpretation methods being tested while the conservator ensures the safety of the objects.

Anna Starkey’s Mind the Shadow Gap: Reflecting on Twenty Years of the Museum of Scotland and Looking Forward to the Future followed, with an overview of the National Museum of Scotland’s building and collection. Delving into the data collected over the last 20 years of operation, the importance of environmental monitoring and the challenges of pest control in a building with shadow gaps was highlighted. Of particular note, many of the larger objects or those integrated into the architecture of the building are on open display and require a robust Integrated Pest Management program, equipment, and personnel to maintain.

The session concluded with panelists Bryan Dickson and Suzanne Reid, The External and Internal Decorative Finishes of the Hill House, Helensburgh: Challenges of an Early Twentieth-century Dwelling House describing the effect of water ingress on the original roughcast exterior and interior of this building. Originally built between 1902-03, the Hill House is an excellent example of Charles Rennie Macintosh’s domestic architecture, a collaborative design that encompasses the building, its interior and garden space. The use of new, untested materials and a minimalist design that did not include traditional diversion of runoff led to water seepage under the roughcast and the deterioration of the original sandstone material. Interventions involving the removal and replacement of defective roughcast and the retention of original material has not mitigated deterioration. Reinterpretation and treatment of the interior spaces have balanced considerations of authenticity and appearance to maintain a space that is true to the materials and the intention of the design. The gradual increase in rainfall in the area has exacerbated issues further and caused damage to original design elements on the interior of the house. With the installation of the “Big Box”, a temporary steel structure designed to minimize rainfall on the structure while allowing airflow to dry the surface, valuable time has been gained to develop a long-term strategy for its preservation. Simultaneously, a digitization project of the Hill House will provide virtual 3D models for use in conservation, interpretation, education, and tourism.

The live Q&A session focused on the role of visitor engagement for each project. Anna highlighted the importance of structural accessibility in the redesign of museum spaces, while Helen and Stephanie indicated that their museum has used visitor research to assess their comprehension and involve the public in aspects of the decision-making process to make label text and object displays more accessible. Bryan highlighted that the construction of the box has changed the public’s perception concerning the fragility of the Hill House and suggested that interpretive prompts around the box have aided in visitor engagement. Discussion shifted to the pandemic, as Suzanne addressed changes to the operation of the interior of the Hill House – through opening more rooms and providing different types of interpretation in the space. Helen described social distancing measures for both installation and admission. The Q&A ended with Anna describing plans for further assessment of their collected environmental data and how to utilize the information appropriately for all interested parties. She opened the floor to suggestions on aiding this collaborative approach.

There are many more great sessions to come, so stay tuned for further IIC Edinburgh Congress updates!


Author Byline:

Lindsay Sisson is a Conservation Intern at the Provincial Archives of Alberta.